Would champagne pair well with lamb? Could low dosage brut be considered a good match with dessert? If somebody had asked me these questions before champagne dinner at Gastronomika I would have been very hesitant answering them.
Six beautiful Moutard champagnes, some of them of limited stock. Six gourmet dishes by Le Cordon Bleu certified chef Liutauras Čeprackas in his state-of-art culinary studio in Vilnius, Lithuania. It was an opportunity not to be missed, so I made a booking and a few days later was shaking hands with Jean-Benoît Hery from Domaine Moutard-Diligent, who was welcoming guests to the event.
I couldn’t be happier to be greeted with a glass of Cuvée Des 6 Cépages 2002 – one of the signature champagnes of Moutard-Diligent. In addition to traditional champagne grapes – Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Meunier – they combined some old and obscure varieties: Arbane, Petit Meslier and Pinot Blanc. Soft on the nose, with fruity aromas, prevalent taste of brioche and round buttery finish it became an excellent intro to the dinner.
To be seated next to Jean-Benoît was a privilege as he regaled history of Moutard-Diligent and their champagne while snacking on fresh bread with semi-solidified olive oil spread and goat’s milk butter.
Moutard family started making champagne 400 years ago in a small Buxeuil village, located on the slopes of Côte des Bar region in southern Champagne. The area is rich in clay and limestone that gives champagne intense fruity notes. In addition to using lesser known grape varieties for making champagne Moutard-Diligent is well-known for making blanc de noirs champagne from red grape varieties. However, the theme of champagne dinner was vertical degustation of blanc de blancs – champagne made of white grapes.
Moutard Père & Fils 2002 Brut was the first one on the list paired with amuse-bouche. This champagne has developed intense yeasty aromas after spending 7 years on lees. Its taste reminded me of bruised apples and heath honey. It had a very ripe character coming from grapes that were harvested after a very sunny and dry summer. Only 2g of sugar added to natural sweetness of champagne, enough to complement yellow tomato sorbet and vegetable tartar and minerality of it intensified the effect of ’mouth teaser’.
The next champagne that came out was Moutard Père & Fils 2000. It had been disgorged just recently thus exploding with yeasty aromas. Caramelised sugar and baked apple flavours were resonating with foie gras, brioche, saffron and ruccola jelly.
The year 1999 wasn’t that good due to harsh weather conditions, but ageing gave the champagne interesting complexity. Moutard Père & Fils 1999 had flowery notes and rich buckwheat honey flavour. After taking my first sip, I started wondering if it would overpower the dish it was served with – lobster ravioli with carrot emulsion and lobster sauce. However, lobster flavour was so intense that it stood out as an equal player in the game, a bit of rivalry with the champagne, but delicate sweetness of carrot was joining those different notes into a pleasing chord.
Moutard Père & Fils 1998 that came out next was even more expressive and bold. Champagne region experienced ideal weather conditions in that year: the winter was not that cold, but spring was marked with ongoing frosts, extremely hot midsummer and very cold and rainy beginning of autumn. It all resulted in good quality grapes, that produced champagne with deep peach and pear aromas.
Corvina fish with sunflower seed risotto, parsley and champagne air was served with it. The firm texture of corvina was something in between usual fish and octopus texture – firm and large flaked, with mild and sweet taste. While fish on its own would have hardly withstood the boldness of champagne, squid ink used for risotto and sunflower seeds reinforced the character of the dish resulting in yet another successful pairing.
Moutard Père & Fils 1996 disgorged only a week ago had an intense bread aroma with lingering nutty flavours and zesty finish. Firm and smoky character dispelled all doubts about champagne and lamb pairing even before trying the dish. In fact, if not taking into consideration my appreciation for good quality well prepared lamb, it was probably the most sensational champagne and food combination throughout the dinner. Lamb chops served with parsnip soufflé, shallot marmalade, trumpet mushrooms and black pepper sauce were delicate enough to pair with champagne, which in turn was bold enough to retain its character while being enjoyed with the dish.
The biggest surprise awaiting was left for last – both in terms of champagne and dessert. Moutard-Diligent is the only champagne house that makes champagne of 100% Arbane grapes and there is only 1 hectare of these rare grapes growing in France. Vieilles Vignes Cépage Arbane Millésime 2010 that was poured into our glasses was made of grapes grown in the lot planted in 1952. Only recently disgorged it had a bouquet of flavours reminiscent of forest: juniper, sap and tree bark.
The dessert consisted of waffle, pear puree, foie gras ice cream and beetroot snow. Surprisingly enough it was made without sugar. The first bite didn’t seem sweet, that was until it was matched perfectly with champagne which brought out the natural sweetness of the ingredients and reminding once again of the importance of food and drink pairing that can make or break a dinner party.
Bon vivant conversations continued on for a while, discussing favourite dishes and the most successful flavour combinations. The champagne dinner guests were thanking the chef Liutauras and Jean-Benoî for the opportunity to explore and to make surprising discoveries and new revelations.