Aren’t food snobs funny? If you tell them fish eggs, of all things, are the height of sophistication, and so-so wine from a cold region is a sign of good taste, they’ll fork our bundles of cash for the stuff. Thankfully, the rest of us don’t have to slavishly follow their silly example. Europe has nicer wine and better hors d’oeuvres to offer, and the only thing that Champagne and caviar have going for them is that people have forgotten their humble origins.
Wine From a Cool Region
The Champagne region is in a very Northerly part of France. The average temperature is 10℃, and it rains about as much there as it does in drizzly London. As a result, the vines have trouble photosynthesising enough sugars. The grapes tend to be a bit insipid, and after the first round of maceration, so is the wine. Well – how on Earth did it become so popular?
Enter the British
You may not want to mention this too loudly around French people. However in the 1600s, the British used to buy in barrels of wine from Champagne, and not ascribing the sparkling nature of wine to ‘evil spirits’ but to a scientifically controllable process, they added in a second fermentation. This happened to make the wine more drinkable too by boosting the flavours. So, purposefully sparkling wine from Champagne was born – in England.
Royal Ascent Helped Champagne on Its Way
One tale of how Champagne became so popular centres on court politics in France. The Regent of France, the Duke of Orléans, had a favourite courtier, who liked the sparkling version of Champagne which the British were fond of. Up until that point, the French had tended to think that sparkling Champagne was a wine fault. (It isn’t, but here’s How to Spot 3 Common Wine Faults). Nonetheless, when the Regent’s favourite took to sparkling Champagne, the Duke gained a fondness for it too, and then everyone followed suit. At no point did anyone question whether wine from a cold, marginal region was all that good, and so like Furbies, Ugg boots and Pokemon Go, Champagne became a craze.
Caviar – from the River Po?
You used to be able to get authentic caviar from Turin. The right fish lived in the River Po in great abundance, but you can’t get wild sturgeon caviar from there now. You see, sturgeon are very vulnerable to overfishing. When you think about it, caviar production is the last thing a dwindling fish species needs – removing a fish’s eggs before they’ve had time to breed. Also remember that the fish need 15 to 20 years before they can reproduce. Stocks of sturgeon have dwindled in the Black and Caspian Seas, and every now and then, there are bans announced on fishing there. If there wasn’t, beluga caviar would go the same way as caviar from the River Po. Thinking about it, eating a species to death leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
Do Champagne and Caviar Even Go Together?
Champagne is a wine produced several miles inland. Its flavours have developed around an inland cuisine, and it’s not a particularly crisp, acidic wine which normally pairs well with fish. Meanwhile, if you’ve bought salted caviar, you really need a wine that’s a bit sweeter. Unsalted caviar could still do with a better bubbly companion.
A Much Better Combination
There are sustainable fish roes out there. However the joy of beluga caviar is the pop that a big pea sized bubble makes in your mouth as the rich fish juice spreads out over your tongue, and wafts through your nasal canal. The other roes tend to be smaller, and blander. Yet this is where modern science can save the day. Buy yourself a molecular cuisine kit, and create spherification caviar at home. You don’t even have to stick with a fish flavour, and instead, you can create fruit or even alcoholic ‘caviar’. If you were to stick with a fishy caviar, try pairing it with Mar de Frades Brut Nature. It’s a sparkler made with the Albariño grape. That means it has good acidity, which makes it great with oily fish, and its lemon flavours are perfect with seafood.