Champagne just might be the best food wine on the planet. While it rightly gets popped for the most special occasions, it’s still a wine, something that more and more of us are using to celebrate everyday moments, like the perfection of some seriously mouthwatering French fries or juicy chicken done just right. Champagne is the only wine you can drink 24 hours a day, notes Didier Mariotti, cellar master at Veuve Clicquot—so yes, he would say that, but we like his style. “You can drink it with breakfast, over brunch, with a sandwich at lunch, as an aperitif, with dinner and on into the night.” Here are 11 bottles, and their ideal companions, to add to your table every week.
Food Styling by Maggie Ruggiero
Roasted, Herb-Crusted Chicken
“Food is the first circle of dialogue between our wine and the outside world,” says chef de cave Vincent Chaperon. “It is a way to better understand our Champagne. With the 2010, where we have a wide, deep, intense wine, we will be able to approach firm, dry, tight meats with a little more prolonged cooking. In the seasonings we go for creamy, sunny.”
Dom Pérignon was one of the few houses in the region to declare a 2010 vintage, largely because yields plummeted after torrential late-summer rains led to botrytis. The estate lost 40 to 60 tons of grapes to the fungus but still prevailed, picking and sorting precisely and cautiously; the healthy grapes had just the right balance that Chaperon sought. It’s
a surprisingly plush wine, less tight at the approach, which is full of tropical fruits and lemon curd. But the lip-smacking acidity is felt on the finish, speaking to how the Dom Pérignon 2010 ($188) might evolve with age.
Another clever pairing with an herbed chicken breast hails from Italy’s small-production lake district, just north of Milan. If Champagne had an Italian sibling, it would be this wine. The Ca’ del Bosco 2010 Annamaria Clementi Franciacorta Riserva ($120) is made only in outstanding years. This 2010 is deep and nuanced, offering layers of toasted pie crust and hazelnut aromas under lemon custard, spiced pear and dried apple on a nose that’s amazingly fresh for all of its seven-plus years on the lees. There’s no dosage here, no added sugar, but Franciacorta is a much richer style than its distant cousin, prosecco. This one is a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc.
Fresh Greens in Herbed Broth
“For me, Champagne is an everyday wine because I love to celebrate the beauty of life every day,” says Didier Mariotti again, from Veuve Clicquot. “It always brings a smile to people.” Which we all may need more than ever this year. Among the first of the 2012 vintage releases, Veuve’s 2012 La Grande Dame Yayoi Kusama Limited Edition ($195) is incredibly fresh and finessed. Beginning with 2008, the maison has moved toward a blend heavy on Pinot Noir—90 percent for this one—allowing Mariotti to lean into the characteristics of Pinot coming from two regions. The northern plots produce a sharper, leaner wine and from the southern come more power and fruit. That lemony backbone and almost tight bitterness are a terrific match for a green veg such as fresh asparagus. The richness of the broth—or a delicate tempura—elicits the deeper notes of buttery brioche and fennel.
An Oregon sparkler, this one an all-Chardonnay version, also brims with citrus, making it a natural fit for just-picked greens. With almost six years on the lees, Soter 2013 Mineral Springs Blanc de Blancs Yamhill-Carlton ($100) opens with a whiff of fresh-baked bread, joined by spiced apple, almond, white blossom and Meyer lemon. The wine lives up to its vineyard source, with a streak of minerality under tart acidity carried by an elegant effervescence through a long, dry finish.
French fries are all about pleasure. Yes, there’s a root vegetable in there, but they’re much more about the fatty, savory, salty and crispy goodness of indulgence. Which makes them the ideal pairing for wines that are also all about pleasure. Taittinger’s 2008 Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs ($200) fills the need. It’s very much a classic bubbly in its purity and directness, but two qualities make it just right for this, says Vitalie Taittinger, the estate’s president. At first sip, you’re immersed in immediate gratification, just as in the first bite of French fries. Add an element like truffle salt and it matches the more complex layers of the wine, the savory aromas that elicit notes of terroir. “It is simple and inside the pleasure,” she says, “but also sophisticated.”
Todd Graff, winemaker for Napa’s Frank Family Vineyards, agrees and offers his 2015 Brut Rosé for the job. “The sea salt and oil are cut perfectly by the clean crispness of the wine,” he says. (And, for the record, his second go-to is potato chips, also with the sea-salt treatment.) Vibrant but elegant, the pale-coral Frank Family Vineyards Brut Rosé, Carneros ($55), opens with the slight salinity of a fresh ocean breeze wrapping around raspberry, peach and river-stone notes. A gamut of red fruit unfolds on the palate, from cherry and strawberry to raspberry and cranberry, cut with the slight bitterness of pithy orange peel. The effect is a beautifully textured, mouth-filling sipper that finishes refreshingly dry.
Alexandre Cattier, chef de cave (the Champagne title for head winemaker puts a culinary spin on the role) at Champagne Armand de Brignac, says of Armand de Brignac Brut Gold ($300), “The soft and creamy mouthfeel and rich palate of cherry and exotic fruits in this Champagne cut through the fattiness of breaded fried chicken. The experience is surprisingly refreshing.”
Stateside, Oregon sparklers are hitting their stride. Andy Lytle, cofounder of Lytle-Barnett in the Willamette Valley, agreeing with the fried chicken/sparkling wine plan, would add caviar on the side (sure, why not?) and put up his Lytle-Barnett 2013 Brut Rosé ($80) as partner. The 100 percent Pinot balances earthy notes from more than three years in bottle on the lees with bright acidity.
Back on the French side of the pond, Cyril Delarue, sixth-generation Bollinger family member and head of business development (also an oenologist) for Champagne Bollinger, suggests Jamón Ibérico and Marcona almonds seasoned with smoked paprika to go with the new Champagne Bollinger PN VZ15 ($120), the first in a series that celebrates the very specific terroir of Pinot Noir through a different cru each year as the base wine. The full-bodied Blanc de Noirs is exuberant and aromatic, with notes of dried fig, plum and toasted brioche along with a lingering nuttiness.
Egg Salad on Brioche
Champagne’s natural acidity balances the rich, creamy egg while complementing the toasted brioche with its own yeasty, bready aromas. Olivier Krug, director of the house of Krug, especially likes a version that includes crème fraîche and Dijon mustard to pair with the complex Krug Grande Cuvée 168th Edition ($200). This Champagne is a blend of 198 individual wines from the Krug cellars, representing 11 vintages, the youngest being the 2012 and the oldest the 1996. “The 1996 was always best in class in the tasting room,” says Krug. “The perfume was just right for this cuvée.”
Champagne Thiénot chef de cave Nicolas Uriel has teamed up with Australia’s Penfolds to make Champagne Thiénot x Penfolds 2012 Blanc de Blancs Avize Grand Cru ($200), an all-Chardonnay sparkler that’s a slam dunk with egg salad. The wine is ripe but nuanced, balancing richness with finesse. Honey scents open, layered with notes of spiced apple and candied- lemon peel. On the elegantly textured palate, citrus gives way to stone fruit, hazelnut and a hint of dried mango.