Last Thursday morning I received a telephone call from the director of Le Keller restaurant at the posh Champs-Elysées Plaza hotel. Would I like to attend a champagne tasting? he asked. Each month the hotel features a different brand of champagne (see Le Keller’s Web site for details), and the tasting this month would be held that very evening in the bar of the hotel. I quickly consulted my agenda and found that, indeed, I was free that evening. So I accepted the invitation.
We wrote about Le Keller a year ago for our Paris Insights restaurant review and had a fabulous (though expensive) meal there. This was my opportunity to do some more gastronomic research—and this time, as a guest of the hotel!
I arrived at 6:30 p.m., somewhat early. The jazz duo, New Cosy, had already set up and was performing. The singer, Julie Dermit, sang in such impeccable English that I thought that she was American!
I sat down in the bar, a pleasant place, at a tall table. Even though other customers had not yet arrived, the bartender, Tony Miellot, began serving me. The tasting proceeded in the following manner: for 51€ you receive three champagnes, each paired with a different plate of tapas. The champagne house featured this month is Gosset, the oldest in the Champagne region (it was founded in 1584). The tapas are served according to their category—froids (cold), chauds (warm), and sucrées (sugary). Theoretically, the champagne that accompanies each group of tapas should be a taste match for that particular group.
As Tony poured the first glass, a Grande Reserve, he remarked about the color and fine bubbles of the champagne. I readily agreed with his assessment. The champagne had a light color of straw and the bubbles were very fine. I enjoyed the mineral-like, slightly yeasty taste of the beverage.
Along with the first champagne, I received a tray containing four tapas. These were not your ordinary deep-fried tapas that you would get in a tapas bar—they were all delicate, like the amuse-bouches that you get in a fine-dining restaurant. I particularly liked the Vélouté de potimarron. Served warm in a cup on the platter of cold tapas, the pumpkin soup tasted wonderfully rich as though it had been flavored with foie gras. I thought that the Grande Reserve harmonized very well with this first round of tapas.
The second champagne was a Grand Rosé served with a plate of three warm tapas. The rosé was pale pink and tasted softer and more fruity than the Grand Reserve. In my mind, it didn’t particularly harmonize with two of the cold tapas, but did go well with the third, a Dé de bœuf mariné aux épices douces, a small cube of beef prepared in sweet spices.
The third champagne was a vintage 1998. It had a surprising taste that one does not usually associate with champagne, a taste of sous-bois, as the French would say. It evoked memories of the scent of the forest after a rain—not unpleasant, mind you, just surprising. In my mind, this is a champagne that should be enjoyed without food accompaniment, as its taste did not complement the sweet tapas with which it was served. As for the tapas, I especially liked the Sablé chocolat, a chocolate cream in crunchy shortbread crust.
Following the tasting, I left on a high note. It had been a fabulous gastronomic experience!
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