Veuve Clicquot Dinner at XIV

Last night, I was treated to a champagne-pairing dinner courtesy of Veuve Clicquot and XIV, Michael Mina's West Hollywood restaurant.

I was particularly excited to go because of my recent trip to VC's cellars in Reims this past April, and I was also looking forward to the chance to meet Floriane Eznack, one of Veuve Clicquot's team of winemakers.

Floriane is a charming young woman who, at only 29, has already found a position at one of the most famous French wine houses, and indeed one of the most famous champagne houses in the world. She is also a pure delight to talk to, and was extremely informative about the history of the brand, as well as of the particular wines we were drinking and the general basics of champagne-making itself.

We started out, of course, with Veuve Clicquot's flagship non-vintage Yellow Label--you know, those bottles you see everywhere. Though I've had it many times before, I still love that briny minerality, the crisp acid, and, of course, those tiny bubbles. It makes you happy without weighing you down like other wines. That was paired with a colorful heirloom beet salad with a mound of burrata (of course!) and a few leaves of wild arugula in an aged balsamic and new olive oil dressing. The crisp champagne played off both the tangy vinaigrette and the creaminess of the burrata.

As Floriane told us, there are no hard-and-fast rules to champagne pairing, you just have to play around with everything. The champagne's minerality and acidity means it should complement a complete range of foods, and after this dinner, I was ready to believe her.

Next came VC's non-vintage rose, which looked a gorgeous pale pink, and tasted faintly of fresh strawberries and light herbs. To eat with it, we were given an absolutely delicious piece of snapper that had been soaked in buttermilk then breaded with crunchy tapioca flour and served over a delicious brick of white soy vinaigrette rice and some broccoli rabe that was actually way too bitter so I just ignored it. The fish was incredible, and the champagne worked with the entire range of flavors in the dish.

During the pause between this dish and the next, I made my way over to Floriane's table so that I could take the opportunity to brush up on my French, and to find out more about her. She is originally from another famous region of France, Cognac, though she found her passion in Champagne, and is visiting the U.S. on a quick brand ambassadorial tour to get to know the market better. She also expounded on her thoughts about acidity and structure in champagne, and how they affect the aging potential of a wine.

Next up was a filet mignon cooked over a mix of mesquite and oak wood, and served with creamed corn, chantereslles, baby chives and padron peppers--which must be in season because they're everywhere right now. Surely they weren't going to serve champagne with red meat! But yes, they poured a Veuve Clicquot Rare Vintage 1988. The liquid was slightly more golden than the Yellow Label, and the nose was completely distinct. That is probably because it had been aged for 18 years on the lees, and disgorged for the last time just in 2006. The immediate notes were of caramel, honey, leather, vanilla, and something slightly vegetal but not green. The acidity was still there, but the wine was mellower and much more complex...and it took on the meat without losing a bubble. I could easily see aging it for another 10 years per Floriane's suggestion.

The cheese selection came next, with a creamy but tangy Ste. Maure, and another cheese from Spain that was sort of like Manchego, but with the texture of Pecorino. For this, Floriane suggested a Veuve Cliquot 2002, whose brightness contrasted with that of the cheese, and softened with the sweetness of a guava paste that came as an accompaniment. Instead, flavors of licorice and grassiness came forward.
Last, of course, was dessert. The restaurant went seasonal with marinated white peaches with a bright red roibos foam, incredibly airy Greek yogurt, refreshing tonic water sorbet, and essence of lilac poured over it all. To go with that, we were served the Demi-Sec N.V. which, though sweet on first sip, became much more acidic and mineralic (in a fantastic way!) after eating the sweets on the plate. Floriane explained that the wine contained more Pinot Meunier, and hence was fruitier and more earthy. She had had it poured into a carafe before serving as well to dispel some of the built up carbonic acid and heighten the effect of the sweetness.
Still, after all that, I felt light and satisfied rather than sated with a surfeit of food and drink. The meal really did make a believer of me that you can pair champagne with anything, although I already knew it was a drink meant for much more than celebration. Rather, champagne is a versatile drink that can adapt to any taste.

So, here's what I learned from my dinner last night:

1. It takes a lot of different grapes, vineyards, people and wines to make a bottle of champagne.

2. Champagne can pair with any food--you just have to find the right combination.

3. I'm in love with Floriane Eznack, and hope her appearances in the U.S. become more and more frequent!