Enjoying champagne with food is for me the ultimate self-indulgence. With great champagne and great food, one feeds the other in an endless cycle of pleasure.
But most consumers see champagne as a mere aperitif wine. For sure it is a spectacular pre-dinner drink with its refreshing acidity that stimulates the appetite, and the festive mood it instigates. And I understand that it may be too expensive to continue the meal with champagne rather than more affordable still (or sparkling) wines. However, champagne is an outstanding wine of incredible versatility with its acidity, tiny sweetness, and so many nuances, allowing it to successfully adapt to almost any food.
How To Pair Champagne With Food
Wine and food pairing is traditionally based on complementing similarities between the two, and with champagne you do the same, but simultaneously use some great contrasts, combining the two principles.
In your palate, you will identify the four basic tastes–salty, sweet, sour, and bitter–more or less according to the food or dish, but also umami, a pleasant savory taste imparted by glutamate. This occurs naturally in many foods including meat, fish, vegetables, and dairy products, particularly when fermented or aged.
Now you will find the same in champagne, more or less of each, according to the style and cuvée. The sourness comes from the acidity of the grapes, the sweetness from the dosage, a tiny bitterness may come from the tannins and the winemaking process, a certain saltiness comes from the minerality imparted by the chalky soil of Champagne, and finally, umami comes from the extended aging on lees and the consequent autolysis.
The high acidity in champagne can match the mild acidity in food like a tomato but too much acidity like in a vinaigrette sauce is a real challenge, producing a metallic taste in the wine, making it thin bodied. Champagne is already light in taste. The primordial use of the acidity in champagne is another: to magically contrasts any fatty, creamy, even fried and salty food that leaves a coating on your palate, because together with the bubbles, it will cleanse it. The acidity of champagne allows a reset, avoiding any saturation that may happen when eating something very fatty and rich so that you can start again. The more surprising manifestation of this property of champagne is with eggs that are considered a difficult match for wine but are among the best pairings with champagne.
The moderate sweetness of brut champagne matches the mild sweetness in some foods, and also contrasts salt, and balances moderate spiciness. But forget about sweet food like desserts, for which brut champagne will taste horrendously tart. In these circumstances, sweeter champagne, like demi-sec, is the solution. It also deals better with very strong food like blue cheese and very spicy food that will make brut champagne inexistent. And with Asian dishes with sweet and sour sauce, often spicy too, extra dry champagne goes well with their higher balance of sugar versus acidity, without tasting that sweet.
The minerality of champagne naturally pairs with the salinity and iodine flavor of fish, and even more seafood that is always rich in fat–a key component of delicious champagne food.
Bitterness in champagne is not always obvious, but is still there, and can play its role when eating cruciferous vegetables or dishes with slightly burned aromas, like the skin of a delicious roasted chicken. But forget very bitter food, like dark chocolate, as champagne will succumb, although if cocoa is used sparsely in a dessert matched with a demi-sec, you may get away with it.
Finally, the yeasty and autolytic character of champagne pairs fantastically with the umami taste present in so many delicious foods, and are a spectacular match to vegetables with a marked hearty taste like mushrooms, and truffles.
Matching The Intensity
Having clarified the above, there are consequently some ideal champagne foods and some that are, in my experience, less exciting. The main principle to keep in mind is the main consideration common to all wine and food pairings: matching the intensity of the food with that of the wine, thus avoiding that one overpowers the other and undermine it, instead of extending its pleasure. Given that champagne remains an elegant wine, food or dishes should never be too powerful, even though champagne can stand up to any challenge. I prefer a T-bone steak with a glass of red wine than with champagne because there is a lack of power in the latter. But it doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. In fact, I do it pretty often. Obviously, bolder champagnes work better. Similarly, anything excessive, like too sweet, too acidic, too bitter, too spicy, or too hot, won’t work with champagne. But so long as no taste is excessive in the food, champagne will virtually always adapt, bringing out what matches best with the food.
