Learn to enjoy your bubbly the molecular way

IT’S Christmas time again so isn’t it time you knew a thing or two about Champagne? Danny Hodrein certainly does. Or rather, he does now. Danny is a “flavourist” at taste consultancy F&F Projects (think science boffin in a white coat) who, until this latest project, spent most of his time making our crisps taste nicer and our orange juice last longer.

Then, along came a strange request from G. H. Mumm, the Champagne house, who asked him to subject six of its vintages to a “gas chromatograph” analysis in order to provide a molecular breakdown of the key ingredients in six different vintages.

A challenge was then set for Iain Graham, the executive chef of Urban Caprice, the upmarket caterers, to develop a perfect food match for each of the Champagnes based solely on an analysis of those identified molecules, in their purest form, rather than by deploying the more familiar sommelier’s approach of having a good old swirl and sniff.

Danny showed us Mumm’s de Cramant as his first case in point. This 100 per cent Chardonnay Champagne is a delicious, creamy fizz bottled at lower pressure than usual to leave softer bubbles to melt in the mouth. On the molecular spectrum, it was clear that it was bursting with ethyl isobutryrate, ethyl-2-methyl butyrate and delta-Decalactone.

Well, that’s interesting, we thought. But wait, it actually was. As it turns out, the first two molecules in their gaseous form smell distinctly light and fruity and the latter molecule was all buttery and creamy. And who knew that a molecule could smell buttery? So Graham was quickly able to get to work, and after much cogitation and discussion, he paired the Champagne with some perfectly tender scallops, sitting on a creamy cauliflower puree and some bright strips of tart apple. It worked beautifully when we tasted it with the Champagne: the gorgeous delicacy of the bubbles cuddling up to the sweet scallops and leaving a charming embrace on the palette. The appliance of science.

It succeeded with other vintages too. The butyl caprylate in the Mumm Rosé smelt of perfume and mangoes in its pure form and Iain was quick to match this with rosy slices of tuna sashimi and a tropical fruits salsa. Again, when tested, it was clear that a pleasing partnership had been built between the dry, fruity Champagne (made with 60 per cent pinot noir and long on the aftertaste) and the sweetness of the salsa, full of fiery red chili to give the experience texture and tang. Likewise, Mumm’s Demi-Sec – a delicious, golden yellow Champagne made with 55 per cent Pinot Meunier – showed up a relative abundance of diethyl succinate on the chromatograph which in its gaseous form smelt richly of almonds and caramel. Graham paired the drink with a stunning dessert of apple and caramel discs, arranged with soft pillows of gingery cake.

In the end, the molecular analysis worked well but did not give rise to surprising combinations and I doubt this method provides any great benefit over and above ordinary approaches. However, going deeper into the drink’s carbonic core was a vibrantly original way of tasting. The experience of Champagne’s constituent parts as little, aromatic molecules facilitated an understanding of the natural essence of the drink in a stark new way that allowed an easy recognition of matching essences in the accompanying dishes.

It’s probably not any time soon that you will be subjecting your Christmas fizz to a gas chromatograph analysis. But if you did, you wouldn’t be disappointed.

For more information, see www.champagneassembly.co.uk