Ray Isle
June 05, 2007

A week or so ago I went to one of the odder lunches I've been to in a while, for the launch of the 1999 Dom Perignon. It was up in a strange suite in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, furnished in a way that could best be described as "site of kinky sex crime on Law & Order"—lots of black lacquer, and expensive, stylish but ultimately somewhat icily impersonal furniture. In any case, the lunch was hosted by Richard Geoffroy, the chef de cave of DP, who's given to a kind of alternately diffident and intense hyper-intellectual wine discourse that only the French, and the northern French at that, seem to be able to get away with. ("Minerality in wine can be as much the sea as the earth. Iodine, oyster shell...on the other side it's the earth, the smoke, the peat, all of those characteristics," said with fervor, followed by a wave of the hand and, "Voilà. It is what it is.")

But among the particular pairings of this extremely particular meal—each designed to flatter one aspect of the wine—I was particularly struck by how bizarrely well the DP went with nothing more than thin slices of culatello. Champagne and cured ham isn't most people's idea of the perfect match, but in this case the culatello brought out the spice and earthiness of the DP, while the wine accented the deep porkiness (yes, that is a word—back off, you pedants) of the culatello. Then, as all those darker tastes vanished, you were left with the lingering grapefruit and tangerine notes of the Champagne. 

This, of course, is me overthinking things damn near as much as I've just claimed winemakers from the north of France are apt to do (no one can hold a candle to Jacques Lardier at Jadot for this sort of thing), but it's worthwhile in that you can at least quasi-replicate it at home. Get a bottle of Champagne—the 1999 Dom P. is a fine choice, if you're feeling flush—get some good prosciutto, and see how they go together. If this tasting was any indication, the results should be stellar.

However, don't try and pair Champagne with a yuzu sorbet sprinkled with espelette chili powder. In theory that was supposed to bring out the pineapple in the wine; instead it pretty much stomped it dead. Of course, where on earth you could find yuzu sorbet with espelette chili powder other than a weird room high up in the Mandarin Oriental hotel, I have no idea....

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