So, if you remain in a framework of relatively mild foods, you have so many styles and intensities of champagne that there will always be one capable to match for ideal harmony and pleasure.
You should take into consideration that the overall intensity of a dish is also determined by the cooking method and temperature, the sauces, and the seasonings. For example, while poached fish is usually served with light- or mid-bodied champagne, if the fish is served with a heavy cream sauce, it is better balanced with full-bodied champagne. Likewise, cold makes taste in food less apparent, and cold roast beef is easier to match than a steak. Fried food becomes richer and slightly burned food has a distinctive bitterness. And herbs can add a lot to a dish, not to mention salt and pepper. Given all this, my approach is to identify the main taste in a dish and assess its intensity, and work on that in choosing a cuvée as similar as possible with that more marked taste and power, and let the wine do the rest. Or, the other way around, choose food according to the type of champagne you want to enjoy. Just keep one thing in mind: impossible is nothing for champagne.
Surely, there are some classic well-proven champagne and food combinations, but there is definitely room for experimenting.
The “Official” Champagne and Food Pairings According to The Cuvée
I list below the suggested champagne and food pairings provided by the Comité Champagne, according to the cuvée and the dosage of the champagne you are tasting.
Young, fruity non-vintage champagnes are good without food as an aperitif. But they are also recommended with hard mountain cheeses such as Comté and Emmental. Older non-vintage champagnes can cope with more robust flavors and also work well with caviar.
They can make an excellent aperitif and are also good with oysters, shellfish and gently flavored white fish. A little age adds depth and they can cope with creamy sauces and spiced dishes. Indian curry works well, but Thai curry doesn’t because of the lemongrass.
These heavier champagnes really need food and are good with light meats such as partridge, veal, and pork. With age, they stand up well to richer dishes such as kidneys and venison.
Younger (5-10 years old) vintage champagnes can provide a foil for a wide variety of dishes including fish with rich sauces, poultry (especially duck), light meats (veal and pork), and many kinds of cheese. Japanese dishes such as sushi also work well. Older vintage Champagnes (10+ years) are great with lightly smoked foods (salmon), hard mature cheeses (Parmesan, Cheddar), and truffles.
Non-vintage rosé champagnes present aromas of berry and make a lovely fresh aperitif, but are also good with prawns, lobster, and other seafood. Vintage rosé champagnes have a rich, savory character that can work with red meat and have the power to stand up to high levels of herbs and spices especially basil, mint, and coriander.
These sweeter champagnes go superbly with foie gras and fatty meats (duck, goose). Also if the dish has a sweet element (caramelization, a fruit ingredient, or sugar) this style can provide a better match than brut. Desserts also work well as long as they are not too sweet.
The “Official” Champagne and Food Pairings According to The Food
Caviar: non-vintage (old)
Cheddar: vintage (old)
Comté: non-vintage (young)
Chaource: vintage (young)
Duck: vintage (young), demi-sec
Emmental: non-vintage (young)
Fatty meats: demi-sec
Fish: vintage (young)
Foie gras: demi-sec
Goat’s cheese: non-vintage (young)
Herby food: rosé (vintage)
Indian curry: blanc de blancs
Japanese dishes: vintage (young)
Kidneys: blanc de noirs
Lancashire cheese: vintage (young)
Lobster: rosé (non-vintage)
Oysters: blanc de blancs
Parmesan: vintage (old)
Partridge: blanc de noirs
Pecorino cheese: vintage (old)
Pork: blanc de noirs, vintage (young)
Poultry: vintage (young)
Prawns: rosé (non-vintage)
Red meat: rosé (vintage)
Salmon: vintage (old)
Seafood: rosé (non-vintage)
Shellfish: blanc de blancs
Smoked food: vintage (old)
Sushi: vintage (young)
Sweet dishes: demi-sec
Truffles: vintage (old)
Veal: blanc de noirs
Venison: blanc de noirs
White fish: blanc de blancs
My Best Champagne Food and Dishes
To me, the most pleasant are all those fatty and ideally also creamy ones, which leave a coating on your palate that champagne will cleanse so well. They are also my favorite foods as fat dissolves and concentrates flavors and aromas.
