The paper-thin sliced wagyu beef was lightly seared with a blow torch, just enough to coax the slightest juice out of the meat. I plucked it from my plate with my chopsticks, and took a bite—it was fatty, meaty, funky, and heavenly tender. Afterward, I took a sip of an older vintage of champagne—one from 1998—and was transported. I was at San Francisco’s Omakase, one of the city’s best sushi spots, for a dinner collaboration with chef Hiroyoki Sato from Hong Kong’s Sushi Tokami, with pairings from both Ruinart and Dom Pérignon. The acid and bubbles from that older Dom Pérignon vintage cut through the fat like I thought it would. However, I noticed a flavor in the wine that danced with the flavor in the meat: umami.
You may not believe that something as seemingly delicate as sparkling wine could be paired with a slice of rich wagyu or a rib-eye, but an aged champagne is a match made in heaven for meaty, fatty dishes. Ever been to one of those restaurants that serves sushi and steak? If you’re a business traveler, chances are you have. Say no to that glass of sake or cabernet sauvignon, and order a bottle of French bubbles instead—an impressive move that happens to pair perfectly well with those two wildly different dishes.
But where does that umami kick in an older bottle of bubbles come from? Simple: the extra bit of fermentation it goes through in the bottle. The longer the wine can stay in contact with the yeast left in the bottle (which is removed before it hits your table), the more depth the champagne will have.
That fermentation process also makes vintage champage one of the most ideal pairings not just for Japanese food like wagyu and sushi, but also for spicy Asian foods, whose fermented flavors often pose a challenge for sommeliers. The bold qualities of those cuisines—spice, funk, umami—are so intense that many turn to sweet wines to temper them. A glass of gewürztraminer or rielsing often does the trick; however, chef Yim Jung Sik of New York City’s Korean-influenced hot spot Jungsik thinks there’s another ultimate pairing to his food. Yep, you guessed it: champagne.
“When I visited Dom Pérignon in France and tasted champagne with extended aging, I was amazed by the soft texture of the bubbles,” he says. “There is a toasty and savory flavor that can only be achieved by the very long aging process, and it pairs beautifully with umami of Korean fermented ingredients. More than anything else, it is the firm structure of acidity in champagne that can withstand and balance the bold flavors of Korean cuisine.”
Dom Pérignon head winemaker Vincent Chaperon agrees: An old champagne is spicy, fermented food’s best friend. “With spicy Asian food, I would recommend Dom Pérignon P2 1998, a wine that has been maturating for more than 15 years in the bottle, in contact with the yeast.” Dom Pérignon releases its vintages in Pléntitudes, or waves—the first is released after a minimum of seven years of maturation, the second after a minimum of 12 years, and the third after a minimum of 20 years. “Through this long process, the wine has been developing more creaminess and umami taste on the palate,” explains Chaperon.
This unlikely yet harmonious pairing is why the legendary champagne house has collaborated on a special six-course tasting menu with the Michelin-starred Jungsik, available until August 12th (reservations available on OpenTable). The tasting menu for two is $550 and includes dishes with ingredients such as caviar, octopus, sea urchin, and snapper—all with a French-Korean twist. Though Dom Pérignon is always available on the wine list at Jungsik (and Omakase, for that matter), Chaperon has selected a 750ml bottle of Dom Pérignon Vintage 2006 Blanc and two glasses of Dom Pérignon P2-1998 for the champagne pairing. If you find yourself in New York, this is a great way to give this pairing a shot—but if not, remember to consider a bottle of bubbles to go with your next steak or spicy meal.