Most of us, even if not the biggest of wine fans, will know of the rule of thumb quote ‘white wine for white meats (and fish) and red wine for red meats’. Depending on the style and quality of the wine chosen, this phrase is relatively a safe bet in most cases and worthy of its acclaimed fame. What about when we add bubbles to the wines?
In the world of sparkling wine we also have both white and red options, though the latter is far less common than its still counterpart. It is becoming more and more popular to pair fine gastronomic delights with some of the world’s finest bubbles – From Champagne to Prosecco, there is a dish to match every glass of bubbly.
Taking the basic quote of wine white for white meat and red wine for red meat we are really only ever touching the surface of what is a massive topic with many variations. Not only have the wines different producers, terroirs, countries, styles, grapes and more, we also have the meats which can come from many varied animals and prepared in an endless array of cooking styles and recipes – To be honest, pairing wines and food is both a highly complicated subject and yet quite simple at the same time.
Why do they say that white meats and fish pair better with white wines? Champagne is of course a white wine with the addition of gas, it is the production method that changes with the notable difference being air escapes for still wines and is contained / added for sparkling wines.
White wines are lighter bodied which pair better alongside lighter meats / fish which are classified as white (see lists later on in the article). White wines are fruity, fresh and floral and have an altogether delicate style that matches well against the light texture and flavours of white meats. Red wines are known to be heavier and hold more tannins thus are better to pair alongside heavier, fattier red meats.
“It is not compulsory to drink white wine with fish and red with meat” Keith Floyd from his autobiography (page 182) ‘Stirred But Not Shaken’
Champagne will usually be higher in acidity which makes it a great pairing against oily / fattier / bulky meals in that it cleanses the palate. Champagne will come in either white or rosé. The principle to adopt is to pair off the Champagne and food on similar intensity in that neither one nor the other is overpowering – When it comes to a dish and wine complimenting each other well you can expect to find enhanced flavours and sometimes even entirely new ones.
Once you understand better the Champagne you have and the flavour style (sweetness) it holds, then you can formulate easier a picture of the food types it is likely to pair best with. A sweeter style of Champagne will pair nicely with desserts for instance and an Extra Brut / Brut Nature will go better alongside deep fried foods.
Foods will form one of many taste characters: Sweet / Sour / Bitter / Fatty / Salt / Umami – An important thing to note is that Champagne can also express each of the main taste characters meaning it can pair well against a similar taste profile dish.
White Meats include:
Poultry – Chicken / Turkey / Goose / Duck
Fish – Plaice / Sea Bass / Cod / Mullet / Turbot / Skate / Sole / Crab / Lobster
(For this article I will not include Pork as this is open to debate and usually placed within white meats for PR reasons (healthier eating push))
Roast / Braised
Boiled / Poached
Grilled / Rotisserie
BBQ / Smoked
White Meat Sauces / Recipes:
White Sauce / Cream / Mushroom / Cordon Bleu Sauce
White Wine Sauce
BBQ Sauce / Buffalo Style
Sweet & Sour
Soup / Noodles
Above are a selection of examples, so once you start adding up the variations between the Champagne, then the type of white meat, how it is cooked and the sauce / recipe you are going for, then the variations start to be quite expansive! Also, we must take into consideration that the same dish can be very different from country to country and even region to region with very varied recipes (and ingredients).
“We can pair Champagne with a variety of dishes and the added ease is that there are different sweetness levels allowing us to be more precise. There are many food styles from sweet to hot & spicy, dry to fatty, rich or plain which means we need to work around a pair pattern. This mostly sees less sugar Champagne such as extra brut and brut nature going nicely alongside fattier dishes whereas sweeter options and rosé Champagne can match brilliantly with spicier dishes. Just because it is chicken curry does not gives us a clear clue on what Champagne to pair with it as there are vast amounts of curry to choose from such as from origination ie Thai or Punjabi let alone style ie Dhansak or a phal(l) so work out the cooking ‘style’ and ‘ingredients’ first then pair it with a suitable wine.” Christopher Walkey
A quick run through on styles of Champagnes and ideal white meat food pairings:
Rosé – BBQ chicken / spicy chicken curry / duck / lobster
Blanc de Blancs Brut – Boiled chicken in creamy sauce / Sunday roast chicken / fish pie
Brut Nature – Deep fried chicken / battered cod
Vintage – Chicken roulade / Coq Au Vin / scallops
Roast Turkey and Champagne pairing suggestion: Slightly less fatty than chicken, turkey is seen as a healthier option in the white meat category. With less need to cut through any fatty texture, we can rely upon a brut style Champagne and ideally a Blanc de Blancs (100%). Something with a little bottle ageing so still a fresher style exhibiting fruits and floral yet with yeasty characters. With these requirements in mind, I selected the Blanc de Blancs Autolyse of Le Brun de Neuville from the 2009 harvest that also sees oak barrel contact.
Tasting Notes: “Golden fruits, citrus, honey, floral nose. Dosage 7 g/l though tastes like an extra brut. Acidic style, citrus, limestone, grapefruit, peach skin and apricot pastry.”
Pairing notes: “Paired with roast turkey. Easily cuts through the texture and any fatty meat to leave a clean / clear soft citrus expression on the palate.”