Forget Beluga caviar, foie gras, oysters, smoked salmon or ortolan — that tiny controversial French bird that gourmands eat with a napkin over their heads so they can savour the unique aroma and flavour, supposedly shielded from the eyes of God.
No, rather than the most decadent, expensive ingredient you can think of, it turns out that the food that goes best with the finest champagne is the humble radish.
The discovery was made by the celebrated French chemist and wine expert Jacques Puisais, now 93, who has spent the last half-century unsparingly researching which food goes best with different wines.
Didier Depond, the head of the venerated Delamotte champagne house, is so convinced of the validity of Puisais’ science he has become an evangelist for the root vegetable.
But that is not all.
“I grow my own radishes in my garden so I can eat them when I am drinking my champagne,” he said.
With none of the festive gatherings normally associated with the drink taking place, champagne sales collapsed by as much as 80 percent during the lockdown. Depond, like other producers, has been staying in touch with his clients online.
For such occasions, bottles are dispatched in advance with access codes for the virtual tasting and advice on what temperature the wine should be served, and with what.
The idea is that after a hard day of home working you can get out two bottles beside your computer with some smoked salmon, ham, breadsticks and of course, the star nibble, radish.
The reason for the pairing is owed to the salty, spicy and acidic profile of the vegetable, which makes it an ideal “parallel with Champagne,” Depond told wine publication Decanter.com. Specifically, blanc de blancs styles, noted for their brioche and bread-like aromas, worked particularly well.
Puisais also explained that the spicy character of both radish and Champagne lent particularly well to the pairing, the oenologist told Decanter.com. Radish appears on the palate to be spicier if it is served with a touch of salt and butter, but “by tasting the Champagne after the radish, you will therefore find the Champagne less spicy,” he said.
‘Holy war’ over flute glasses
Online wine tastings have become commonplace due to the coronavirus, but then as soon as everyone has raised their glasses to the screen, a kind of champagne holy war often breaks out, Depond added.
The right glass to serve bubbly in being a deeply divisive issue.
“That really gets the debate going,” joked Depond, whose champagne house celebrates its 260th birthday this year. “I myself am very anti-flute, very anti-coupe. That old very flat glass was OK at the beginning of the 20th century, but happily, we have come a long way” in tasting technology since then, he added.
For Depond nothing beats a tulip glass.
Olivier Krug, the sixth generation of his family to head the Krug dynasty, is also sworn enemy of flute glasses. He compares drinking champagne from one to listening to music with earplugs in.
Krug, who usually spends his time flying around the world, said online tasting sessions has allowed him to “voyage” with 7,000 people in 27 countries without leaving his studio.
“For the first time in 30 years I don’t have a plane ticket booked,” he said, adding that the experience has “changed the way I do business”.
Ice can be nice
Nathalie Vranken, of the Vranken-Pommery house, said the tastings have to be fun.
“We talk about the history, of Madame (Louise) Pommery (the widow who transformed the business and who became the first woman to get a state funeral in France), the architecture and the contemporary art exhibitions in the cellars.
“But when people are unhappy, locked down and cut off from their family and friends, they do not drink champagne,” she admitted. “My life has completely changed” with the virus, Vranken added.
Like Krug, she was constantly on a plane, crossing the Atlantic every 10 days or so. Instead she is now tackling some of her customers’ trickiest questions online, such as: “Should you put ice into champagne?”
The answer is yes, but only with champagnes “that are made to be drunk that way,” she said. “Because otherwise ice ups their acidity.”
This article was first published via AFP Relaxnews; with additional reporting by Evelyn Lok.
(Header image credit: Klara Kulikova/Unsplash)