Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Some of my Favorite Champagnes with Fried Food...Who Knew?

Apparently a lot of people know about this combination, this antithetical pairing of delicately nuanced Champagne with the greasy heavy fist of fried food. I remember reading Peter's post about this a while back, and thinking, "Hmmm, I'd sooner take a bottle of Champagne to drink at a monster truck rally." But as with so very many other things, my friends, I was wrong. Champagne and fried food do somehow go together very well. And fried food, when well made, doesn't even overpower the wine.

I recently happened to have the opportunity to drink several absolutely excellent Champagnes with skillfully fried food, with delicious results. At a dinner put on by Charlie Woods of Bonhomie Wine Imports, we ate large plates of fried oysters with aioli. They were plump and briny, encased in some sort of lightly seasoned cornmeal mixture, and carefully deep fried. I say carefully, because careless deep frying results in greasy food, over or undercooked food, or food that tastes more of the fryer than of itself. These oysters were pretty perfect. There were several Champagnes on the table, as Bonhomie brings in a small but wonderful group of Champagnes, wines that you should unhesitatingly seek out if you enjoy Champagne.

With the oysters I drank a relatively unknown but incredibly delicious and interesting wine, the 2004 Michel Loriot Pinot Meunier Vieilles Vignes Brut, $75. According to, Loriot's estate is located in Festigny, a village in the quiet (read: backwater) Flagot Valley, at the western edge of wine production in the Marne Valley. Meunier does very well in this part of the Marne, and Michel Loriot makes several Meunier-based wines. From what I've tasted, this one is the most special, from vines that are over 40 years old. I absolutely love this wine, with its great intensity of flavor, its sharp focus and balance, and its harmonious expression. It doesn't feel like Meunier - it has not the slightest hint of rusticity, none of that roundness, the cashew-inflected fruit. Not that those things are bad, but this wine is a unique expression of Meunier, and it was fantastic with fried oysters. Loriot's wines are not so easy to find, and this one particularly rare. If you want to try it, Astor Wines has it on the shelves right now, and I hear that a few other shops are considering carrying it - in a few weeks try Uva or Slope Cellars in Brooklyn. It's distributed by David Bowler, so you can always check there.

At the same dinner we drank several wines by Marie-Noëlle Ledru, one of my favorite producers in Champagne. The whole lineup here is great, one wine better than the next. The non-vintage Extra-Brut we drank was based on wines from 2007 and 2006, but because of the ripe richness of the wine, I guessed it was based on 2008. In any case, it's delicious, zesty and fresh, perfectly balanced, and with surprising intensity. Ledru's top wine, the 2006 Cuvée du Goulté (best of the best) of Ambonnay, was constricted and tight on this evening, as might be expected in its youth. Still, its character and class show through clearly, and it will be great in time. My favorite on this night was the 2002 Brut Nature with its beautiful red fruit that really lasts in the nostrils, its vibrancy and clarity. It also happened to be wonderful with french fries. Ledru's wines have become easier to find, as word is out - these are some of the finest, and also the least expensive (!) wines from Ambonnay. You should try one if you haven't already, and all of the usual suspects in NYC carry them.

At lunch one recent day, also with fried oysters, we drank a beautiful bottle of NV Benoît Lahaye Grand Cru Brut Nature, $45, Jeffrey Alpert Selections. Peter Liem put it bluntly: "Lahaye is now the best producer in Bouzy, and in 10 years everyone will know that he is an absolute superstar." I have yet to encounter the Lahaye wine that I don't love. This wine is based on 2008, and it's vibrant and graceful, very pure and fresh. That it is Brut Nature is almost beside the point - it is perfectly ripe and balanced - it just happens not to be dosed. Lahaye's wines, sadly, are almost impossible to find. Joe Salamone at Crush has been stocking them for a while now though, so you might try there if you're looking. I hope that these wines become more readily available, and that the whole lineup makes it to the States, not only the non-vintage wines. The NV Brut Nature, by the way, was great with fried oysters, which brought out the wine's salinity and mineral undertones.


Anonymous said...

Marcus Saamelson is doing a champagne and fried chicken dinner tonight at Red Rooster in Harlem.

King Krak, I Rule the Game said...

Sparkling wine with fried chicken...made for each other.

The Wine Mule said...

A budget alternative, especially with fried chicken: Sparkling Gruner Veltliner. I've had Steininger's; there are several others. Upon being introduced to this matchless match, I was reminded that, after all, the wine comes from the same folks who invented schnitzel.