Last night, Cinnamon and I had such a great experience with our sushi and Champagne that I had to write about it. Cinnamon had picked up an excellent spread from Akasaka sushi in Menlo Park, and we popped open a bottle of the Michel Arnould Verzenay Extra Brut Champagne that I had iced down at work. Since Margaret, Cinnamon’s mom had joined us, I also iced down a bottle of the Pierre Paillard "Acte 1" Grand Cru Blanc de Noirs Brut Champagne (2008) just in case… And of course we ended up opening that too!
I don’t know where the synergy between sushi and Champagne comes from, but I would like to share my speculation. The most difficult thing with sushi is the diversity; last night we had avocado rolls, spicy tuna rolls, hamachi sushi, ahi sushi and three if their specialty rolls, the Akasaka which is shrimp with eel and avocado on top, the Julie which is a double tuna roll with a rice wine vinaigrette and the Furo Maki which is a mushroom and pickled vegetable roll. As disciples of Champagne already know, Champagne has no problem working with a number of flavors, and a dinner like this puts that flexibility to the test.
I think that the raw fish and the Champagne go together as well as they do because 250 million years ago, Champagne was an ocean. The shellfish fossils still abound in the vineyards, and I have some here in front of me at my desk as I type this. There is something to the chalky quality of the minerality of Champagne that cuts the rich fish like nothing else. Also, the Burgundy varieties have flavors that are very complimentary to the flavors of the fish. Last night the umami of the ahi resonated perfectly with the same savory flavors in the Pinot Noir that dominated these Champagnes.
The Arnould started off on the austere side before the first bite of food, but with the sushi it was magic. It did particularly well with the ultra rich Akasaka roll, providing a clean foil to the deep fried tempura shrimp, eel and avocado bonanza. The fish brought out the hazelnut character that makes Champagne from this north facing cru so special and the completely dry finish refreshed the palate with every sip. This is going to be a repeat bottle with sushi for sure!
When we cracked open the Paillard, it seemed downright lush by comparison. This all Pinot Champagne comes from vines planted in 1970, and has great concentration as a result. I found that this wine brought out the sweetness in the hamachi and the ahi highlighted the deep savor in the wine. I loved every sip of this wine, and might have hogged it a little. I was worried that the wine would be to rich to go with the vinegary Julie roll, but it had no problem with it, and brought out even more of the umami in this delicious treat. What a good bottle!
If you love Champagne, and haven’t had it with sushi yet, it is a pairing that you shouldn’t miss! A toast (kanpai) to you! –Gary Westby