Contrary to popular belief Dom Pierre Pérignon did not invent Champagne. But, he did invent the first really good champagne. So says Charlotte De Poncins, National Brand Manager for Moët Hennessy Wines and Champagnes.
“There were some Champagne wines before Dom Pérignon but he (Pérignon) brought three major innovations to the wine making process. He decided to source only the best grapes. He blended grapes from different villages. Before that it was only from one village. He also decided to do a gentle pressure on the black grapes for the white wines. So those three innovations really brought Champagne to another level. That is why we say he is the spiritual father of Champagne.”
I met De Poncins at Raymonds. The lauded duo of Jeremy Charles and Jeremy Bonia hosted a Dom Pérignon dinner last week and pulled out every stop to produce a culinary equivalent to a Bach organ prelude. It was grand and majestic. Every course was paired with a different iteration of Dom Pérignon Champagne.
You may wonder if Champagne can be paired with an entire meal. Sommelier Bonia believes it is possible.
“The dishes here have very clean flavours and very simple ingredients for the most part. We’re sort of highlighting what we have on the plate and not overloading it with spice and 18 different ingredients. We kept it simple, which works really well with Champagne because there’s such a purity to Champagne, such a cleanliness of fruit and minerality, especially with Dom Pérignon as opposed to some other producers.”
“You can do a whole dinner with Champagne,” agreed De Poncins. “From the vintage blanche to the vintage rosé to the P2, second plenitude (older Dom Pérignon), or P3 (even more mature) wines. Champagne wines are wines first and foremost. Champagne can definitely replace a red wine to pair, for example, with lamb. With meat it’s amazing.”
Tiny, perfect sun
The meal began with a palate teaser, a miniature blini about the size of a loonie. In “Russian Cuisine” author Maria Depenweiller states that “in the early days, the round shape of the blini symbolized the sun, and was associated with the Slavic sun god Yarilo.” She also says that blinis were popular during something called Maslenitsa, “the time to celebrate the end of winter and the beginning of spring.” Given the late start of Newfoundland’s spring I thought Raymonds’ tiny, perfect sun arrived right on cue.
Raymonds’ blini canapé was built on a supple potato pancake. Taking prominence on a soupçon of thickened cream was black, glinting Acadian sturgeon caviar. I put the blini in my mouth and allowed it to register on my taste buds. A sip of Champagne with its subtle yet assertive effervescence washed over it long enough to spark a desire for more, more food, more Champagne.
The Dom Pérignon, 2006 was next paired with our first course, a single amazing scallop. Its golden top surface demarcated by a charred border directed the eye downward to the creature’s plump flesh, gently sinking into puréed parsnip. The scallop had been living in the ocean that morning and, thanks to skillful cooking, its unique freshness and integrity were retained.
Bonia explained that rich seafood like scallop is best paired with Dom Pérignon, 2006 because of the wine’s youth and high acidity. I assume because it stands a better chance of not being suppressed by the richness of the seafood. Balance is maintained.
Another young wine, Dom Pérignon, 2005, was paired effectively with a succulent meat and seafood course. The puréed root vegetable served this time as a pillow for a cut of lobster tail and small portion of golden crusted veal sweetbread. Surprised by the incredible tenderness of the sweetbread, I made a note to ask how this pleasing delicateness had been achieved. Chef Charles later confirmed that the sweetbread had been brined in preparation for cooking.
As the evening progressed so did the weight of the food and the wine. Jeremy Bonia spoke frankly about this compatibility.
“Obviously we tend to go by weight (i.e. light food goes with light wine, heavy food with heavier wine). It’s not about flavours. It’s not about ‘bringing out the lemon in the dish’. If anybody tells you that they’re making it up. The weight of the wine and the weight of the food is foremost. It’s about trying to keep the balance between the weight of the dish you’re served and the wine that goes with it.”
Chef Charles ignores convention when, according to business partner Bonia, “he does cod with a meat sauce or sometimes it’s actual meat on the plate with a fish dish. It adds a little more complexity. Obviously it gets a little more complex with the Champagne as well.”
In the case of our third course (skin on cod with sliver of smoked pork, white bean purée and fiddleheads) the choice of the more complex Dom Pérignon, P2 1998 was on point. Bolder, nutty, rich and slightly salty, this wine perfectly complemented the food and the plate’s meaty sauce. If you had told me the cod had been caught that day too I would have believed it. It was brilliant in every way.
Next came an opportunity to try some of Howard Morry’s Goulds lamb served with Dom Pérignon, Rosé 2004. A tender, stylish Frenched chop with Jerusalem artichoke, asparagus and ash-baked turnip would pose a challenge for Champagne I thought. Ash baked turnip alone sounded formidable. (The raw, unpeeled turnip has ash rubbed into it before baking, resulting in turnip with delicious sweet, slightly bitter smokiness.)
Jeremy Bonia was confident, and correct, when he claimed, “Rosé is good with meat, such a great wine with food, especially for difficult ingredients: asparagus, fiddleheads, things like that. Other wines get lost but rosé is like that magic wine that covers all those bases.”
I felt a fanfare or at least a drumroll should have announced the pouring of the final Champagne. It was the very rare Dom Pérignon, P3 1983. Already 30 plus years old, the wine, according to Charlotte De Poncins, could still afford to age many more years without losing its current fresh vitality.
The venerable P3 was paired with a dessert created by Raymonds pastry chef, Celeste Mah. It was honey cake, with bee pollen candied almonds, topped with bakeapples and small scoop of Labrador tea ice cream. I suspect it may have been the first time Dom Pérignon had met a bakeapple but the assignation was, as they say, a resounding success; and so was the entire evening.