If you thought popping bottles was only for special occasions or that Champagne pairs solely with cheese and dessert, Lemaire Restaurant has news for you. The esteemed dining spot's Krug Champagne Dinner sold out before you could say "bubbly," but never fear; we stopped by for tips on how to pair Champagne at home, complete with a recipe from chef Walter Bundy himself.
“[Champagne] is more associated in the States, I guess, as a celebratory beverage but it’s just as versatile as, say, Cabernet or Chardonnay, because it does have some punch to it," says wine director and general manager Greg McGehee. "It does have some weight and it does have some richness, depending on which producer you pick.”
When it comes to pairing, McGehee categorizes Champagne and sparkling wine into three categories: masculine, feminine, and table Champagne.
Some of Wine Director Greg McGehee's favorite selections
Masculine Champagnes are full-bodied, typically with higher acidity. Because Champagnes in this group are likely to increase salivation, they especially help in acting as a palate cleanser between bites. McGehee recommends Krug Brut Grand Cuvée and Champagne Bollinger. On this tier, prices might be a bit steeper so it's best to pair these with light, simply prepared options like poultry, creamy sauces and shellfish, so as not to overpower your Champagne. Chef Bundy, for example, is serving butter-poached Shooting Point oysters with warmed Virginia country ham, baby spinach, buttermilk chive cornbread and Grand Cuvée hollandaise, alongside Krug's Grand Cuvée.
"For me, it’s all about working from a delicate product to a little bit richer, like delicate oysters to richer squab, to venison, but the whole time, none of them have any item that’s going to ruin or offset the Champagnes,” he says.
Bundy's second dish, the Garlic-Roasted Squab Breast with wild porcini mushrooms, leeks, autumn apples, parsnip mousse and foie gras emulsion, pairs with a Krug Vintage Brut, though McGehee says this would go nicely with a table Champagne; in fact, nearly anything will. McGehee explains that table Champagnes are essentially sparkling wines such as generally dry Cavas and Proseccos, which pair with a wide range of dishes and and are available at a price you won't feel too guilty about. One of his favorite steals, he says, is the Roederer Estate Brut.
"For table Champagnes, sparkling wines are really easy; they’re not serious," he says. "It’s really user friendly.”
Finally, we have the feminine Champagnes, the soft, delicate, and occasionally flowery tier usually served with traditional pairings like cheese and dessert. While McGehee recommends serving a Champagne like Delamotte with a nice piece of Parmesan or crème anglaise with dark chocolate, Bundy also adds that "shellfish, crab, lobster; anything light but still rich so it can stand up well to it” will also do the trick.
A glass of bubbly at Lemaire Restaurant
Though Lemaire's Champagne dinner is entirely sold out, both Bundy and McGehee express interest in hosting another wine dinner soon; vaguely mark your calendars for the beginning of 2015. (I know I will.)
Until then, Bundy was kind enough to share his recipe for Hayman Sweet Potato Bisque, one of Lemaire's most beloved seasonal offerings. The fall favorite pairs well across the sparkling-wine board, effortlessly enriching a variety of Champagnes with its rich, earthy tones.
The sugary, white sweet potatoes are grown primarily on Virginia's Eastern Shore but Richmonders can find them at Whole Foods Market in Short Pump, and Ellwood Thompson's Local Market sells Oriental Sweet Potatoes, which can be used in a pinch.
Hayman Sweet Potato Bisque
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1 large yellow onion, peeled and diced
3 ribs of celery, sliced
1 stick of butter
1 cup of white wine
1 bunch of thyme, picked
1 gallon of vegetable or chicken stock
2 cups of cream
7 hayman or other white sweet potatoes, peeled and diced (submerge in cold water to prevent oxidation)
Maple syrup, to taste (Lemaire uses Highland County Pure Maple Syrup or Bliss 100% Pure Maple Syrup, Bourbon-Barrel Matured)
Sweat the onion, carrot and celery over medium heat in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. When the vegetables become translucent, deglaze them with white wine and let this mixture cook roughly 5 minutes. Simmer until the potatoes are thoroughly cooked, then add the cream.
Remove the pot from heat, then puree its contents until smooth, adjusting sweetness with maple syrup. Season with salt and white pepper and serve.
Wine director Greg McGehee pours one of his stalwarts at Lemaire