I was invited to chat with Jean-Pierre Vincent, the winemaker for Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte. What follows are some thoughts and comments by Jean-Pierre about food and Champagne. Then some photos and a rundown of a fantastic lunch that cemented my belief that Champagne is one of the best food wines, period.
Why aren't more people selecting Champagne to pair with a meal? As Jean-Pierre explained, "For a long time, Champagne was the aperitif, then white wine in the beginning, and red wine after." What it boils down to is that "it's a problem of communication." Working in the wine industry and suggesting food pairings constantly, I have to admit it takes some guts to go outside your comfort zone of steak and Cabernet. I liked what Jean-Pierre said about being adventurous with Champagne and food: "Sometimes it is possible to make a mistake, but I'm not afraid."
We talked about Champagne's affinity with the flavors and spices of Asian cuisine. Jean Pierre vividly remembered being in Singapore and having the top cuvée of Nicolas Feuillatte, Palmes d'Or, with a ginger dessert and it being "marvelous." For sushi he recommended Blanc de Blancs, a 100% Chardonnay Champagne. I also wanted to know about any unusual or unexpected successful pairings with Champagne that he experienced and his first thought was "sweetbreads with truffles."
I was curious about his philosophy as a winemaker, if he had, like other Champagne houses, a "house style" that he tried to achieve to ensure consistency year in and out. Jean-Pierre said rather than a "house" style, he just makes the style of wine he likes: easy to drink, light, elegant. This strategy shifts a bit for the vintage Champagnes, where, as Jean-Pierre explained, "I try to keep the specificity of the year."
If you are still hesitant or intimidated by Champagne, and pairing it with food, just take it from a guy who has made Champagne for 30+ years: "Champagne is good with every food." And it was certainly good, if not great, with lunch later that day!
The Blanc de Blancs (100% Chardonnay) had a freshness and brightness that was fabulous with the raw to barely cooked tuna.
Palmes d'Or 1996, an aged Champagne with a yeasty component, was fantastic with the mushroom bread pudding. A rich fish like King salmon can stand up to a Champagne of this caliber.
I wasn't too sure how a dry rosé would match with chocolate, but the sweetness of the dessert really brought out the strawberry and raspberry flavors of the Champagne and it ended up being a very pleasant surprise.
Jameson Fink is a wine buyer at a bustling grocery store in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. He moved to Seattle from Chicago (where he dabbled in the restaurant and wine industries) five years ago to pursue a full-time career in wine. He’d rather be drinking Champagne and eating popcorn right now.