Champagne and caviar? Many people consider the pairing to be a relic of the past, an overly expensive overindulgence without a place in the modern world. But sometimes in the quest for the most novel new fads and the wildest pairings, we lose sight of the time-proven traditions that are as tried and true, and near-perfect, as anything gets.
As with fashion, however, all drink trends eventually come back into style. Case in point: On the West coast, there's The Caviar Company, founded by sisters Petra and Saskia Bergstein. They began in 2015 by selling to restaurants such as SingleThread and Michael Mina before opening a San Francisco retail location in 2017 and adding a new Tiburon tasting room at the end of 2020. And in the nation's capital, there's Apéro, a Champagne-focused bar that opened in the city’s Georgetown neighborhood in spring 2021, filling the empty niche for a spot in which to get good caviar service, or even just Champagne.
Alongside this bubbly burst of new sparkling-wine-centric spots are the longstanding institutions, both stateside and abroad, which have never stopped embracing the classic pairing. “It is such luxury, just as it is; plain and simple, a delicacy,” says Alba Grant, the manager at Balthazar Champagne Bar at the five-star d'Angleterre hotel in Copenhagen. “Once you’ve tasted this combination, it is simply incomparable. The crispy freshness of Champagne combined with the high oil, fat, and saltiness of caviar is bound to be a tasty success, and the feeling of luxury never disappoints. No matter how often you have it, you never tire of it—which is what defines a classic.”
It's an undoubtedly indulgent combination, but what more people are finding these days is that it doesn't always need to be a production. “We very much try to take the pretentiousness out of these luxury items, and make them approachable to all, as we believe every day is a celebration,” says Elli Benchimol, Apéro’s owner and an advanced sommelier.
Tess Roletti, Caviar Co.’s events coordinator, echoes that belief. “We believe that there is a caviar for every day of the week, and the same goes for Champagne,” she says.
Perhaps that contemporary lack of pretentiousness is the key to the Champagne and caviar revival. These tips will allow you to create the same sensational experience with the combination at home.
Bottles to Seek Out
Starting with the basics, Grant recommends sticking with dry Champagnes. “It could be a brut or even an extra brut,” says Grant. “Pol Roger brut is a great example of a Champagne with sour-fruity notes that go very well with most caviar.”
While it's easy to go big-name hunting when it comes to Champagne, Benchimol prefers seeking smaller growers and houses, and has a particular affinity for the Grand Cru village of Bouzy. “There are amazing hidden gems, and while most of the fruit is sold to the larger prestige houses, the small family growers that remain and bottle their own are worth seeking out,” she says. She ticks off a list of producers to explore, including Paul Bara, Andre Clouet, Camille Saves, and Pierre Paillard. “The entry-level cuvees from any of these can be stellar and life-changing, but their prestige cuvees come in at sometimes half the cost of a larger house’s prestige cuvee,” she says. “The value is unmatchable in quality.”
“But my new favorite fun pairing is a saignee rosé, a dark rosé that sees a few days of skin contact, giving it an intense nose of fruit and much more texture,” says Benchimol, noting Larmandier-Bernier as her current top choice. “These rosé de saignee Champagnes are a fun new trend coming out of the Aube region, and they are full and luscious companions to the classic pearls.”
The same producer gets the seal of approval from The Caviar Company, though a different bottle, and with a different favorite caviar pairing. “Larmandier-Bernier Latitude Extra Brut NV is a full bodied champagne that pairs perfectly with Kaluga Hybrid caviar,” says Roletti. “Its notes of stone fruit and blanched almonds play marvelously with the caviar’s creamy and buttery flavor profile and amazing texture.”
Caviar Can Be as Varied as Champagne
It’s important to note that your choice of bubbly is not the only variable under your control with a Champagne-and-caviar pairing. “The flavor spectrum of caviar is just as diverse as grapes are in the world of Champagne,” says Grant. “Like Champagne, caviar can be a lot of things.”
Ultimately, Roletti believes that pairing caviar and Champagne is an exploratory experience, and that it’s hard to go wrong. However, some of her favorite overarching tips are to match brioche-forward, rich, warm Champagnes with more decadent caviars. Conversely, with bright, mineral, and fruit-forward Champagne, look for a caviar with salinity and earthiness.
