Monday, 25 July 2011

Sushi and Champagne

Oysters and Chablis, steak and Malbec, lamb and Rioja. There are some classic food and wine pairings that, for whatever reason, work. For me, sushi and champagne is one of them. Now, classically in Japan sushi is eaten with beer or sake, the rice-based wine. Champagne and sake are very similar in that both are measured by their sugar levels. With sake the scale goes from +10 (very dry) to -10 (very sweet) but for champagne the scale goes from Brut Nature (very dry) to doux (very sweet). Many people think that sake should be served hot but actually the best sakes are served at room temperature or slightly chilled as heat causes many of the delicate aromas to be lost. 

Richard Geoffroy, Dom Perignon's Chef de Cave, suggests that Dom Perignon is a great partner to the Japanese cuisine because the high yeast content in champagne partners well with the high yeast content in soy sauce, a Japanese staple, but I feel it works on many other levels as well. It is a natural fact that champagne is a great partner for various fish dishes because of its high acidity and cleansing qualities. Most champagnes are also relatively light in their NV forms and so do not overbear light sushi dishes like ginger marinated tiger prawns and salmon nigiri. A favourite tried and tested pairing of mine is tempura salmon maki (infact most tempura dishes) with a light chardonnay dominated champagne, like the Ruinart Blanc de Blancs NV or, if you want something different but equally mouth-watering, the Colin Grand Cru 2004 from French Bubbles.

For heavier japanese dishes like teriyaki duck, I would suggest a more gutsy vintage or rose champagne. The salty character of dishes like this work well with the refreshing champagne nature. I would suggest Gosset Grand Millesime 2000 as a good partner. Its mature and honeyed with ripe, peachy fruit. The Charles Heidsieck Rose Reserve is another fleshy, gastronomic champagne that could hold its own with some heavier sushi dishes.

A word of warning though, strong flavours can kill even the richest champagnes and any heat clashes badly with acidity. This having been said...  go easy on the wasabi.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Brut Zero Champagne

'Brut Nature' or 'Brut Zero' champagnes certainly seem to be on the up at the moment. Many of champagnes largest houses are releasing Brut Zero champagnes in a bid to keep up with changing tastes. Consumer palates, especially in the UK, seem to moving towards a drier style of champagne. Even the worlds most popular champagne, Moets Brut Imperial, is to lower its sugar levels from 12 g/l to 9 g/l in a move to keeps it crown.

'Brut Nature' or 'Brut Zero' champagnes contain less than 3 grams of residual sugar per litre, as opposed to the 6-15 grams typical in most Brut style champagnes and, if made correctly, can show great purity and expression of fruit but if made badly, they can be incredibly austere and thin. The champagne houses tend to use riper vintages as a base to the blend so these blends can be naturally balanced without the need for the sweet dosage. This style of champagne is not, however, necessarily a new concept. Many champagne houses use much lower dosages in their prestige cuvees. The addition of a dosage is often described as 'make up' for the champagne, so the better the champagne, in theory, the less dosage it needs to hide it flaws. This means Brut Nature champagnes can be some of the most candid, frank expressions of terroir and house style that there are.

So, what do Brut Zero champagnes bring to the table that Brut champagnes can't? For a start they are some of the least calorific wines you can buy. Brut nature champagnes have around 65 calories per 125ml glass which is all very well but they are much more than just a diet option.  They are, also, incredibly food friendly because their high acidity levels make them a great palate cleanser. They work well with delicate foods like sushi, scallops and simply cooked fish and also work fantastically with fatty foods such as caviar and foie gras beacue the acidity cut through the fat.

Here are some of the best Brut Nature or Brut Zero champagnes I have tasted recently:

Perle d'Ayala Nature Brut 2002 - 20% Pinot Noir, 80% Chardonnay. This champagne is made from grapes from only Grand Cru and Premiers Cru villages. All the wines have been left on their lees for five years which helps to give them an aromatic nose and complex palate. This champagne has subtle red fruit along with a chalky minerality, candied lemons and a pleasant smokiness. £79.95 from Champagne Direct

Billecart-Salmon Extra Brut NV - 40% Pinot Meunier, 35% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay. Released last July this is one of the new kids on the block. It is made in a very similar way to its esteemed sibling, the Brut Reserve but is left on its lees for slightly longer to allow all its components to mingle. It has a wonderfully floral nose and a soft palate full of brioche and dried fruits and a slightly smokey character.  £38.85 from Berry Brothers and Rudd

Laurant Perrier Ultra Brut NV - 55% Chardonnay, 45% Pinot Noir. This is only made in very ripe years with high natural levels of sugar and the componant wines are selected from parcels which have an average of 97% on the echelle des crus. This champagne has a fine bead and a light palate with preserved lemons and a slightly saline minerality. It is a perfect match for super fresh oysters. £38 from The Champagne Company

Tarlant Zero NV - 33% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay, 33% Pinot Meunier. This Oeuilly based house is a huge believer in the low dosage style and this is their flagship champagne. It is lean and focused with a razor-like citrus hit and crushed shells. I think this will appeal to Chablis Drinkers £27 from Marks and Spencer