Champagne snacking

Champagne snacking

by Westgarth Wines January 27, 2023

People often ask me what my favorite wine is. You might as well ask a carpenter what his favorite tool is. Being surrounded by bottles of every shape, size, and origin on a regular basis is great, but if you ask me to pick just one, it's pretty hard. Who am I with? What am I cooking? What music is playing in the background? But the question asker presses. They point. They say there must be one type of wine that I like drinking above all else. Ok, fine, you got me. It's Champagne. So few wines contain this dual-edged combo of precision and richness. Acidity and fruit. Bubbles and silkiness. Champagne is great with light, crunchy foods, but it's also capable of pairing with steak, soup, and sushi. It's a Swiss Army knife in vinous form. So for this special edition of Sommelier Picks, I'm zeroing in on some incredible Champagnes that you should check out. Attached to each suggested wine is a food pairing that I think is particularly nice. I've focused mostly on snack-style foods with salty and crunchy accents, as Champagne plays very well with those elements. I'm a fan of unconventional pairings – don't be afraid to think outside the box!

Jackson's Somm Picks

Egly-Ouriet is an amazing small house based in the Vrigny village, in the region of Montagne de Reims in Champagne. They were one of the first great Grower Champagnes to emerge in the 2000s as a house that cared deeply about the Pinot Meunier grape, and they really staked their reputation on it. Well, I'm glad they did. Their Champagnes have a wonderfully buttery texture and rich finishes but aren't flabby in the slightest. It's an experience of texture and silkiness and a long finish on the palate, even with their more quotidian bottlings like this Brut Tradition, although using the Q word feels reductive in regards to the genius found in this bottle. Enjoy this with crispy, salty appetizers.

Jackson's Champagne Snacking Recommendation: I love this type of clean, brisk grower-producer Champagne with Potato Chips and Caviar. It's an indulgent snack with immediate appeal and the chips function as a perfect, clean vehicle for the caviar. Nobody's going to judge you for using sour cream and onion Pringles, because that's what I and all my sommelier friends enjoy the best.

Dom Pérignon makes wine nearly every vintage now, and I think it behooves the selective drinker or collector to stock up on it in the richer, more impressive years. 2012s to me are a wonder in Champagne. The wines grown on this year, especially around Hautvillers in the Marne Valley, where much of the fruit for Dom Pérignon is sourced, are particularly rich. This one's ready to go now, or ready for the cellar, whichever you choose. Stocking up on Dom is never a bad investment.

Jackson's Champagne Snacking Recommendation: With a richer, more decadent Champagne like Dom, I like doughier, cheesier snacks. These Gougères with Sauce Mornay exemplify high-end, indulgent snacking and are actually not that hard to make. A basket of these and some cold vintage bubbly and you'll be off to the races.

Gosset doesn't get as much attention as it should stateside, but it's a winery you'll often find in Paris restaurants. There's a thread of food-friendliness that runs through all the wines made by this esteemed house, made most manifest in the Extra Brut Celebris bottling. This is their tête de cuvée, yet rather than throwing sugar and richness into this bottling to make it more "impressive," they lean into the acidity and balance. This is a wine made for cuisine, not for speculation. It's about equal parts Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and provides a razor's edge of balanced acidity and tart fruit on the palate, with extended years of lees aging providing a nutty, complex backbone of flavor.

Jackson's Champagne Snacking Recommendation: Kumamoto Oysters with Sherry Mignonette – replace the red wine vinegar with a bit of aged sherry vinegar to add some extra complexity. A very tart and tangy wine that will benefit from the saltiness of the oysters and the nuttiness of the mignonette's sherry vinegar. Don't forget the fresh cracked black pepper!

Right as I was getting ready for New Year's Eve, I said to myself, what's missing? After some consternation and thinking, the thing missing was a magnum of Champagne. I can't help but feel and be festive when a large format bottle is getting opened. This one is a real special bottle, too: made with aging in mind, and released late to really show what the Bollinger house is capable of. Unlike some of the leaner Champagnes I've pointed out here, Bollinger is all about richness, although not without balance. They're one of the few remaining houses to age their base cuvée wines in oak, and I think it really shows up nicely in the Grand Année bottling.

Jackson's Champagne Snacking Recommendation: I miss Anthony Bourdain. I've spent lots of hours watching No Reservations, The Layover, and Parts Unknown. I can't wait to make this Brasserie Les Halles recipe for Vichyssoise, a chilled potato-leek soup that complements the texture of Champagne perfectly. You could also serve this Bollinger with any other cold or warm soups. The bubbles make for a perfect textural match.

Do you like Krug? Do you like the Bollinger I mentioned above? Well, allow me to introduce you to Vilmart et Cie, the grower Champagne house for those in the know on all things buoyant and rich. And here we have a wine that's not only aged in oak (for 12 months) like the base wines at Krug and Bolly but also given an immense amount of lees aging in bottle (seventy months). This is a Champagne that can blow away far more expensive bottles. It's made in a handcrafted manner by the genius minds at Vilmart and carries great pedigree and complexity. This wine is composed of a majority Chardonnay at 80%, as well as a bit of Chardonnay to round things out. It's nutty, apply, toasty, buttery, and rich all at once, yet finishes with bright lemon curd notes and fresh, lively bubbles. You really can't go wrong here.

Jackson's Champagne Snacking Recommendation: we're dealing with a big Champagne here. I just drank a bottle of this at a holiday dinner and man, it's not shy. Nutty, rich, and round, it also finishes with insane acidity. I would recommend some seriously good soup dumplings to go with this recipe, and I found a good one for Xiaolongbao (although you could also just bring corkage to a Din Tai Fung if you're fortunate enough to live near one).

This was one of the first Champagnes I ever had to write about. Nec Plus Ultra was one of the most unique wines on the list when I was a sommelier at Canlis, and it's a joy to discover there's still some of the 1996 vintage rolling around. This is a truly stellar and amazing wine. Bottled at zero-dosage, this wine showcases the intensity and concentration of acidity present in the 1996 vintage. This only works when there's abundant fruit behind the searing citrusy tartness. I've always loved the toasty and rich aromatics of Bruno Paillard Champagnes, because they set you up to trick your palate into thinking you'll be drinking something round and sweet, only to be confronted with lip-smacking, borderline sour acidity and gobs of concentrated fruit notes, none of which are scaffolded up by cheap sugar. It's a party in your mouth. This wine is super cool and I doubt we'll see it hanging around much longer.

Jackson's Champagne Snacking Recommendation: I don't know whether you'd call this recipe Nordic Nachos or what, but I can't imagine anything better with a Champagne like this than another iteration of roe and chips. Here's a recipe that will be a knockout with this Bruno Paillard or really anything on this whole list.

Happy New Year, everybody! Drinking good bubbles with crunchy snacks is an invitation to the good life, and I hope you'll all join me there. Trust me, whatever your resolutions were this year, let Champagne snacking be part of your life. 


- Jackson


View more of Jackson’s hand-picked wine selections here:

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