I love beginning a good meal with a glass of Champagne. But how about serving a different Champagne with each course throughout the meal?
Though many people serve Champagne exclusively for toasts or celebration, fine Champagne is a great match with food. I recently rediscovered this pleasure at a dinner organized by Charles Curtis, master of wine and director of wine and spirits education at Moët Hennessy USA, and Peter Konopka, the sommelier at Aretsky’s Patroon.
Of course, it helps to have excellent Champagne to pour. Curtis and Konopka selected five different vintages of Krug—1996, 1995, 1976, 1986 Clos du Mesnil and 1961. Executive chef Bill Peet came up with some creative pairings, especially the dessert course, which he paired with the magnificent 1961.
I have tasted the 1996 several times this year. Firm and racy, yet with a creaminess on the midpalate, it tasted of apricots and toast. A refined Champagne, it was served as an aperitif and accompanied a number of hors d’oeuvres. My favorite match was the Kumamoto oysters with Champagne-Asian pear gelée.
The first course, caramelized diver scallops from Maine over preserved lemon and herb quinoa pilaf with a caviar beurre blanc, was paired with the Krug Collection 1976. The hot, sunny, drought year yielded a bubbly with big, robust aromas of toast, tobacco, coffee and gingerbread. It was still fresh, despite its obvious weight and the finish echoed coffee and a candied berry note.
The smoky, roasted elements in the Champagne matched the caramelized scallops with a counterpoint from the preserved lemon, which picked up the acidity in the wine.
The next course featured a salad with a lightly baked goat cheese crottin and the Krug 1995. The ’95 is broader and more opulent than the ’96, with a lovely texture and vibrant finish. The goat cheese provided a relatively neutral backdrop that allowed the Champagne to shine.
This was followed by the Blanc de Blancs Clos du Mesnil 1986 with spit-roasted heirloom French chicken stuffed with black truffle and truffle butter and foie gras sauce. On its own, the Chardonnay-based Clos du Mesnil was aromatic, showing tropical fruit, coconut, woodsy and fresh chanterelle aromas. It picked up candied berry and honey flavors. It was absolutely gorgeous up front, but lacked the length of the other vintages.
Though not a bad match, this pairing was the least successful. The chicken dish was a bit strong for the Champagne. Nothing clashed, but there was no synergy.
The final course, on the other hand, was brilliant. Who would have though of putting the Krug 1961, a dry Champagne, up against dessert? Chef Peet did and it was an amazing combination.
The Krug Collection 1961 was magnificent. Dried peach, apricot and quince paste led off, followed by coffee, smoke, a blast of caramel and citrus peel flavors. Incredibly complex, rich and mellow on the palate, it lingered on and on. This is why you age great Champagne.
And the dessert? The maple financier cake had just a hint of sweetness so as not to compete with the wine. The maple-glazed finger bananas and salted caramel ice cream worked with the flavors, texture and balance of the Champagne for a seamless match. The combination of the two was something greater.
Champagne has the diversity to work throughout the meal, whether it’s different vintages or different cuvées. I also have high expectations that the Krug 1996 will develop like the ’61. I hope I can keep my hands off the few bottles I have for another 20 years.