By John and Tracy Anderson
Courtesy of S. Anderson Winery, Napa, California


The following is an attempt to generalize champagne to styles and the foods that are best with them, but bear in mind that every wine from every producer is unique and will pair with food in a slightly different way than all the others. There are several different ways to approach wine and food pairing; to enhance the food, to enhance the wine, or as was our choice, to bring out the best in both food and wine.

1. Light Citrusy Champagnes: These go best with seafood dishes that are served plain or with a light sauce. The high acid present in this style should be paired with foods that tend towards tartness. Filet of Sole Mousse with a Lime Beurre Blanc is well suited. A light chicken dish is also suitable. You might use the champagne as an addition to your sauce. These wines also enhance foods that might be considered bland on their own.

2. Fruity Champagnes tending towards perceived Sweetness: These are perhaps the most versatile and most easily accessible to the new palate. Fruity champagnes go quite well with fruit and lighter cheeses, seafood, white meats, light and/or fruit desserts.

3. Full Bodied Yeasty Champagnes: These wines are quite versatile as well and can usually stand up to seafood and white meats with richer sauces and perhaps some red meats such as filet mignon with an orange and rosemary sauce. Most people prefer this style of champagne with caviar and your "classic" champagne foods.

4. Rosť‚ Champagne: Since this wine has higher tannins it is perhaps the best to pair with beef or lamb with light sauces, but it also goes quite well with white meats, fruit, and cheese. This wine can usually stand up to slightly heavier desserts than other champagnes.

5. Heavy, Caramely, Madeirized Champagnes: This very heavy style of wine usually pairs well with heavier foods; seafood and white meats with creamy, buttery sauces, sausages, stronger cheeses and nuts. This is a very personal style of champagne that most who weren't raised with French champagne have to acquire a taste for and those that prefer it are likely to find it suitable with many of the foods discussed under other styles.

Whether consuming champagne as an aperitif or with food, remember that it is a wine, yet a wine enhanced with a sparkling nature. Fredrick William I of Prussia when asked at the table in the early 1700s why champagne sparkled, he proposed that this was a question for the Academy in Berlin. When the academy requested sixty bottles for testing, the king was disgusted. "I have no need of them to drink my wine, and I prefer not to know all my life why it sparkles, rather than to deprive myself of a drop!"

For all the technical and poetic discussions of champagne, its production and its uses: let all be forgotten in the enjoyment of champagne. The festive bottles, the tactile feel of tearing the foil to get at the wire, the ceremony of removing the cork, the tense air just before the pop, the pause for the mousse to subside, and finally the flavors as bubbles dance and burst on your tongue. Champagne is very special indeed.


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