Also keep in mind that being Italian, this greatly influences my choices. Our cuisine is considered the best by many, and I agree. I love the many great cuisines of the world and eat them frequently. My staple food is Italian and French, but I regularly eat Indonesian, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, and less frequently, Indian, Spanish, Mexican, Greek, and Lebanese.
But Italian cuisine has two features that make it very popular in any country: its astonishing diversity–going far beyond pasta Bolognese and pizza, though delicious–and the prime quality of its ingredients. Italy produces hundreds of varieties of cheeses, charcuterie, high-quality fruits and vegetables, and other foods and agricultural products. Of these, 168 enjoy the Italian/European Protected Designation of Origin (DOP/PDO) appellation, and 133 enjoy similar appellations. The DOP mark, just like the AOC of Champagne (also a European PDO), guarantees the authenticity and artisan characteristics of these products, produced in strictly defined geographic areas.
The great variety and quality of produces and recipes, which vary greatly from region to region, meet the preferences of virtually any palate, and most of these dishes are easy to understand and appreciate regardless of the culinary background. Imagine a simple Caprese salad; it’s made of Mozzarella cheese, fresh tomatoes and basil, and extra verging olive oil, that’s it. But each ingredient is of top quality as it comes from a long tradition, great know-how, and territory, making this dish very popular in Italy and abroad. Even in France, a country of spectacular culinary specialties and techniques, when you walk in a restaurant, half of the dishes are now Italian, and a delicacy like Buffalo Mozzarella is sold as a staple food in French supermarkets. And I am not surprised that at champagne tastings Parmesan has replaced a classic food pairing like foie gras. Why? Because foie gras, which I looove, is not for everybody, but Parmesan is. There is also a certain controversy related to preparing foie gras that doesn’t apply to cheese. In a nutshell, Italian cuisine is accessible, contemporary, delicious, and variegated. But enough national pride and self-celebration, and let’s look at some of the best champagne foods.
With their high content in fat, the creaminess of the milk, and the umami of aging, they are born to go with champagne. Particularly, hard or semi-hard cheeses as they carry more umami than younger cheeses, and less acidity.
At the very top, I put with no hesitation, Parmigiano Reggiano, which has become a reference at champagne tastings nowadays. It is also a great addition to many dishes to go with champagne. Right after, I put aged Comté, the king of the French cheeses. Then mild Pecorino Romano, English Cheddar, Queso Manchego, Edam, and Gouda. The aging of these cheeses can vary quite a lot and its intensity, so for a precise match, you could go younger or older with the champagne.
Softer cheeses also go very well, like Asiago, and Fontina, and going creamier, some great pairings are Camembert and its lighter cousin, Brie, and Taleggio.
As for fresh cheese, there is now a trend to put Buffalo Mozzarella and Burrata–a mozzarella stuffed with cream–everywhere, with champagne too. Although I love them, and they go with champagne, the acidity of fresh milk makes them less ideal in my opinion. But by adding some olive oil, the fattiness enrobes the acidity.
Cold Cuts and Pork
Maybe even better than cheese, cold cuts, particularly aged ones, are to die for with champagne. I am talking here first and foremost of Culatello, and Jamón Ibérico (aka Pata Negra), ideally De Bellota, the best hams in the world.
The Spanish one, made of semi-wild boar of high fat composition, with its marbled meat and the nutty flavor given by the acorn (bellota) feeding, cries for champagne. It is no surprise that the president of Joselito, for many the best Pata Negra, is a huge champagne lover. He even made a partnership with Dom Pérignon, releasing vintages of ham and champagne in co-branding. Also, Joselito is able to produce his hams with less salt, making them slightly sweeter, and voilà, the sweetness of champagne also comes to match.
