3 Unexpected Pairings for Champagne, According to a Somm
It's not a proper celebration without bubbles, whether you're sipping Champagne, prosecco, or some damn good sparkling water. Effervescent beverages pair excellently with so many of the best party foods—like caviar and just about anything salty.
As we look to New Year's Eve, we asked Michelle Morin, the sommelier at Bourbon Steak Orange County, located at the Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach, if she had pairing ideas that were a little less typical. She said yes, but made one thing clear.
"I don't believe in any set pairing rules because the whole point of food and wine is it's supposed to be enjoyable and pleasurable," Morin said. "At the end of the day, it's grape juice. The person who is making the wine wants you to just enjoy it."
One of Morin's favorite ways to enjoy Champagne is as comforting as it gets: with potato chips. "When salt comes in contact with acid, it's like fireworks," she said.
A dollop of briny caviar doesn't hurt, either. "We do a caviar parfait at Bourbon Steak—it's a Michael Mina classic," said Morin. "It has crème fraîche, smoked salmon, and a fried potato pancake. We had some guests who during lockdown tried to make it themselves at home."
With the knowledge that you can always return to the classics, here are some unexpected Champagne food pairings that Morin recommends.
Morin works at a steakhouse, so naturally she has lots of thoughts on the perfect pairings for it, which extend far beyond red wine. "The reason Champagne works so well with steak is acid," she said. "When you have the fat, you want to be able to cut through that. With a Champagne, you're going to want something a little richer and a little nuttier."
She's fan of the Champagnes coming out of the Chartogne-Taillet family's estate vineyards or anything made with Pinot Noir grapes. A Chardonnay-based Champagne would work nicely, too, if you're serving steak with a creamy, white wine-based sauce like béarnaise. "Champagne with steak is so refreshing," she said.
This applies to steak that isn't cooked, too. "Steak tartare goes great with rosé champagne," she said. "Gaston Chiquet is one of my favorite-grower producers. They make a beautiful rosé — something we serve by the glass. i think that would be extremely festive for the holidays." Morin notes that Marion Chiquet is about to take over their eight-generations-old operation, and is the first woman to do so.
Recipe: Porterhouse Steak
"People don't often think of a ceviche with Champagne," said Morin, recommending a shrimp ceviche in particular. Her preference would be something not too spicy, but if you are making something heavy with jalapeño, find a Champagne that's on the sweeter side. Same goes for crab cakes.
Recipe: Classic Ceviche
3. Panna cotta
Pairing wine with dessert can be a bit tricky, because you usually want your wine to be sweeter than your dessert. Morin says a demi-sec would pair wonderfully with a coconut panna cotta, or fresh berries.
You could make things even sweeter with a Moscato d'Asti paired with a carrot cake or apple pie. Or, skip dessert entirely and set out a cheese course. Morin recommends a creamy cow's milk cheese or firmer goat's milk cheese.
Recipe: Buttermilk Panna Cotta
At the Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach, Morin makes a point to highlight women winemakers, both in California and around the world, as more emerge as leaders in a historically male-dominated industry. She's especially excited about what is happening in Champagne. "It's very exciting," she said. "It's a very traditional region, but there are so many people who are very forward-thinking."