Think about not only which bottles you prefer, but how well those bubbles align with your preferred pearls. “I would say that Krug is perfect with white sturgeon, whereas Dom Perignon goes very well with osetra caviar,” says Grant. For the former, consider that the intense oxidative and fruit qualities of Krug can hold up to such a rich, flavorful caviar. As for the latter, she explains, “The reason is that osetra is one of the caviars that contains the highest acidity, which thus needs to be paired with a full-bodied Champagne, and Dom Perignon is exactly that. In other words, you need to pair the extremes in order to enhance the complex flavors that caviar and Champagne both contain.”
For Benchimol, it's about considering those extremes in terms of what they can stand up against. “For vintage caviar lovers, we prefer the more intense classics, beluga and Russian osetra imperials; these big bold pearls can handle any style of champagne,” she says.
In general, seasoned caviar lovers crave those big, bold flavors. But that intense level of salty, umami flavor isn't for everyone—especially at first. “I find that some of the current caviar craze can be attributed to the new hybrid Kaluga coming out of China,” says Benchimol. “It’s golden in color, and very mild and creamy, and it has opened the door to a new generation of caviar lovers.” You can bring out the best in that more subtle caviar with a Champagne that punches above its weight. Benchimol suggests boosting the impact of a mild, delicate caviar with a Champagne that offers a strong toasty, brioche quality.
Siberian Sturgeon, meanwhile, has a unique flavor profile that calls for a special pairing. “This caviar comes to play with rich flavors reminiscent of parmesan cheese that perfectly melt in your mouth,” says Roletti. “That’s accentuated by a bottle such as Mousse Fils Champagne blanc de noirs brut l'or d'Eugene NV. This blanc de noir is truly something special, with a complex flavor profile of dried fruits, honey, and plum, offering the perfect balance of silky mousse and bright acid as a pairing.”
How to Store Both Properly
Once you’ve made your pairing selection, it’s important to store both your caviar and your bottle of Champagne properly until you’re ready to crack them open. You don't want to freeze your caviar, and you certainly don't want to freeze and explode your Champagne, but you do want to embrace the chill. “Make sure both items are extremely cold when storing, but not freezing,” says Benchimol. “Caviar eggs are delicate; if they see any freezing temperatures they will lose their structure and become watery. Firm, tight, dry pearls are what you are looking for; this implies freshness and proper storage.”
A general rule of thumb is that a larger tin of caviar can be stored for a longer period of time. “But I would never keep anything longer than three weeks unopened,” says Benchimol. And when you pop that top, you should be ready to go for it, a rule you should already know if you're a Champagne drinker. “Once you break the seal on your caviar tins, you need to consume it within 48 hours for peak freshness,” she says.
The Classic (Or Not-So-Classic) Service
The Champagne-and-caviar service you probably envision, with all of the little accompaniments and add-ons, remains the gold standard. “We serve our caviar with crème fraiche, chives, egg white and egg yolk, shallots, and capers, over our sourdough blini waffles,” says Benchimol. “The waffle craters are the perfect nest to pile in all your favorite flavors and create the perfect bite.” Of course, you can tailor that with any twists or turns or substitutions that you please, similar to how you might construct a customized charcuterie board with your favorite items.
But you might also try going for a less-conventional addition. “The not-so-obvious accompaniments with caviar and Champagne are potato chips,” says Roletti. “The crisp starchiness and subtle salt is the perfect vessel for caviar.” But in truth, anything fried and crispy is a go in Roletti’s book. “Textures will be at play when introducing a food pairing here, so keep an eye out for anything airy but crisp, like a wonton chip or something with a bit more meat on its bones, like fried chicken,” she says.
“Every individual has their own unique combination of flavors that they prefer, which makes it an individualized experience,” says Benchimol. As with the traditional adornments mentioned above, think of a mix of bold flavors, incorporating everything from salty and savory to rich and creamy. Combining those textures and notes in your favorite way is the key.
“Or just enjoy it right off your mother-of-pearl spoon, with your favorite glass of bubbles,” says Benchimol. Mother-of-pearl became de rigueur as a stylish-yet-neutral utensil when our caviar-loving forebears realized that the metal of real silverware could upset the delicate flavors of caviar.
Indeed, staying simple and straightforward might just be the best way to appreciate how exceptional the pairing of Champagne and caviar has always been and always will be.
“Keep it simple: Let the products speak for themselves, and let the tastes unfold,” says Grant. “There is no need to optimize what is already perfection.”