Dom Pérignon is also the “culprit” for making me discover, and maybe even prefer, Culatello, as it was its former Chef de Cave Richard Geoffroy who put it into my head. I felt I had to discover this rising start of the Italian gastronomy and what I found was the ultimate champagne ham: sweet like Parma ham, highly marbled with fat like Pata Negra, and with incredible nutty aromas given by its long maturation in humid cellars that cover it with noble molds. Angelo Capasso, one of its top producers (and one of the very few to make organic Culatello) defines these moldy aromas as hazelnut, chestnut, undergrowth, and coffee-like. Can you imagine how it can pair with aged champagne that carries these aromas? Heaven, that’s the world.
But other superb cold cuts go very well too: just imagine Parma Ham, Coppa, or even better Mortadella. With its chunks of fats in the meat, its incredible perfume, and the pistachios that are often added to it, it deserves so much to be accompanied by champagne. But also, all sorts of salami with their high-fat content work brilliantly.
The reason pork meat is so great with champagne is that it is always very fat yet never too strong like red meat. Pork roll like Porchetta, with its fine herbs, is spectacular with champagne, particularly if served cold or lukewarm. Similarly great is crispy pork belly, which to me is the best Asian dish to go with champagne. Always a success, it can be enriched and twisted with all sorts of sauces, like apple and orange, that if not too acidic nor sweet, match greatly with champagne. Here, rosé champagne may work even better.
Seafood, Fish, and Caviar
Seafood with its high content in fat, umami and iodine character matches particularly well the minerality of champagne and makes even more sense with champagnes like blanc de blancs from the Côte des Blancs. The greatest classic pairing is oyster and champagne, but all seafood go really well. I love prawns A La Plancha, or cold with homemade mayonnaise, and champagne.
Similarly, fish, with its light taste, goes very well with the elegance of champagne. The type of fish and the sauce can dramatically change its intensity, and hence the type and intensity of champagne that best suits it.
As for caviar, it is perfect for champagne–as for all eggs–with its high fattiness and intense salinity that will be counterbalanced by the acidity and sweetness of champagne.
Poultry, Egg, and Foie Gras
Poultry, mostly chicken, being a mild meat, just like fish is very recommended with the elegance of champagne. But there are intense ones with darker meat like duck for which stronger champagnes are more adequate.
As for eggs, they are for me the best more-affordable food for champagne: plenty of fat and umami in the yolk are there for you.
More expensive and not for everybody, foie gras made of duck or goose liver is simply spectacular with champagne, and a classic pairing. With its richness and fattiness, it usually requires sweeter champagnes, but brut goes very well too.
Mushrooms and Truffles
Although I love vegetables, they are not my first choice to go with champagne, as they lack the richness of the protein and, particularly when raw, they anesthetize my taste buds a bit. But cooking them, ideally with sauces, makes them milder while adding a lovely fat coating.
The best vegetables for champagne are mushrooms. With their marked hearty taste that matches the yeasty and autolytic character of champagne, and even more truffles, that will make any food champagne-ready. If you are into truffles, eggs with truffles, cheese with truffles, or cold cuts with truffles are the best champagne foods you can get. The same applies to any dish with truffles, like pasta, rice, and meat.
Pasta, Rice, and Potato
With their high amount of starch and viscosity, and light taste, pasta and rice are the perfect base to use all the above foods, to create spectacular dishes perfect for champagne. You can make very expensive ones, but even the simpler ones will be great.
As for potatoes, I am not a great fan of them but I love French fries and their fattiness, salinity, and crunchiness meet the bubbles, acidity, and sweetness of champagne. And truffled mash potatoes are just spectacular.
My Favorite Pasta and Rice Dishes for Champagne
Pasta with caviar
Pasta with lobster, also with cream
Pasta with foie gras and cream, and truffle ideally
Risotto with truffles and Parmesan
Pasta Gricia (Carbonara without egg)
Sushi: all of them, but careful with wasabi and soy sauce
All brut champagnes will go incredibly well, but, if you can, play with the intensity of different champagnes–their grape composition and aging–to match more precisely.
