Founder of Educavin, where he is a consultant for producers and the interprofession of wine, expert trainer, organizer of tastings and wine tourism guide, this wine, terroir and gastronomy specialist brings another vision of Champagne terroirs and food-pairings for exclusive and unforgettable experiences. His credo: “From the terroir to the plate”. If he clarifies that he is not oenologist, his many expertises and his precision are well known in the lands of Champagne and beyond. Lets review with him the basics to know to succeed pairings, with a closer look to champagne pairings.

Tell us about your background, what led you to study and appreciate the work on food-pairings?
I have an uncle who is a cook, and a great wine lover – he has by the by made this passion his second job. This lays the foundation.
After my studies I had the opportunity to create culinary harmonies during commented meals, to work with chefs or caterers and I was a consultant for Dalloyau in Paris. Non-sommelier by training, I created my own principles and I studied more scientifically food, the physiology of taste – just like I did for wine during my studies.

Name a food-pairing that particularly marked you, and tell us why?
Very early I started to create food-pairings with champagne. As I started working outside my region for 2 years, I had learnt how to have no taboo or rules to follow. I think I started with shoulder of lamb and then chocolate.
I recently made a food-pairing with a young Blanc de Blancs champagne from the Côte des Blancs with a lemon ganache chocolate. It was audacious, but very successful!

What is your favorite harmony, and why?
No false modesty! I do a lot of them each year, and there are great harmonic encounters, which makes my choice impossible. I would say foie gras, raw ham and cheese, as it is very easy to combine them with champagne.

For you, what is a good food-pairing?
There are several possible approaches, but let’s stay on generosity and pleasure.
It must meet three expectations: chromatic / olfactory / gustatory resonance, elegance – even in power -, and the gastronomic objective, as it should not saturate the palate in order to facilitate the pursuit of the experience with a another wine and another dish.

What is the secret of successful food-pairing with wine?
It is true that the works on pairings only edit rules which are ”easy“ to get around.
As far as I am concerned, I encourage the playfulness and the experimentation.

I give you an example:
take four bottles of wine and four different preparations of an element – your choice of product: shellfish / fish / cold cuts / foie-gras / meat / poultry / vegetables / cheese / dessert… The idea is to test each wine, on each preparation, which makes 16 tests for one session. The interesting thing is that you can do it with your guests during a dinner party for example. The more you develop these types of sessions, the more you will immediately understand what works and what doesn’t, before going further into the process.

ZOOM IN ON CHAMPAGNE

What is the secret for a successful champagne-pairing? 
I create more than 2000 champagne pairings a year and I do it without bans, but with a lot of common sense and without testing before the harmony. People sanctify champagne pairings and this, because of the effervescence. If you admit that the texture basis of a champagne is represented by its acidity and its bubbles, each time you think of an harmony, ask yourself how you will facilitate the introduction of these two elements in the texture of your dish. How will your dish deconstruct in the palate. Once you admitted that, you just have to adjust the power and make harmonic links – fruitiness, freshness, floral or herbal notes…

Lets take an example:
a very tender goat and a dry goat. The chewing of the first accelerates the melt and fully facilitates the incorporation of champagne. For the second, chewing leaves only compact pieces that stop bubbles and acidity, and it can be a disaster…

What types of pairing can be made?
You can do everything!  With champagne, as long as the texture of the dish lets the effervescence and the acidity live, you will be fine ! The next question lies on the dosage. The more bitterness there is, the more contrast is needed with the sweetness (structure, sugar). Likewise, the more spiciness there is in a dish, the more sugar is necessary – as with sweet wines.

Why is it more difficult to pair champagne?
Most of the time the common sense mentioned above is not there, and people are badly advised.
For example, you can’t tell a customer to pair a brut rosé champagne with dessert if that dessert is a dark forest with alcoholic cherries inside. Moreover, people usually don’t know about the great diversity of champagnes, thanks to the blends and all nuances the terroirs offer. When you have a sensory culture of a wine region, it is always easier to envisage it on various dishes and consumption occasions.

Do you believe impossible food-pairings exist in the wine world? And more specifically in the champagne world?
I honestly think that there are no impossible food-pairing in the world of wine in the light of accomplished extreme achievements. For the moment, I have never handed in a blank copy with champagne. However, it is certain that a food / condiment / spice which saturates your palate and inhibits your sense of taste with too much aggression on the palate can never value great harmonies anyway.

What is the terroirs part in the food-pairing? Are they facilitating the harmony? Can they be the source of a perfect match?
I use my expertise on the varietal expression by type of subsoil and by sector of the Champagne area to make my pairings with the winegrower and village cooperative champagnes.

For example:
take a raw pata negra Bellota ham. This ham is rich in good fatty acids developing meat, hazelnut and acorn aromas, especially in the mid-palate. I will immediately look for clayey soils whose minerality mainly occupies the mid-palate – whatever the grape variety. After that, I really need a fruity power and freshness. My research is thus focused on a Blanc de Noirs champagne from Pinot noir grape variety on clayey soil, and a quite young one, or I can also choose a very fruity and consistent maceration rosé.

Text : Anaïs Guerchovitch (portraitsdebulles.com)
Photos : Alexis Guerchovitch for Portraits de Bulles