Cooking has never been a favourite past time of mine, but when it comes to hosting a guest, no feat of culinary endurance is too much to bear. Especially in this case, when making pasta from scratch turned out to be pretty easy, and the significant other helped. Like a lot. Like, “prepping the dough entirely by himself whilst I entertained our guests” a lot. Well, opening the bubbly IS a job on its own…
I’ve always considered myself more of the ideas person, anyway. What a great one this turned out to be.
Spelt flour ravioli filled with roasted butternut squash, sage and vegan butter, served with kale and garlic pesto, washed down with a couple of flutes of Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve, my new favourite vegan-friendly champagne.
The Champagne House dates back to 1851, when it was founded by 29 year old Charles-Camille Heidsieck. Born into wine-making, he became the first merchant to sell his sparkling wines to the American market, earning himself the nickname “Champagne Charlie” in the New York newspapers. The chalk cellars that his wines mature in today are now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
At this point, Heidsieck was already an established name in Champagne. Heidsieck & Co, and its spin-off House Piper-Heidsieck were founded by Florens-Louis Heidsieck, uncle to Charlie’s fathers. All three Houses are now owned by different businesses, but the heritage lives on.
I was overjoyed to find out this champagne is vegan. It’s a stunning NV, and I love the gorgeous metallic blue foil, the label, the beautiful medium-lemon colour. This is Non-Vintage (NV) Champagne, which means it’s a blend – of 60 crus to be exact – of the standard three grapes; Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. The chalk cellars ensure the bubbles here are delicate, but long-lasting. You can see the quality before you taste it.
This retails between £33 and £45 a bottle – but it’s SO worth it. Laurent Perrier will cost you around £40, and whilst Moet et Chandon only requires a £34 investment, the difference is… well. Find out for yourself. If you do really love either of those NV Brut, however, both Laurent Perrier and Moet et Chandon are also suitable for vegans.
Genuine passion and meticulous attention to detail have gone into making it; almost half of the wine in the bottle is between five and 20 years old. The cellar master must choose from over 400 wines for this part, to ensure that every bottle promises the same experience. In many ways, it actually requires more skill to make a non-vintage Champagne than it does a vintage one. After all, you’d expect the latter to taste different, bottle to bottle, a non-vintage must remain the same, bottle on bottle, year after year.
What makes this a good vegan-friendly wine and food pairing?
Let’s break it down a little. Sage is a wonderful, warm savoury herb, which compliments a variety of sweet vegetables; pumpkin and winter squashes, sweet potato, carrots, peas, corn, etc. Hence, the sage, butter, and butternut squash filling.
As a very general observation, a well-balanced champagne has layers of buttery, biscuity richness (from the Chardonnay, and the yeast activity) undercut with vibrant acidity and zingy citrus. Depending on the amount of red grapes in the blend, they can have hints of red fruits, too. Because of this, Champagne and other sparkling wines tend to work really well with rich creamy dishes, meaty white fish, and smoked nutty flavours.
The soft texture of fresh pasta and roasted squash balanced the vibrant bubbles of a sparkling beautifully. Sage is one savoury herb that actually works better with white wine than red, and the nuttiness in hot sage is gorgeous washed down with the Charles Heidsieck. Creamy, buttery roasted squash had enough richness to work with a wine that both compliments it, and cuts through it with fresh acidity.
A really basil-heavy pesto would not have worked here – but, thanks to the addition of kale that desperately needed to be used, the fresh and distinctly Italian flavour of green pesto wasn’t pronounced enough to challenge the pairing. Considering fried foods are the seductive lover with whom most sparkling wines will languish in bed with all weekend, a better accompaniment would have been to fry the ravioli after cooking, in a mix of brown sugar, sage and vegan butter spread. And if you were to add whole hazelnuts, roasted in butter? Pure heaven.
All in all, the dinner party was a success. We learned a lot about making pasta from scratch (Spelt flour works, but forgetting to add oil or egg substitute to the mix kind of doesn’t), and discovered a truly gorgeous vegan sparkling wine, fuelling more curiosity in discovering vegan food pairings for it. Whilst I won’t be breaking open a bottle every night to taste alongside dinner, there are endless food pairings I want to try with this Champagne; not to mention the other styles the House makes.
If you have tried it, get yourself another bottle. If you haven’t – what are you waiting for?