Now in its third year, Champagne Gosset’s competition saw sommeliers and chefs prove their food and champagne pairing skills in an exciting final. Who would win?
Chewton Glen, Hampshire
Forest Side, Lake District
Frog by Adam Handling, London
Jean-Georges at The Connaught, London
The Cavalry and Guards Club &
Gosset Matchmakers is a competition that challenges sommeliers and chefs to pair up and create an award-winning champagne and food matching combination.
Launched in 2016, it’s a celebration of both the culinary skills found in some of the country’s best kitchens and top talent in the UK sommelier world.
The 2018 competition was launched in June with an exclusive tasting workshop at Le Cordon Bleu London hosted by Xavier Rousset MS and Gosset’s Bertrand Verduzier. The winners from 2017 and 2016 were also on hand to present their winning pairings and talk about their experiences in the competition.
‘At Gosset we are very strongly terroir-led, so our wines are naturally suited to food pairing,’ said Verduzier. He explained that the Gosset style is characterised by minimal intervention, extended ageing and no malolactic fermentation, which preserves the natural acidity of the champagnes.
He then led the group through a tasting of Gosset’s Grand Rosé, Grande Réserve and its single-varietal champagnes: Grand Blanc de Blancs, Extra Brut Grand Blanc de Noirs and the newest addition to the range, Extra Brut Grand Blanc de Meunier, launched earlier this year. Both the Blanc de Noirs and the Blanc de Meunier are limited editions based on the 2007 vintage, with runs of 10,000 and 5,000 bottles respectively.
Made from 100% Pinot Meunier from south-facing vineyards around Épernay, Grand Blanc de Meunier is aged on lees for nine years. ‘We wanted to show that Pinot Meunier can age and, by consequence, develop complexity,’ said Verduzier.
‘It makes a great food wine, because it has a great texture, spice and different layers of fruit. It’s the combination of fruitiness and minerality that’s interesting.’
He finished with some tips on what judges would be looking for in 2018. ‘We’d like to see something adventurous, beyond the classic pairings of blanc de blancs with seafood,’ noted Verduzier, suggesting pork, veal and softly spiced Malaysian and south Asian dishes with the two blanc de noirs cuvées.
Following the workshop, sommeliers and chefs returned to their restaurants to devise their pairings. Teams were allowed to choose any champagne from the Gosset range and had to submit an original recipe to match. The judges assessed these entries to arrive at a shortlist of five finalists.
In September, teams from Chewton Glen, Forest Side, Frog by Adam Handling, Jean-Georges at The Connaught, and The Calvalry and Guards Club and Royal Automobile Club arrived to compete in the final at Le Cordon Bleu London, where they would have three hours to prepare and present their dishes. Judges were on the look out for excellent teamwork, technical skills in the kitchen, an understanding of ingredients, a flair for flavour and a good knowledge of champagne.
Father-and-son team Francesco and Matteo Gabriele work at luxury Hampshire hotel Chewton Glen. The pair had devised a stone bass dish entitled ‘Rossini Crescendo Royal’ to match with Gosset Celebris Rosé 2007.
Sommelier Francesco explained the concept. ‘The Italian composer Rossini wrote an opera called The Journey to Reims. Inspired by this French-Italian connection, we thought about the Rossini cocktail [a twist on a Bellini made with prosecco and strawberry purée]and decided to create a musically inspired dish using strawberries as an ingredient.’
The stone bass was pan-fried in butter with lemongrass, served with a creamy saffron sauce, herb pesto, capers, and strawberry and champagne jelly. Matteo used the pesto to draw a treble clef and musical stave on the white plate.
‘The crescendo is the idea of the dish and the champagne, which both build in flavour,’ said Francesco. ‘Celebris Rosé has vibrant acidity and a textured mouthfeel. Fresh and pure in the mouth, it cleans your palate, ready for the next bite of food.’
Jean-Pierre Cointreau praised Francesco’s ‘very good wine knowledge’ and liked the musical presentation.
‘The dish was really colourful, but I couldn’t taste the strawberries,’ noted chef Ambra Papa.
‘This concept and the story were great,’ commented Will Oatley. ‘But the flavours of the saffron, capers and pesto were all too strong and overpowered the champagne,’ he added.
‘At Forest Side we grow or produce everything ourselves, so we wanted to bring a Cumbrian element to our dish,’ explained chef Ian Waller.
Together with sommelier Vanessa Majella Stoltz, who chose the Gosset Grand Blanc de Noirs for this pairing, he created a combination called the posh prawn with ‘our’ guanciale and fizzy kohlrabi.
The ‘posh prawns’ were langoustines, cooked in butter and served with fermented and salt-baked kohlrabi alongside a savoury broth of guanciale (home-cured pork cheek from pigs reared at Forest Side). This was topped with thin slivers of guanciale and foraged greens including nasturtium leaves and pink-tinged Malabar spinach pods.
‘The Blanc de Noirs has really punchy acidity. With no malo, it’s tense and light, but there’s lots of flavour and complexity,’ said Stoltz. ‘We wanted to do something challenging to match this champagne. The broth is very rich, but that’s what’s so interesting about the pairing.’
The judges agreed that the duo had risen to the challenge. ‘Using guanciale was a risk, but the dish was very well executed,’ praised Kandylis. ‘The langoustine was cooked perfectly,’ added Papa.
