Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Besserat de Bellefon Champagne Dinner at Les Zygomates

"Many Champagnes are good with food, but only one was made for food."
--Besserat de Bellefon

Last month, I attended a Besserat de Bellefon lunch at L'Espalier and I was impressed with their Champagnes and how well they paired with food. Check out my prior article, Besserat de Bellefon: Champagne Made For Food, for more information on the winery as well as tasting notes for their Champagnes. This month, I was invited as a media guest to attend a Besserat de Bellefon dinner at Les Zygomates, a wine bar and bistro in the Leather District of Boston. I was excited for another opportunity to examine how well the Besserat Champagnes paired with food.

Les Zygomates, which opened in 1994, is open for lunch and dinner, and also has a bar area where you can just get a cocktail or glass of wine. The menu, led by Executive Chef Gio Ceballos, includes plenty of French bistro fare, a Raw Bar, Charcuterie, and more. They are well known for their interesting wine list and their Beverage Director, Ashley Kompass, organized the Champagne dinner.    The restaurant has a casual, neighborhood feel though the private dining rooms add some elegance to the experience.

The intimate dinner, which was attended by about twenty people, was led by Matthieu Luneau, the Export Manager for Besserat. Matthieu is down-to-earth and personable, passionate about Champagne and food, and makes an excellent ambassador for this House. I'd already heard many of the details about their Champagne that Matthieu mentioned at the dinner, but I also had the opportunity to ask him some additional questions. I won't repeat what I previously wrote in my prior article on Besserat, but will expand on a few points.

As I previously mentioned, in 1930, a famous Parisian restaurant, the Samaritaine de Luxe created a contest to see which Champagne house could produce the best sparkling wine to pair with food. To give some more context, in 1930, there were many artists in Paris and they often threw parties, drinking heavily, including lots of Champagne. However, they weren't drinking it with food so it was a revolutionary idea to drink Champagne with dinner. Four Champagne producers participated in the contest, with Besserat using a lower tirage in their Champagne than the other producers, basically only 19 grams as opposed to the usual 24. And that was the key to Besserat's victory.

I asked Matthieu, who has spoken to many groups and journalists over the years, about what question does he wish someone had asked him but never did. To him, the most compelling concern was whether people truly understood how Champagne was produced. How much do they know about the actual process? Do they understand why Champagne is expensive? What is the difference between a $10 Prosecco and a $50 Champagne? It is important to Matthieu to educate the average consumer about these matters, so they can make better informed choices.

At the wine shop I work, I have seen many customers who don't fully understand about Champagne. A significant number of them refer to all sparkling wine as Champagne and the higher price can turn them away. However, many of these same customers also want sparkling wine to celebrate, or make mimosas for brunch. They rarely come in seeking sparkling wine to pair with dinner. Education for these consumers is thus important.

For Matthieu, the Besserat Champagnes can pair well with most any dish, even some which are considered difficult pairings, such as asparagus. He did note though that some heavy sauces can be a problem and could overwhelm the Champagne. As such, meat dishes and others without heavy sauces will work better with their Champagne. At my prior lunch, the various dishes were enhanced by the Champagne and my dinner at Les Zygomates was no different. Each of our four courses worked very well with the different Champagnes, and I gained an even deeper appreciation for Besserat de Bellefon.

We began the evening with the NV Besserat de Bellefon Cuvée des Moines Brut ($45), which I previously stated is "a blend of 35% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir, and 45% Pinot Meunier. This is their flagship wine, which accounts for about 55% of their total sales. It is not a traditional Brut but rather a Prestige Cuvée, with a dosage of about 4.8 grams. You should note that this wine, as well as the Extra Brut, has a high percentage of Pinot Meunier, which is uncommon for many Champagne Houses. This wine also was creamy and elegant, dry with good acidity, and with tasty flavors of lemon, pear and salted nuts."

With this wine, we enjoyed a Mango Crab Tower, with Avocado, that contained plenty of sweet crab meat enhanced by the fruit flavors and acidity of the mango. The Brut is an excellent choice for pairing with seafood and the crab tower was thus a fine pairing with this bubbly. Crisp, fresh and dry, the Brut would do well with other crab dishes, as well as everything from oysters to sushi. It would be a good introductory Champagne to show people how it can pair well with food, and the benefits of doing so.

For the second course, they poured the NV Besserat de Bellefon Cuvée des Moines Blanc de Blancs ($75), which I previously wrote "is made from 100% Grand Cru Chardonnay from Cotes des Blancs. This style was added to their portfolio in 1999. Creamy, dry and crisp, this Champagne presented an appealing and complex blend of flavors, including light toasty notes, bright citrus and honey elements. Plenty of chalky minerality and some floral accents, with a lengthy and pleasing finish."

This course included an intriguing and delicious dish of Fried Oysters, Smoked Bacon and Bleu Cheese Dressing. Though Matthieu noted some initial trepidation with the Champagne's pairing with the smoky bacon, as soon as he tasted the dish with the bubbly he was a convert. The Blanc de Blancs went great with the fried oyster, and would do well with many different fried foods, but it also did well with the salt & smoke of the bacon, as well as the more pungent flavors of the blue cheese. A number of attendees noted that this was their favorite Champagne of the tasting and it certainly was excellent and versatile with food.

Next up was the Vintage 2006 Besserat de Bellefon Cuvée des Moines Brut ($80), which I previously wrote was "a blend of 54% Chardonnay, 15% Pinot Noir, & 31% Pinot Meunier. This is their current release and they don't always produce a vintage Champagne each year. This Champagne possessed a bright gold color and reminded me of the Brut except at a higher level, with more intensity and complexity. It was still elegant, yet with more restrained power. Crisp and dry, creamy and delicious. A beautiful and harmonious melange of flavors, including apple, pear, almonds, spice and brioche. There is so much going on in the glass." The last vintage before this one was 2002, which was a great year, and the next vintage will be 2008, which also was an excellent year.

This Champagne can stand up well to meat, such as the Roasted Duck Breast with Fig Jam, tender and flavorful duck enhanced by the sweetness of the fig jam. I love duck and this was a delightful dish, and the complexity of the Champagne wasn't overwhelmed by the dish. I think this Champagne would work well with lamb and wild boar too. It possesses plenty of power yet it is still restrained as well, and thus can handle a stronger dish.

The final Champagne of the evening was the NV Besserat de Bellefon Cuvée des Moines Brut Rosé ($70) which was one of my favorites of their Champagnes. I previously wrote that it is "a blend of 30% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir, & 40% Pinot Meunier. They started producing a Rosé in 1972 and it has become very popular in the U.S. With a rich salmon color, this is a compelling Champagne, with bright red fruit flavors, a mild smokiness, peach & orange zest notes. It is crisp and clean, elegant and dry. This is a Champagne I could easily drink all night. It was paired with a couple cheeses and was a very pleasing companion. I think this would be a versatile Champagne for food pairings and I'd happily drink it with pizza or a burger."

I had the Rosé once again with a Duo of Artisanal Cheese, which was an easy and enjoyable pairing. Even with the different flavors on the cheese plate, from the fruit to the honey, the Rosé did well. It is such a delicious and easy drinking Champagne, yet still is complex, and it remains one of my favorites.

Once again, I highly recommend you check out the Champagnes of Besserat de Bellefon and pair them with a variety of foods. And make sure to dine at Les Zygomates, and enjoy their seafood and bistro fare, accompanied by some fine wines. I'm sure Ashley can offer some excellent pairing advice for you.

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