When it comes to Champagne flavour pairings, the sparkling wine from the Champagne region in France is often paired with food. In this essential guide, we take an in-depth look at Champagne and pair it with flavour.
What is Champagne
Champagne is a sparkling wine from the Champagne region in Northern France. It is produced through a highly regulated process where hand-picked grapes are pressed very gently within hours of being harvested and made into a clear wine. This clear wine then undergoes a secondary fermentation inside the bottle, which is aged in the cellars and disgorged of any yeast sediments. After the dosage is added, the bottle is corked and rested for another few months in the cellar.
While Champagne is a sparkling wine, Champagne is the only sparkling wine that can be called Champagne. The term is legally protected under Australian law and through agreement with the European Union and cannot be used to describe any other product other than the sparkling wine from Champagne in France.
Champagne Growing Regions
While sparkling wine has been produced in the region for about 300 years, the delineated Champagne production zone has been defined since 1927. The vineyard area is made up of a mosaic of approximately 34,000 hectares of small vineyards that spread across 320 villages.
The area is divided into four main growing regions: Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne, Côtes des Blancs and Côtes de Bars. Each region is made up of many different combinations of natural factors like micro-climates, soil and topography types and the direction of the vineyard towards the sun, which all add together to create the diversity of Champagne wines.
Main Grape Varieties
Seven grape varieties are currently permitted in the Champagne region. The main three varieties are Pinot Noir, Meunier and Chardonnay which make up about 99% of the plantings. Other grape varieties are Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Petit Meslier and Arbanne. Each grape brings a different quality and texture to the wine, and it is usually a blend of these grapes that creates the most recognised style of cuvées.
Vintage vs Non Vintage
Vintage Champagne is made from grapes harvested from a single year. It is compulsory for the year of a vintage Champagne to be labelled on the bottle, and this indicates the year the grapes were picked. Growing conditions vary from year to year in each vineyard in Champagne and this will have an impact on the grapes. A Chef de Cave, or the winemakers of Champagne will only decide to create a vintage Champagne in the very best years and will often spend a lot of time during the year in the vineyard checking on the quality of the ripening fruit.
Non-Vintage Champagne is a term that describes a wine made from a blend of different wines but may be easier to understand as Multi-Vintage. Each Grower or Champagne House blends the non-vintage from a number of wines reserved from previous vintages to make up the Non-Vintage cuvée.
Dosage is the term that describes the final part process of Champagne making where a liqueur created by the winemaker is added after the yeasty deposits are disgorged from the bottle. The mixture is referred to as the liqueur d’expédition and is usually created with a mixture of sugar and wine from the same wine as the bottle holds, or alternatively another complimentary reserve wine, especially prepared and aged to create yet another layer to Champagne’s profile of flavours. The role of dosage is in the wine’s sensory development and varies according to the style of Champagne.
Champagne and Flavour Pairings
Champagne pairings are often associated with food yet the diversity of the styles of Champagne has applications beyond the culinary world and into the realm of cocktails. By pairing Champagne with flavour instead of food or specific dishes, it opens up a spectrum of ideas and inspiration.
Most Australians think of Champagne as an aperitif or a drink that suits every celebration – but once you look more closely at the different styles of Champagne, you will understand that it is actually a very diverse wine with many different opportunities for pairing. – John Noble, Director of Champagne Bureau Australia.
Brut: Brut Champagne is a classic, dry style of Champagne and the word Brut describes a dosage of less than 12 grams of sugar per litre.
- Pairing: This universal style of Champagne pairs successfully with most flavours. It adds acidity and complements most salty and savoury flavours, almond, citrus, acacia and crisp notes such as green apples. Its texture delivers a well-rounded mouthfeel with some yeasty, nutty and toasty olfactory aromas.
Extra Brut: Extra Brut is a very dry and fresh style of Champagne with a dosage of less than 6 grams of sugar per litre.
- Pairing: Champagne Extra Brut has a light, precise acidity in the mouth with an elegant purity and texture with a dry, crisp and youthful flavour. It pairs best with simple, subtle flavours such as citrus, lime blossom, light floral notes, vanilla nougat, white fruit such as white peaches, and clean fresh notes such as nashi pear.
Zero Dosage or Brut Nature: Meaning ‘no-dosage’, this style is regarded as a pure expression of Champagne terroir. When the bottles are disgorged, instead of adding a dosage, a small amount of the dry, still wine is added to top up the bottle. This is legally defined as having less than 3 grams of sugar per litre.
- Pairing: On the palate, the fresh saline acidity of Zero Dosage will complement white floral notes, citrusy flavours at the delicate end of the spectrum. Zero Dosage Champagne is well suited to aperitif style cocktails and refreshing styles of drinks.
Demi Sec: This style of Champagne has between 32-50 grams of sugar per litre and delivers a fuller and richer style.
- Pairing: Traditionally sweet and succulent, a Champagne Demi Sec will stand up to stronger flavours such as warm spices (ginger, cinnamon, star anise) and desserts such as pastries, candied fruit and confectionery.
Blanc de Blancs: Meaning ‘White from White’, Blanc de Blancs is made from only white grapes, usually Chardonnay, but other white grapes may be added to the blend such as Arbanne or Pinot Blanc.
- Pairing: Champagne Blanc de Blancs is often described as “fresh and lively” with tangy notes of white flowers, ginger and brioche. It complements citrus, zesty and sherbet flavours, gin, nougat, fresh green apple, mineral and saline notes as well as adding a fresh and juicy in the mouth.
Blanc de Noirs: Meaning ‘White from Black’, Champagne Blanc de Noirs is made exclusively from Pinot Noir or Meunier grapes where the dark grapes give it a unique “body and structure”.
- Pairing: With its savoury, fleshy profile, a Blanc de Noirs will complement wintry flavours along with earthy, smoky and warm spice notes such as in star anise and caramel. It equally pairs with rich umami flavours such as truffle and the nuttiness of roast chestnuts.
Champagne Rosé: Derived from the word pink in French, Champagne Rosé can be found with an array of flavour profiles. Often ascribed to have the ‘essence’ of red fruits such as raspberries and strawberries or even blackcurrant and cherries, it is a style that can have a refreshing texture in the mouth with a pretty, warm amber colour with luminous glints of pink; or even a deep, velvety, crimson colour with rich, red-wine like characteristics that can support a more powerful pairing.
- Pairing: A light, elegant and summertime style of Champagne Rosé will pair well with a spectrum of red fruits such as red plum and wild berries such strawberries, raspberries and black currant whereas a deeper, more intense Rosé will have a more vinous mouthfeel that will suit earthy spices such as star anise, candied orange, liquorice and clove.
Champagne in Cocktails
Champagne features in an array of Champagne cocktails, from the classic Champagne Cocktail and the French 75 to the Kir Royale aperitif. It can also be used as a cocktail modifier such as a Champagne syrup or reduction, a way of using any leftovers and applying sustainable and zero-waste methodology in venues and at home.
In partnership with Champagne Bureau Australia.