I include below some other of my favorite snacks and main dishes that you can make at home to accompany any bottle of champagne that you want to open.
–Snacks and Entrées–
Fried mozzarella sticks
French fries, ideally with grated Parmesan and/or truffle oil
Fried zucchini flower with mozzarella, and eventually anchovy fillets
Cold shrimps or crab with mayonnaise
Salmon tartare with yogurt, but easy with lemon and ginger
Deviled eggs, but easy on the spices
Grilled salmon, with or without cream
Gambas A La Plancha (prawns grilled on oil), with or without aioli sauce
Creamy chicken, with mushrooms even better
Chicken Cordon Bleu
Duck or pork in orange sauce
Pork fillet, with truffle slices is to die for
Vitello Tonnato (sliced cold veal with a creamy sauce)
Any boiled cold meats with mayonnaise
Agnello Cacio e Ova (Lamb with Pecorino cheese and egg)
Beef tartare, but easy with the capers and mustard
As for desserts, as I already explained, the only way to go is sweet champagne like demi-sec, or extra dry if the dessert is not too sweet. But since I don’t enjoy sweeter champagnes that much, my way to end off a sumptuous champagne meal is to swap dessert for a beautiful plate of cheeses and have brut champagne instead. But if you really want your dessert and sweet champagne, the best options are creamy tarts with fruits that can recall the fruitiness in champagne. Also, I found that mildly-sweet red fruits desserts and rosé champagne with a generous brut dosage work pretty well. For example, red fruits Tiramisu or Panna Cotta that come with the creaminess of the cheese and cream, but also Millefoglie cream cake with red fruits, and a classic but always delicious strawberry cream tart. Or you could end your meal with a pimped-up Sgroppino. Originally a Venetian lemon sorbet with vodka topped with Prosecco, I find that using lemon ice cream, white rum, and champagne makes it truly delicious, I guarantee.
As for fruits, they don’t work well with champagne or wine. There is a saying attributed to British wine merchants that goes, “Buy on an apple and sell on cheese.” It refers to the fact that fruits high in sugar and acidity (such as the malic acid in green apples) can make wines taste metallic and thin bodied, while cheese, as we have seen, is a perfect match for champagne and wine. And the classic pairing of strawberry and champagne, for how romantic it is, has never worked for me. However, cooking the fruits can increase their sweetness and reduce their perceived acidity, making them nice sauces for champagne foods that work, like apple sauce for crispy pork belly. Surprisingly, cocktails made of fruit juices mixed with champagne are nice.
So, we have seen that you can have champagne during a whole delicious meal or even a sumptuous one if you include luxury ingredients ideal for champagne, like truffles and caviar. To make it simple, you can use one brut champagne through the meal (except for dessert). But to make things perfect, try to match the intensity of each dish with that of a specific cuvée.
The Ideal Champagne Meal
Cold seafood with blanc de blancs champagne
Foie gras canapés with brut champagne
Cold cuts with blanc de noirs champagne
A pasta or rice dish with brut champagne, lighter or stronger depending on the actual dish, even vintage champagne if needed, like with a bold Carbonara
A fish with sauce and vintage chardonnay based champagne
A white or pink meat like chicken, pork, or veal with a vintage pinot based champagne, or an intense rosé with darker meat like lamb
A fruit tart with extra dry or demi-sec champagne, or generous rosé champagne
A cheese plate with brut or vintage champagne depending on the aging of the cheese
There you have it. But I advise you to check the several receipts that many Champagne houses publish on their website and in their booklets, which show endless options and pairing that can work. Among them, I find the ones by Krug most interesting, which regularly asks renowned chefs around the world to create unique dishes based each time on a specific ingredient, like they did with egg, mushroom, and fish. These are great sources of inspiration for your champagne dinners. It’s up to you to experiment, discover, and have fun, and realize that champagne is the best “food wine” that exists.