Champagne and Caviar

Ring in the new year with this divine pairing

Champagne and caviar are a match made in heaven. Some purists say that you should wash down caviar with vodka. But my liver and head would disagree

the morning after. There is something more than intoxicating when you taste those fresh and complex beads of the sturgeon and cleanse your palate with the fine beads of the world’s great Champagnes.

One of my most memorable experiences with this combination was at Neiman Marcus with the Mariposa Wine Club (which I founded), which was having a Millennium Celebration with wine from every decade since 1900. We ordered a 2.2-pound tin of Petrossian Imperial Ossetra. This was the genuine Caspian Sea article with its lightly golden hue and nutty, salty complexity offered together with all the fixings. I remember the eggs being crunchy, light and best on simple, unadultered toast points. Among the Champagnes served were 1990 Roederer Cristal, 1990 Moet et Chandon Dom Perignon, 1990 Laurent Perrier Grand Siècle, 1988 Taittinger Artist Collection Imai, 1982 Salon, 1981 Taittinger Artist Collection Arman and 1976 Krug. With such greats to compare, the one I liked best with the caviar was the 1990 Roederer Cristal that showed plenty of toast, sweet flowery notes, a rich texture followed by a powerful gulp of ripe fruit and an intensely mineral finish. This refreshing finish is the key to this pairing and was what cleansed my palate best rather than the more nutty and vanilla character exhibited by the more mature Champagnes.

On another occasion I was with some friends in Paris, and we went to dinner at Lucas Carton, a three-star Michelin restaurant at the time headed by Chef Alain Senderens. We were having an exquisite bottle of Krug Grande Cuvee. This non-vintage Tête de Cuvee showed stunning complexity with tons of citrus fruits, ginger cookies, almonds and a complete and lengthy finish. I ordered the appetizer of White Asparagus, Iranian Beluga Caviar with a Lobster Veloute. This dish had a sense of zen to it as the caviar was lined perfectly on top of the asparagus as if micro-people had built walls using individual eggs as bricks. The combination of flavors and textures was amazing to say the least. The Champagne cleansed the saltiness and melded with the richness of the caviar and lobster. The asparagus gave it a perfectly crunchy texture. This was a magical moment for my palate.

More recently in San Francisco, I was with my sister and her boyfriend at a hotel, and I called a friend over to help us enjoy a magnum of 1990 Moet et Chandon Dom Perignon. As we enjoyed the grace and beauty of the Dom with its gorgeous nose of vanilla, poached fruits, minerality and nuttiness, a bubble sparked an idea in my sister’s mind: Maybe we should have some caviar. Since we were only halfway through the magnum of Dom, she called down to the Tsar Nicoulai Caviar Bar at the Ferry Building to see if they would let us bring in our own Champagne. It’s only $10 per bottle corkage there – but little do they know I’m bringing a magnum bottle. We belly up to the bar and order a couple of Connoisseurs, the restaurant’s caviar sampler featuring its different grades. The California Estate Osetra was quite salty, especially on entry, and a nice, tight bead. Royal Onyx California Estate Osetra was dark and similarly flavored, but earthier and with longer-lasting flavor. The Select California Estate Osetra was a step up in complexity, showing some nuttiness and an even longer-lingering finish. The Golden Reserve California Estate Osetra was a pretty gold, with a definitive, nutty, almost porcini mushroom effect, tremendously delicate with a popping crunch. It was my favorite of the bunch. A Caspian Osetra from Azerbaijan finished off the sampler, a smaller egg with a very mineral flavor that was pleasant but not as complex as the Golden Reserve. The Dom Perignon, with its own nuttiness and complexity, went best with the Golden Reserve. The saltier the caviar, the lesser the pairing, especially with aged Champagne like 1990 Dom Perignon. I would recommend something fresher, younger for saltier caviar. But we liked this mature and nutty pair so much that we ordered more caviar and finished off the magnum.

These are some of my favorite pairings of Caviar and Champagne. With sustainable domestic sturgeon farms like Tsar Nicoulai in the U.S., we will continue to be able to enjoy these two delicacies together for generations to come. May you celebrate life with many wonderful caviar and Champagne moments of your own.

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