One of the aspects of the World’s Best Sommelier competition I hadn’t really thought about is how on earth you create a menu for a roomful of sommeliers. And choose wine pairings they won’t be sniffy about. One way is to impress them with large format bottles and old vintages which is the route competition sponsor Moët et Chandon took . . .
They had shipped their winemaker Benoit Gouez over to Santiago for the event (a rash step, as it happens, as he was marooned by the volcanic ash and couldn’t fly back for a week). Here’s what we ate and drank:
Moët Imperial in magnum with foie gras canapés
I confess that despite my antipathy to foie gras I did nibble one of these to see how it went. OK - not stunning but everyone expects the French to serve foie gras (and are not usually disappointed). The Imperial shows well in magnum though - a classic aperitif Champagne.
Tartare of fish and shellfish with guacamole with Grand Vintage 2000 in magnum
A diplomatic nod to Chilean cuisine but to be honest the sharp, citrussy flavours didn’t do the resplendent 2000 many flavours. I made a note at the time the dish would have been better with Riesling and certainly with Sauvignon Blanc. Not that you had to stick to a classic French food. The champagne was almost a ‘rich’ style. A mildly spiced Thai or other south-east Asian dish would have matched better I reckon. Perhaps the dish just needed a little more spice but that’s not the Chilean way.
Conger fillet with sea urchins and risotto with Grand Vintage collection 1995
This, by contrast, was a totally stellar match. Sea urchins, as I’ve recently discovered, are a perfect partner for champagne, as is risotto and the 1995 tasted wonderfully fresh with it despite its age (it was disgorged in February 2008).
Lamb with mushrooms, truffle mousse and Grand vintage collection 1990
Another safe choice. Mushrooms and truffles are a sure-fire hit with old Champagne and it would have been a waste to pair this very rich, intense cuvée with anything less flattering. A great vintage still drinking beautifully.
Fruit poached with spices and sorbet with Grand Vintage Rosé 2003
By this stage in the meal the excitement about who was to go through to the semi-final rather dwarfed what was on the plate. The idea of pairing rosé and fruit - actually a poached pear dipped in milk chocolate - was a sound one but a younger non-vintage Champagne with brighter berry fruit would have possibly worked better. Or a more chocolatey dessert. Personally I'd be inclined to pair it with rare lamb or pigeon or possibly even cheese.
To be fair to Moët these occasions are tricky. It’s hard to control the quality of the food for such huge numbers and they focussed quite rightly on the wines. But the occasion does show that you can drink Champagne quite happily throughout a meal - even with meat. I did my best ;-)
I attended the dinner as a guest of Moët et Chandon