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The best match for caviar - vodka or champagne?

The best match for caviar - vodka or champagne?

For those of you who are lucky enough to be serving caviar this New Year's Eve I just dug this post I wrote back in 2009 out of the archives. Is champagne or vodka the better pairing? (I must confess the *research* was fun ...)

"One of the highlights of my recent New York trip was an extraordinary caviar tasting at Petrossian where I had a chance to taste for the first time the new farm-reared caviars that are coming out of the US and other countries such as Israel and China.

Petrossian, which was founded in France in 1920, now sources 98% of the caviar it sells from farmed sturgeon and may shortly be selling 100% if no quotas are issued for caviar from the Caspian sea in 2010. (None were given in 2009)

I tasted six caviars selected by Michel Emery of Petrossian with a American food writer David Rosengarten, the wine editor of Saveur. They were served simply with triangles of hot toast made from sweet, slightly milky-tasting bread and interestingly from chilled jars rather than ones put on ice which Emery explains makes the caviar too cold.

With them we tried Petrossian’s own vodka, a super-smooth, five times distilled spirit, two champagnes and, as a wild card, a Rolling Rock beer (David having a theory that beer is as refreshing a partner for caviar as champagne)

1) Royal Transmontanus (California) $69 per 30g
This American caviar had a good flavour but the least definition - fine bubbles that almost created the sensation of a smooth caviar spread in the mouth.

2) Alverta President (California) $107 per 30g
A caviar from an older fish (8 years as opposed to the average 6 years for the Transmontanus) resulting in larger eggs with more definition. Elegant with a savoury depth - David Rosengarten’s favourite.

3) Tsar Imperial Siberian (Florida) $139 per 30g
From the Baeri species of sturgeon, I personally found this a stronger, saltier more obviously ‘fishy’ tasting caviar with more structure and body than the others we tasted. It appealed to me less than the other caviars.

4) Royal Ossetra (Israel) $189 for 30g
Very fine-textured, delicate, slightly nutty with well-defined eggs. Very much what you’d expect from top caviar.

5) Tsar Imperial Ossetra (China) $208 for 30g
For me, given its origin, the most fascinating caviar of the tasting with a very fine texture and subtle, complex flavour. Second only to the Royal Sevruga below.

6) Royal Sevruga (Iran) $364 for 30g
A rare sample of aged wild caviar from the Caspian sea. (It came from the 2008 harvest - none is available in 2009) Smaller, less clearly defined eggs than the Ossetra but with an incredibly intense marine flavour. Wonderful.

The pairings
Having always thought that champagne is the ideal textural match for caviar (bubbles on eggs) I actually found the very pure, fine Petrossian vodka which was served in frozen glass flutes consistently showed off the individual flavours and textures of each caviar. Not least, I think, because of vodka’s mouth-coating oiliness which combined with its serving temperature sets the palate up perfectly

What I hadn’t thought about before was the issue of residual sugar in champagne which proved quite intrusive in the first one we tried - a Nicolas Feuillatte Blanc de Blancs 1998, less so with a lighter, crisper non-vintage champagne from Paul Goerg. The effect was less noticeable with toast but the caviars still tended to make the champagne taste slightly sweet and in the case of the Royal Ossetra (4) a little metallic. Better matches would have probably been a no-dosage champagne like Laurent-Perrier Ultra Brut or a weightier vintage champagne like Krug.

The beers too (we deliberately tried two very light ones - a Becks and a Rolling Rock) proved problematic. The latter was better though the only spot-on match I thought was with the saltier Tsar Imperial (3). But even that was very much a case of ‘you could but why would you?’. Caviar being as rare and expensive as it is it seems perverse to accompany it with anything else but a high quality drink. (It’s also been suggested to me that fine sake works well which I’d very much like to try)

All in all an utterly fascinating (and let’s face it, wildly indulgent) tasting, particularly for the chance to try this new generation of caviars which represent the future for this rare, luxury product.

Petrossian is at 182 West 58th Street (58th St. at 7th Ave.) New York, NY 10019 Tel: 212-245-2214

Photo (not of the original event) © gkrphoto

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