‘The dish looked absolutely beautiful – modern and striking, but also delicate. The food itself was full of complex flavours, but nothing overpowered and it was in perfect harmony with the champagne. Impressive!’ concluded Sheppard.
Frog by Adam Handling
Sommelier Linh Ziolkowska and chef Enrique Diez work together at Frog, owned by Masterchef: The Professionals finalist Adam Handling.
The duo served up a textured dish of rose veal tartare, with mushroom and champagne ketchup, a bone marrow emulsion, ceps and crispy beef crackers, alongside Gosset Grand Blanc de Meunier.
‘The Grand Blanc de Meunier is a very gastronomic wine, with both richness and structure. There’s fruitiness, but the champagne’s secondary aromas also stand out and we
wanted to carry those umami and mushroom flavours into this dish,’ explained Ziolkowska.
‘The quality of this pairing was really impressive,’ noted Longuère. ‘It shows a good understanding of flavour.’
Oatley agreed: ‘This was very tasty, with good umami notes and the salinity of the champagne balanced the dish well.’
Terry Kandylis MS summed up: ‘This pairing is really smart. The acidity of the champagne cuts through the bone marrow; the cracker complements the texture and crispness of the wine; while the savoury dish brings out fruit notes in the champagne.’
Jean-Georges at The Connaught, London
The team from The Connaught spiced things up with their pairing for Gosset Grand Rosé, as chef Pramuan Praweraphai prepared a dish of spicy-crusted duck breast using star anise, cumin, white and black pepper and coriander. This was served with summer fruits and vegetables, including cherry, carrots, broccoli and baby kale, plus a charred peach purée. The dish was finished with a rich duck jus.
Sommelier Aurel Istrate explained how the duo had created the match. ‘The Grand Rosé is structured but fresh, with nice spice notes. We matched those to the crust, but also wanted clean, fresh flavours to complement the fruit,’ he said. Sheppard praised the presentation. ‘The vibrant colours of the vegetables pop out of the plate,’ she noted.
‘Duck is very tricky to cook, but this was nicely done and the vegetables had a nice crunch,’ said Papa. ‘The dish was extremely well cooked and the sweet fruit of the peach purée balanced the spice,’ added Kandylis.
‘I was initially concerned about the level of spice in this dish, but it didn’t overpower the delicate champagne, so I thought the wine and food married beautifully,’ commented Oatley. ‘This was a good combination,’ agreed Cointreau.
The Cavalry and Guards Club & Royal Automobile Club, London
Two private members clubs joined forces here, as sommelier Rui Apulo Pereira of The Cavalry and Guards Club teamed up with Royal Automobile Club chef Sofia Medeiros Vieira. They prepared turbot with an almond crust on cauliflower variations to pair with Gosset Grand Blanc de Noirs.
‘We fell in love with the flavours of the Blanc de Noirs,’ explained Apulo Pereira. ‘The nuttiness, patisserie notes, brioche, white fruits, baked apple and honey – we wanted to recreate all of the flavours of the champagne in the dish.’
Medeiros Vieira poached the turbot in clarified butter and prepared a separate crust with brioche and ground almonds. Her cauliflower was served as a purée, roasted florets and couscous. She served these with a rich jus made with the turbot bones and beef stock, plus slices of caramelised apple.
‘I was expecting the crust to give the dish more texture, though the fish was perfectly cooked,’ praised Papa. ‘It is difficult to get a crunch with almonds,’ noted chef Anthony Boyd. Matthieu Longuère MS approved of the ‘traditional’ champagne pairing. ‘The brioche and butter notes of the champagne are coming through with this dish,’ he said.
‘The Blanc de Noirs brings out the flavours of the almond crust,’ noted Oatley. ‘The acidity cuts through the rich and sweet flavours of the dish,’ added Julie Sheppard.
And the winner is…
With all of the dishes presented, it was left to the judges to compare scores and deliberate the merits of each pairing. Finally the wait was over and Cointreau announced the results. He began by congratulating the finalists and praising their efforts. But there could be only one winner.
That honour went to Vanessa Majella Stoltz and Ian Waller of Forest Side. Kandylis described the pairing as, ‘My absolute favourite – the salty tang of the broth matched the minerality of the champagne, but the herbs brought freshness and another dimension, bringing out more fruit from the champagne.’
Boyd praised Waller’s ‘very precise cooking’, while Papa commended the duo for successfully creating ‘a really challenging recipe’.
‘This pair had such a good understanding of flavours,’ added Sheppard, ‘and their presentation was confident and enthusiastic.’ Cointreau agreed, giving Majella Stoltz full marks for her ‘great wine knowledge’. ‘Ian and Vanessa’s passion for food and wine really shone through, both in their attitude and in their dish,’ concluded Oatley. ‘You can tell this is not just a job for them; it’s a passion,’ agreed Longuere.
Second place was awarded to Ziolkowska and Diez from Frog by Adam Handling. All four were presented with bottles of Gosset and a bespoke Gosset carafe. Majella Stoltz and Waller also won an all-expenses-paid, behind-the-scenes trip to Champagne to visit Gosset, which will include a base wine blending session with cellar master Odilon de Varine.