Don’t dismiss sparklers when it comes to food and wine pairings, writes Peter Ranscombe.
WHEN is a wine not a wine? When it’s a champagne, of course.
While champagne and other bubbles are the bottles of choice for aperitifs to start a meal, seldom do you see fizz being served throughout a dinner.
But why shouldn’t they? Most sparkling wines have the acidity that’s needed to cut through rich sauces or fatty meats – a glass of champagne with a bacon butty can be a thing of wonder – and sweeter sparklers can be an interesting and refreshing match for desserts too.
The Grape & The Grain blog has championed fizz in food and wine matching over the years – from champagnes like Delamotte, Salon and Piper-Heidsieck through to Franciacorta flagship Bellavista – and so it’s encouraging to see how Krug also celebrates the affinity between bubbles and single ingredients.
This year the champagne house selected fish as its star, building on previous campaigns featuring potatoes and mushrooms.
Over lunch yesterday at Rogue, a new gastro-pub in St Andrews, Oli Smith extoled the virtues of champagne for food and wine matching, highlighting how two of its most famous components – pinot noir and chardonnay – are glorified for their prowess in accompanying dishes.
“Champagne is often treated separately to wine,” pointed out Smith, who is Krug-owner Moet Hennessy’s “activation specialist”.
I’m still not 100% sure what an “activation specialist” is, but it appears to involve a mix of running high-end events and creating clever merchandise; no matter what’s in his job description, Smith spoke very eloquently about bubbles and their potential in food-and-wine matching.
“There’s this idea that champagne is in the fridge, the cork comes out, it’s in the glass, you clink, you drink it and then it’s done – let’s drink wine, what do you want, white or red? It’s moved-on from.”
A fishy tale
The grand marque’s latest promotion is called “Krug x Fish: Tails from the Sea” – see what they did with that play-on-words there? – through which they’ve challenged chefs to come up with a dish featuring fish to complement Krug.
The fizz in question is the Krug Grand Cuvée (£35 per glass at Rogue or £30 per glass at The Finniestoun in Glasgow), which has a really complex nose full of rich peach, lemon curd, ripe red apple and heavily-toasted wholemeal bread, along with brighter fresh lemon and grapefruit notes.
On the palate, it’s equally as intriguing, with apricot joining more of those red apple and peach flavours, along with delicious digestive biscuit-like maltiness, earthy brown sugar and rich butter.
There’s oodles of concentrated fruit to balance the acidity, yet there’s still enough freshness in the wine to pair with the fish dish.
Rogue’s offering comes in the form of seared west coast mackerel with smoked mussel tempura, puffed wild rice and spinach-like sea purslane.
The champagne cut through the oiliness of the mackerel and the smokiness of the mussel, but it was the food’s influence on the liquid that was most interesting for me – it brought out more of the lighter apricot and lemon juice notes in the wine.
What was equally as surprising was how well the bubbles matched a bavette or flank steak on Rogue’s “carnivore’s odyssey” platter, which brought out more of the richness and butteriness in the sparkler.
Smith also rolled out Krug’s stablemate Glenmorangie Spios as a digestif, showing off its spicy clove and chili notes from its time in rye whiskey casks, but nicely balanced by sweeter coconut, vanilla and brown sugar notes – a delicious twist at the end of the meal.