Monday, May 16, 2016

Rant: Drink Champagne With Dinner!

"You don't need to be a sommelier as sparkling wine pairs with everything."
--Marcello Lunelli

For many people, Champagne is a pricey luxury that is primarily purchased for special occasions, to celebrate memorable occasions and events. It might be served as an aperitif, something to whet your appetite for a meal to come. Or it might only be for a celebratory toast. Rarely, will those people drink Champagne with their dinner, paired with every course. When these people are considering wine & food pairings, bubbly is often not a consideration.

Even a number of wine professionals don't consider Champagne often with their food pairings. When is the last time a restaurant sommelier recommended that you pair Champagne with your dinner? It is a rarity yet it shouldn't be.

Why aren't more people drinking Champagne with their meals?

I recently attended two media Champagne lunches, hosted by different Champagne Houses, and both producers emphasized how Champagne pairs well with a variety of foods and should be a consideration when selecting a wine to pair with dinner. They were trying to promote this idea, that Champagne is very food friendly and that there are good reasons why it makes excellent pairings.

When I traveled to the Champagne region, I drank Champagne with nearly every lunch and dinner. Steak tartare, cod, veal with morels, tomatoes & mozzarella, snails & pasta, cheese, chicken Milanese, and much more. The style and type of Champagne varied, dependent on the course, from bone-dry, no dosage cuvees to fruity Rosé Champagne. In general, the pairings worked and contributed to making it an even better meal. During both of the recent lunches, the Champagne pairings also worked well with the various courses, from squab to lobster, cheese to foie gras. I've attended a number of other Champagne dinners over the years and my experiences were similar.

Champagne definitely can pair well with a multitude of dishes.

So I ask again, why aren't more people drinking Champagne with their meals?

One of the primary reasons is relatively simple. It's too expensive. To purchase a basic Champagne at a wine store, it will commonly cost you $40-$50. The average person will only spend that much on a special occasion, a luxury which they see as celebratory. They wouldn't pick up such an expensive bottle to take home and have with pizza or a burger. And if they go to a restaurant, that same bottle of Champagne could run them $100-$150.

However, that issue is also a matter of perception. Consider that when you dine out at a restaurant and order a bottle of wine with your meal, whether a red, white or rose, you commonly will pay $40 or more for that bottle. This is seen as normal, as appropriate for dinner. And you even know that the restaurant has marked up the price of that wine, so that you might be paying two to four times the usual retail price of that wine. If you'll willing to spend $40 for a wine at a restaurant to accompany your dinner, then why wouldn't you spend that same amount for a wine to pair with your dinner at home? If you look at it that way, it seems more logical why you might pick up a bottle of Champagne for dinner at home.    

Another primary reason for why people don't drink Champagne with their meals is that they don't realize the pairing can work. They might not have ever enjoyed Champagne with a dinner so didn't realize how it meshed with food. There are plenty of less expensive sparkling wine options out there, but it probably isn't a surprise that people rarely drink those throughout a dinner either. Sparkling wine, even the inexpensive types, are most usually drank on their own. And again, at restaurants, sommeliers rarely, if ever, recommend sparkling wines throughout a dinner.

We need to continue to promoting the fact that sparkling wine can pair well with food. We need wine professionals, at wine shops and restaurants, to encourage their customers to select Champagne and other sparkling wines for dinner pairings. It might be easier to convince these customers with the less expensive sparkling wine options. However, that would be a positive step forward into getting those people to embrace Champagne as a food pairing wine. We need to start somewhere and that might be an appropriate point.

I strongly urge all my readers to experiment with sparkling wine and food pairings. Grab a bottle of bubbly, invite over some friends, and drink it with whatever you are eating. Someone had to be the first person to try potato chips and Champagne, a pairing which works very well. When your guests thoroughly enjoy the pairings, they might think you are a wine genius. When you dine out at a restaurant, ask the sommelier which sparkling wines he would advise that you drink with your dinner.

Hopefully, this will lead you to drinking Champagne with dinner. It will no longer be just a celebratory wine, but something which enhances your food as well. Maybe when you grill burgers and hot dogs this summer, you'll pop a bottle of bubbly to drink with them. Maybe that should be your summer goal.

(And check out this new article in the Japan Times about pairing Champagne with Japanese kaiseki cuisine!)

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