Written by John Beveridge – Vintage Roots
Everyone loves Champagne, but it’s almost exclusively consumed as an aperitif – perhaps with a few savoury nibbles if you’re lucky! My wife and I have recently become parents and since we weren’t planning a big night out for New Year’s Eve, but wanted to celebrate the evening in style, we decided to get the most out of a bottle of Fleury Champagne by matching it to two courses (as well as having a glass with some posh crisps whilst cooking!).
At Vintage Roots, we are lucky to be the importers of ‘Champagne Fleury’, the first biodynamic producer in Champagne. Last summer I visited their estate, based in Courteron, Côtes des Bar, the southernmost region of the Champagne appellation. See the full range on our website here.
Established in 1895 by Emile Fleury, it remains a family business with Emile’s great-grandson Jean-Sebastien running the estate, with help from siblings Morgane and Benoit. It was their father Jean-Pierre who introduced organic methods from 1970 onwards, and in 1989 converted Champagne Fleury fully to biodynamics.
This was a far-sighted move for any winemaker, but revolutionary in a region such as Champagne, which was such a prolific user of synthetic chemicals and fertilisers. Indeed, soils were so neglected that refuse was regularly moved from Paris and dumped in the vineyards of Champagne.
Organics and biodynamics are finally now becoming more widespread in the region, great news for the soils, vineyard workers, and the quality of the wines!
Our chosen bottle was Fleury’s Blanc de Blancs 2005 vintage Champagne, and as it was just the two of us we planned to make a starter and main course to match, rather than have it just as an aperitif. Made from 100% biodynamic Chardonnay grapes, with a portion fermented in oak barrels, it is aged for around 8 years in bottle in the Fleury cellars before being released. It is now ten years old, which would be very old for most white wines, but is ideal for quality vintage Champagne.
This lengthy ageing, combined with meticulous production, rarity, and ultimately the quality, make it seem like good value compared to other Champagnes which can cost over £100 yet can be found in supermarkets, restaurants and hotels anywhere in the world (not mentioning any names Mr Perignon…)
Using the tasting notes for the wine online (see here) to select our courses, we settled on an Endive, Blue Cheese and Walnut Salad for starter, and Pork with Apple and a Shallot sauce for main. The starter was an almost edible representation of the flavours in the champagne, and really highlighted its texture, sweetness and acidity: the endive showing the dry, bitterness; stilton the aged, creamy characters and the walnuts really brought out a nuttiness in the Champagne with a balancing sweetness from a honey dressing. Ten out of ten for wine and food matching!
The main course of pork had fewer contrasting flavours than the starter, but the shallot and mustard sauce picked up some of the spice in the wine, while the apple again brought out the sweetness. A normal match for this sort of dish would be a rich white or lighter red wine such as Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, but the acidity and bubbles in Champagne work so well at cutting through the sweetness of the apple and the sauce. It was a very pleasant surprise to see how well a Champagne could pair with such a substantial dish.
Champagnes and sparkling wines are brilliant as an aperitif, but it’s really worth considering them when it comes to food and wine matching as you will definitely be pleasantly surprised!
Further ideas for food to have with Champagne:
Champagne is incredibly versatile, and while fine ingredients like lobster and caviar are traditional foods to eat with Champagne, there is a currently a move towards more humble meals…
Fish and chips – This is perhaps the most famous match. Some Champagne can be too rich for simply cooked fish, but it is perfect for cutting through batter and chips. This is the perfect, and in my family, mandatory, first meal to have when moving into a new house!
Pastry, as well as batter, is lovely with Champagne. Anything from goat’s cheese tart to sausage rolls is a winner!
The surprisingly popular London restaurant Bubbledogs has a menu consisting only of hot dogs and a drinks list featuring just Champagne!