Champagne and cheese might not be your first choice when it comes to wine and food matching. How about VINTAGE champagne and cheese? Does that sound any more enticing? It did to me. Hell, just mention vintage champagne and I’m there holding out my glass to be filled. I love vintage champagne, what can I say? The complex aromas and deeper flavours that are found in these wines get me every time. I’ve had people in the wine trade tell me they couldn’t drink vintage champagne everyday but I don’t think you could count me in that camp.
What makes a champagne vintage? Too make a long story short, vintage champagne, like vintage port, is not declared every year. Only the years that are deemed to have produced the best grapes are allowed to be declared vintage years.Vintage champagne is also often held for many more years than non-vintage champagne before release.
While it’s true that red wine is what usually pops to mind with cheese, I was invited to an unusual champagne tasting the other day by Veuve Clicquot and Bibendum Wines. The aim was to show that their prestige vintage, Veuve Grande Dame Brut and Grande Dame Rosè are not just for special occasions but can be a delightful way to end a meal. Any meal ending with champagne is a delight as far as I’m concerned.
In one corner we had 2 Veuve Clicquot magnums,the Grande Dame Brut ’95 and the Grande Dame Rosè ’98 along with a regular sized bottle of the Grande Dame Brut ’98 pitted against 3 soft and 3 hard cheeses. The cheeses:
Goat’s Cheese from France
Chaource Rouzaire from Champagne (France)
Cacio Fiore from Latium (Italy)
Pecorino from Sardinia (Italy)
Queso Manchego from La Mancha (Spain)
Old Winchester from Hampshire (England)
The ’95 Brut seemed to be the best match all around. Still quite lively and fresh on the palate it was an ok match to the goat cheese but was even better with the pecorino, magnifying the nutty flavours of the cheese as well as playing nicely with the manchego and the English cheddar. It seemed to work better with the hard, saltier cheeses rather than the soft.
The ’98 Brut didn’t really fare as well against the cheeses except for the soft Cacio Fiore Italian cheese. The two coming together in a seamless blend of creamy flavours matched by just the right touch of acidity to cleanse the palate.The champagne had a honeyed and savoury flavour to it which fit with the slightly bitter cheese.
The ’98 rosè was my favourite but I think it was because of the colour! Seriously, though, it was very dry but the bubbles caressed my palate and the slight smoky raspberry character of the wine definitely made it a rose to remember. I thought it would be better as a palate cleanser, this was a wine that worked in contrast with the cheeses as opposed to in harmony.
Some interesting results. Although the champagnes themselves were showing quite well, the ’95 Brut in magnum especially, it was a bit of a hit and miss with regards to the cheese matching. Like so much else in relation to wine, there are no hard and fast rules. It’s more a case of finding what works best through trial and error. That’s why I’m here, to help you through the maze of food and wine matching. And to drink lots of vintage champagne, natch.