Champagne is the pinnacle of bubbly wines that has a lot to offer beyond a simple aperitive, celebratory drink or a washing liquid for oysters and caviar.
Let’s suppose we’ll pan-fry a marbled beef sirloin (medium-rare) with fresh sides (e.g., asparagus, hollandaise).
What do we need in a “steak Champagne”?
Champagne is a cool climate region, producing wines with very high acidity. By default, most Champagne would go through (partial or complete) malolactic fermentation (MLF), transferring the sharp malic acid to a softer lactic acid. As a result, the mouthfeel becomes rounder, fuller and less austere. Partial or full MLF is desired for steak.
Besides MLF, the dosage (a mix of sugar and wine) helps balance the acidity, adds sweetness and richness to the Champagne. Brut level can have 0-12 g/L sugar. It’s worth aiming at the higher end and for a steak companion.
The bubbles are CO2 entrapped in the bottle during the secondary fermentation. CO2 is more soluble at low temperatures; hence Champagne is served chilled (~7C) for the finest effervescence. If we increase the serving temperature to ~12C, the coarser bubbles will act like tannins in red wines but without the phenolic bitterness of tannins.
Vinous, savoury aromas:
Extended aging on yeast lees and MLF will impart cheesy aromas (medium-chain fatty acids), bread and cream (diacetyl), as well as creamier texture. Controlled oxidation through fermenting and aging in small format oak and/or higher inclusion of reserve wines (in NV Champagne) will increase aldehydes, adding a vinous (acetaldehyde), nutty aroma character (furfural) to the Champagne. The similarly nutty and roasted aromas in the fried stake are aldehydic compounds formed during the Maillard reaction (enhanced by medium-chain fatty acids).
Featured: Krug Grande Cuvée 167ème Édition
Despite the ambivalence towards intentional MLF, Krug’s house style is intentionally rich and powerful like many full MLF wines. This is achieved through using small (205L) oak barrels to ferment in, extended lees aging and, the extensive use of reserve stocks with ~7 g/L dosage.