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20 May 2021 | Samantha Dugan

Don't Wait for a Special Occasion to Do Champagne Right

“I don’t drink Champagne very often, not really my thing, but I need a bottle for a special occasion tonight”

I’ve heard that same sentence at least 100 times in my many years as The Wine Country’s Champagne buyer, and while I am always happy to hear that someone is looking to buy a bottle of one of my beloved Champagnes, that first part is hard to wrap my head around.  

I know what the words all mean, but strung together like that, “I don’t drink Champagne very often, it’s not really my thing”, well, I am not only baffled, I’m saddened by it.  I get that people don’t like certain things--hell, you just try and get me to enjoy a glass of Zinfandel--but I can’t help but wonder, do you not like it, or have you been doing Champagne all wrong?

“I love the wines from Coutier and Agrapart for their purity and astounding value.  If you want to go a bit higher end, I don’t think you can miss with Camille Saves, Suenen, Billiot and Hure Freres.” This has been my standard when introducing a new customer to my grower Champagnes.

“Okay, so which one would be best with cake?”

Oh, goddamn it.


The problem with celebratory bubbles is they are often purchased to accompany cake, and cake is simply one of the worst pairings in the world with Champagne.

Well, that is next to the other two oft-paired foods--and always a bad idea for the wine--chocolate and caviar.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.  I know you’re celebrating, and perhaps trying to get your romantic swerve on.  Go for it, but don’t expect much from the wine.  

And I understand the whole caviar and Champagne deal--it’s decadent, regal, and carries with it the cachet of luxury, which is something we all crave from time to time, I guess.  Truth be told, the fruit in Champagne does in fact make caviar pop and intensify, but what do those briny little eggs do to that wine?  Um, yeah.

With chocolate, there is an indulgence aspect that I know people dig along with that whole cake nightmare.  I have not a clue where that shit came from, maybe weddings?  No idea who started this horrid “tradition”, but just as in the case of the fish eggs, Champagne can make those sweet treats taste even sweeter, but what does a mouthful of rich chocolate or butter cream do to your Champagne?  I’ll tell you what—it makes it taste sour and robs the wine of any and all complexity, is what.

I’m never going to tell anyone what they can and cannot do with their wine, like I could stop them, anyhow.  Just don’t expect to ever become a true lover of Champagne if you’re going to fuck it up with your mood food.

Just as I would never tell someone to buy a $60 Champagne for their mimosas, if you are going to be pairing your bubbles with any of the three aforementioned, spend less. No reason to throw down for grower bubbles in that situation because everything that makes them worth the price will be decimated by the pairing.

Would you pair your high-end Chardonnays or Pinot Noirs with those foods?  Not too likely, (and if your answer was yes, stop reading, I’m not talking to you), but this is where your grumbly Champagne specialist has a duty to point out, just what you think those bubbles are made from?  Yeah, that’s right, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  With Coutier, Savès and Pierre Peters, instead of wasting your money, might I recommend Moet Imperial Ice?

Back when we could do Friday night tastings (and hopefully again before too long), we had sold-out events featuring my beloved grower Champagnes with a food that is not only perfectly suited to them, but kinda fills that, “I am a decadent badass and I’m so doing this!” thing as well.  Had the usual baskets of potato chips at each table--those chips another harmonious partner to the bubbles--but the star, the reason all those folks turned out, I mean aside from the wines of course, was fried chicken.  Oh yeah.  Real food.  Everyday food.

Savory, salty, crispy, these three qualities not only love Champagne, they actually do what every wine lover wants, they make their wine taste even better.

The true key to any successful food and wine pairing is to have both things taste as good, or if you’re lucky, even better when put together.  And there are few finer and more harmonious than Champagne and fried chicken.  The bubbles in the wine lifting and lightening the heaviness of the food, and the salty, meaty, crispiness of the chicken framing, drawing out and magnifying the serious complexity and nuances in the wines.  Success!

Teeth breaking through crunchy, salty skin to be met by tender and oh-so-juicy chicken meat, washing it all down with those resplendent, hand crafted, mind-bending grower Champagnes.

That, right there, is doing it right.


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