The Grape & The Grain – Champagne dinners

PETER RANSCOMBE

When you watch Formula 1 drivers spraying each other with Champagne from the podium, it’s easy to forget that France’s premier sparkling wine isn’t just a drink for celebrations but can also be enjoyed with food.

I was reminded of how well Champagne can accompany a meal by two recent dinners hosted by Piper-Heidsieck at Maison Bleue in Edinburgh and Corney & Barrow for Delamotte and Salon at Ballathie House in Perthshire. Both dinners were designed to show the respective Champagne houses’ range of wines and how well they could go with different courses.

Piper-Heidsieck opened with its classic Brut Non-Vintage as an aperitif on arrival, with its high acidity doing its job by stimulating the tastebuds ahead of dinner. The buttery notes on the nose didn’t detract from the fruit driven taste on the palate, with green apple flavours coming to fore.

Sitting down to baked fig and melted goat’s cheese wrapped in Spanish ham and served with reduced sweet sherry teardrops, a bottle of Rosé Sauvage was popped open. This deeply-coloured rosé cut through the richness of goat’s cheese, with the acidity of the Champagne working well with the saltiness of the ham.

Rare is Piper-Heidsieck’s ‘prestige cuvee’, or top vintage wine, and the Rare 2002 was an ideal match for the scallops and tuna tartar with mirin, soya sauce, sesame seeds and wasabi dressing. The toast and butter aromas and flavours you would expect from a vintage Champagne were clearly on show and were joined by flinty notes on the palate.

The Rare 1998 was even more intriguing, with the bready notes having developed into even more intense brioche flavours, coupled with apricot, sweet spicy nutmeg and even hints of orange marmalade. Maison Bleue chef and owner Dean Gassabi paired this exceptional Champagne with a confit shoulder of Borders spring lamb, cooked in a North African tagine style that echoed his heritage, complete with legumes vert, cumin and coriander sautéed potatoes. Delicious, and a dish worthy of such an exceptional sparkling wine.

To round off the meal, the Cuvée Sublime – the Champagne house’s sweeter sparkling wine – was paired with a passion fruit and Champagne parfait. The Cuvée Sublime has about 44g of residual sugar – a measure of its sweetness – compared with around 11g for the standard Brut. All of the green apple and buttery notes present in the Brut were on show, woven together with the sweetness, making it a favourite to be served with desserts or even Christmas pudding.

Complexity was also the name of the game for Salon 2002, the latest vintage cuvee prestige from Champagne Salon Delamotte, which wine merchant Corney & Barrow chose to launch at Ballathie House near Stanley in Perthshire.

Guests at the launch dinner were treated to a glass of Delamotte Brut Non-Vintage on arrival, with plenty of fruity flavours on show.

The dinner began with a rabbit wellington, accompanied by Scottish langoustines and an apple and watercress salad, served with the Delamotte Blanc de Blancs Non-Vintage. Blanc de blancs Champagnes are made using only white grapes – mainly chardonnay – as opposed to blanc de noirs, which feature mainly pinot noir and pinot meunier. It was a very easy-drinking wine, with plenty of floral notes.

The fish course of cannelloni of Killin crab with compressed watermelon and cucumber gel was accompanied by the unveiling of the Salon 2002 from Delamotte’s sister house, Champagne Salon. Vianney Gravereaux, Champagne Salon & Delamotte commercial export director, led guests through the tasting of the latest vintage wine to be released by the house, with its creamy bubbles, notes of brioche and chalky and floral notes.

Even more complex was the Salon 1999, which was served with roast tail of monkfish, razor clams, Swiss chard and sea vegetables. Gravereaux highlighted the notes of ginger, white pepper and even sherbet that were developing in the older Champagne, with the richness and depth of the drink matching the full flavours of the roast fish.

Poached rhubarb, mascarpone, vanilla cream and ginger bread croutons rounded off the meal, along with a glass of Delamotte Rosé Non-Vintage, with its fresh strawberry fruit notes. It’s worth noting that rosé Champagnes can also work particularly well with charcuterie and smoked fish.

With so many exciting dishes on show at both dinners, it just goes to show how versatile Champagne can be when it comes to food.

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