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Why champagne and oysters are the best pairing for New Year’s Eve

Have you ever wondered why champagne and oysters taste so good together? According to a team of Danish scientists, it’s all about ‘umami synergy’…

 

Oysters have been successfully paired with champagne at celebratory occasions since the heady days of 18th-century French salons. Now, a team of scientists from the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, have come up with a solid reason why.

While it’s true that chefs and sommeliers have been artfully matching the minerality, brininess and acidity of champagne with the meatiness, salinity and fattiness of oysters for years, the research shows that, scientifically, there’s a more unexpected reason why the pair are a perfect match.

What’s the science behind pairing champagne and oysters?

In short, it’s all to do with umami. Also referred to as savouriness, it’s one of the five basic flavours the human tongue can detect, alongside sweet, salty, bitter and sour.

“Many people associate umami with the flavour of meat,” explains Professor Ole G Mouritsen, who co-authored the study. “But now we have discovered that it’s also found in both oysters and champagne.”

The research team discovered that the spent yeast cells in champagne contribute greatly to umami flavour through a compound called glutamate. This is matched by umami that comes from the muscles of an oyster – molecules called nucleotides. While there’s umami in champagne and oysters when consumed on their own, it’s when they’re combined that the magic happens.

“Champagne and oysters create a notable synergistic effect that greatly enhances the taste of champagne,” says Charlotte Vinther Schmidt, the study’s lead author.

Why aged champagne pair well with oysters

There are countless champagne and oyster combinations to choose from. But which works best? According to the findings, the the older the champagne the better, as it has more yeasty flavours that boost a champagne’s umami notes. Dom Pérignon champagnes are only produced in vintages, so they tend to be older and have notes associated with ageing that work very well with seafood – particularly oysters. Try Dom Pérignon Vintage 2002 Plénitude 2 or Dom Pérignon Vintage 2012

What’s the most iconic champagne and oyster pairing?

However, the study’s authors were keen to point out that there are other factors that can influence a good pairing. In addition to age, look for a champagne with great acidity (this works with oysters in the same way a squeeze of lemon does), minerality and qualities that give the impression of saltiness to complement the briny sweetness of oysters. An aged blancs de blancs champagne made from chardonnay such as Ruinart Blancs de Blancs or Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Collection 2012, which has 51% chardonnay grapes in the blend, would be ideal as the fruit is less pronounced and the mineral notes and acidity stand strong.

As for the oysters, the study suggests that while the more ubiquitous Pacific oyster shares an umami synergy with champagne, native European flat oysters – specifically the Danish Limfjord oyster – contain larger quantities of the nucleotides, which give a more intense umami synergy.