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Champagne’s really gone to the dogs

Nina Caplan's drink column.

This is a tale of two lunches, although one was actually early supper and the other lasted so long and nourished me so roundly that no further sustenance was required that day. Both involved champagne but there the resemblance ends.

The latter was at Texture, a high-end London restaurant with a fine line in fish (the chef, Agnar Sverrisson, is Icelandic), and was the best example of food and wine matching I have ever encountered. The wines were all Bollinger RD (vintage champagnes aged for at least eight years for extra depth of flavour) and Sverrisson had taken the tasting notes – a hint of ginger in the 1995, a waft of hazelnut in the 1976 – and created his dishes around them. The result was a wondrous enhancement of something that was, frankly, already pretty good. Most people know that salmon and champagne complement one another but it takes an inspired chef to lure the shy tropical notes in a glass of Bollinger RD 1996 into the open with scallops in a passion fruit, ginger and coconut sauce.

Even I don’t have a Michelin-starred chef and a range of expensive champagnes to hand that often, although come the revolution, trust me, that will change. I take my wine education where I can get it. Which brings me a couple of years on and a few streets east, to Bubbledogs.

Odd name, no? A friend suggested it sounds like a canine with flatulence problems but I think she’s being uncharitable. Actually, the title is descriptive of a phenomenon far rarer in the natural world: grower champagne paired with hot dogs.

Before we come to the mind-boggling weirdness of this, let’s clear up a couple of things. The hot dogs are none of your greasy innards encased in a lurid condom: they are proper beef or pork. The accompaniments can be strange: kimchi and bean paste; mango chutney and coriander. Then there’s the champagne. To make the quantities that Veuve Cliquot or Moët & Chandon sell, a lot of grapes have to be bought in; grower champagnes were reared, vinified and bottled by their owners. With tiny plots and no pressure to have every one taste exactly the same, these growers can experiment and the results can be wonderful.

Most people either like champagne or they don’t but someone difficult – like me – is aware that there are three possible ingredients and any number of proportional combinations of those three. Blanc de blancs, made from 100 per cent Chardonnay, is supposed to be the pinnacle of sophistication but I find it too pure, too sharp – too high-altitude. I want warmth and friendliness, so I prefer the spicier, toastier notes that the other two champagne grapes, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir, contribute.

Barking combo

Bubbledogs has five grower champagnes by the glass and many more by the bottle. None of these wines goes with hot dogs, although it doesn’t matter: you can drink champagne with almost anything. I got a lovely hit of freshness, like a slurp of lemon sorbet, from the Varnier-Fannière, which is 100 per cent Chardonnay, then hot dog fat wrapped itself around my taste buds and they promptly forgot about the citrus. The gentle nutmeg in Christophe Mignon, 100 per cent Pinot Meunier, was a happier match for a beef dog with red cabbage and spicy mustard, but still hardly a revelation.

Champagne and hot dogs are two of the most indulgent comestibles on the planet; perhaps the fun of combining them is enough. But if Bubbledogs wants to teach people what to love about grower champagnes, they may need to broaden the menu. Pork hot dog with lemon sorbet, anyone?

Nina Caplan is the 2018 and 2014 Fortnum & Mason Drink Writer of the Year and the 2014 Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year for her columns on drink in the New Statesman, and the author of The Wandering Vine: Wine, The Romans and Me, published by Bloomsbury. She tweets as @NinaCaplan.


This article first appeared in the 01 October 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Labour conference special