Every now and then, I get the urge to do something a little crazy – fortunately I am generally risk-averse, so my occasional craziness rarely ends in fisticuffs or embarrassment for my family.
Recently, I have run across a number of instances in which a hotel or restaurant or event boasted a “Champagne Reception”, or offered a “glass of Champagne” with a dinner, but what they meant was “we offer you the cheapest possible bubbly junk-juice”. Being a fan of the “real deal” Champagne (Sparkling wine made in the traditional method IN Champagne), I took offense and decided to try and correct the gaff… This never works. Such is the food industry’s pervasive desire to squeeze the most possible margin out of the customer that lying about bubbly is broadly accepted.
After hearing from my wine-ing and dining pals similar stories of “Champagne” (as advertised) rarely being actual Champagne – I decided that we could all educate ourselves, AND have a fantastic meal if we put on a dinner with ONLY CHAMPAGNE accompanying the food courses. From a culinary standpoint this might crazy, since Champagne’s high acid levels can wreak havoc on the palate and burn out the taste buds unless paired carefully with foods that are complimentary in flavor and acid balance. Even though one or two Champagnes might be plenty, we made plans for FIVE Champagnes and FIVE courses (go big or go home!).
The Amuse course paired a Smoked Salmon wrapped Parmesan Crisp with NICOLAS FEUILLATTE BLANC DE BLANC 2004. This Feuillatte 100% Chardonnay Blanc de Blanc is one smooth customer – from the tiny bubbles and smooth effervescence to the even-keeled citrus and green apple flavor notes – I enjoyed tasting this Champagne, especially with the smooth richness of the smoked salmon!
First course we went a little over the top with TWO Champagnes (is more of a good thing ever bad?). We chose a head to head comparison between grower/winemaker NATHALIE FALMET’s BRUT and BRUT NATURE. These share a similar blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but the BRUT NATURE receives zero dosage (the sugars added to make the otherwise austere Champagnes more easily palatable) at the end of the winemaking process, whereas the BRUT gets the typical 12 grams per litre (anything less than 15 g/litre is considered BRUT). The comparison was certainly instructive, with slightly more than half the diners preferring the traditional brut style to the more intense, zero dosage sibling. The food pairing worked nicely with these two Champagnes. The Ricotta Agnolotti (reminded me of a ravioli) was especially successful in countering the intensity of the zero dose BRUT NATURE.
Second Course we moved to a Blanc de Noir (“white from black grapes”): CHAMPAGNE MICHEL LORIOT BRUT RESERVE NV which is a somewhat rare instance of 100% Pinot Meunier. The third most popular grape of the three Champagne Grapes, Pinot Meunier is generally thought to be un-ageworthy by itself and used mainly as a blending grape to impart lush fruitiness to cuvees of mostly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. However there are a few geographic areas thought to be excellent for Pinot Meunier and Michel Loriot is located in one of these areas, a few miles due west of Epernay (one of Champagne’s two main cities along with Riems). In this instance Loriot goes all the way with Meunier and the result was a very positive reception and possibly the most popular Champagne of the evening – the wine was fresh and fruity with a earthiness at the finish that I thought was a spectacular match with the Mushroom Risotto.
For the third and final food course (dessert was the final course) we went big in every respect. Chef Alan created two treatments of duck to counter the richness of the CHAMPAGNE BRICE GRAND CRU VINTAGE 2002 “MILLESIME”. With 90% Pinot Noir and 10% Chardonnay from four of the most famous Grand Cru locations (Ay, Bouzy, Cremant and Verzenay), this wine is rich, and complex and much like Remi Brice’s description during our visit in 2009, “more like an beautiful wine than a Champagne”. Very impressive, and a wonderful way to finish out our evening of LOTS of Champagne – hopefully all taste buds left intact, and our intellects were appropriately stimulated in the pursuit of Champagne experience – there were certainly many smiles among the diners as people slowly filed out.
Off-the-Grid Sunday Supper Series
Champagne Dinner at Marty’s Market
September 30, 2012
Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte Blanc de Blanc 2004
Smoked Salmon Wrapped Parmesan Crisp with Chive Crème Fraiche
FIRST COURSE ~ HEAD to HEAD
Champagne Nathalie Falmet Cuvee Brut Nature NV
Champagne Nathalie Falmet Cuvee Brut NV
Roasted Pear Crostini with Speck,
Rogue Creamery Smokey Blue Cheese and Arugula
Ricotta Agnolotti with Mirai Corn Puree
Champagne Michel Loriot Brut Reserve NV “Blanc de Noir”
Melted Leeks with Shaved Pecorino Romano
Champagne Brice Grand Cru Vintage 2002 “Millesime”
Seared Duck Breast with Crispy Smashed Red Potatoes, Apple and Fig Jus
Seared Duck Rillettes with Orange Marmalade
Big Picture Farm Goat Caramels