Three BIG Reviews of Caviar and Wine: (What, Why and Where, To Pair)
By John Dunham and Alison Blackman
Caviar Comes from Virgin Sturgeon
The tune is “Reuben, Reuben, I’ve Been Thinking.”
Caviar comes from virgin sturgeon;
Virgin sturgeon’s a very fine dish.
Very few sturgeon are ever virgin,
That’s why caviar’s a very rare dish….(lots more verses too “salty” to print here)
Editor’s note: Ths is a large review with three different caviar and wine tasting events. We would normally review these separately, but we combined them to give you the most information possible in one feature.
So scroll down slowly. enjoy the photos and the tasting notes. By the end you will have learned more than you ever knew before about caviar, wine and food pairings!
With the holidays right around the corner, we hope you enjoy this, our largest review ever, and we welcome your comments.
What is Caviar?
Caviar, a delicacy celebrated in delicacies and ditties, is made by salt-curing eggs from the sturgeon fish.
Traditionally produced in the countries bordering the Caspian and Black Seas, where sturgeon were once found in abundance, overfishing, habitat
destruction and pollution have dramatically reduced the availability of wild caviar from that region. The same is true of caviar produced in North America, which was once a major exporter of eggs from the lake and short-nose sturgeon.
Where Do You Find Caviar Producing Sturgeon?
Most caviar found for sale in the United States today comes from farms, and much of that comes from Israel and Italy. Caviar has been produced in Italy since the 1500s, from wild sturgeon from the Po River. These fish have since become extinct due to over-fishing.
Calvisius Caviar one of the largest producers of caviar in the world with more than 60 acres of aquaculture tanks dedicated to breeding the finest species of fish which account for over 20 percent of the world’s caviar production. All of the company’s production comes from sturgeon farmed in Northern Italy.
Another major production region is Israel, where caviar is produced in farms located along the Dan River. We sampled some Israeli caviar along with eggs from other fish at a tasting at OLMA Caviar Boutique and Lounge, on New York’s Upper West Side. (It is important to note that US law does not require that only the eggs from sturgeon be classified as caviar. In America caviar may also be used to describe the roe of other fish such as salmon, trout, lumpfish, whitefish, etc.)
Why Is Genuine Caviar Expensive?
It can require as many as 12 or 13 years for the fish to be mature enough to produce some of the best quality caviar. Also, while different caviar come from different breeds of sturgeon, the actual position of eggs in the egg sack have much to do with the size and fat content. So all Beluga caviar, for example, is not created equal.
The fish eggs that eventually become caviar are generally salt cured over a period of up to 3 months, and can be pasteurized on non-pasteurized. (If the roe pops when you bite it, it is a sign that the caviar has been pasteurized).
What Is The Best Way To Eat Caviar?
This will surprise you. According to John Knierim of Calvisius Caviar, the best way to eat caviar is not with a spoon made out of bone or mother of pearl, although that seems to be a popular serving method. This is because the eggs are very delicate and can pick up tastes from utensils. He recommends eating caviar off of one’s knuckle (like salt for a tequila shot.
Calvisius Caviar is 100% Friends of the Sea certified, and all is packaged with a CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) number ensuring that it is not produced with endangered species of sturgeon. The company is one of the largest producers in the world.
Tastings Teach You About Wine and Food and How to Pair Them:
Caviar also works as an ingredient in many different dishes, but how do you pair them properly? We didn’t really know ourselves, until we tried different wines, foods and caviar at three different tastings in New York City. Here is what we tasted, paired, and what we learned:
Celebrating the Holidays, with Champagne Tattinger
The first of the caviar and wine tasting and pairing events was sponsored by Tattinger Champagne
Champagne is a wine and a wine tradition that is all about celebration. One such celebration occurred on July 12th when Champagne Taittinger hosted the art of Celebrating the Holidays, mid-Summer, on the roof of the Kimpton Eventi Hotel in New York City.
The event featured a range of fine Taittinger Champagnes, along with chocolates and macaroons produced by noted chef Jacques Torres and caviar from Calvisius Caviar.
About Champagne Tattinger:
Taittinger is one of the last of the Grand Marque Champagne houses, and we had the honor of being hosted by Vitalie Taittinger, Artistic Director of Champagne Taittinger, and heiress to the family winery that began in 1932.
Ms. Taittinger, along with Chantelle Pabros, Fine Wine Consultant at Morrell and Company and Mr. Knierim held an amazing Champagne and caviar pairing as part of the event.
According to Ms. Taittinger, while Champagne pairs well with virtually anything, pairing with beautiful gastronomic products like caviar is always a wonderful choice.
The first wine that we tasted was Taittinger Brut La Francaise, ($60 per bottle), the house’s traditional Brut. Brut is the most common style of sparkling wine and should taste dry with no perception of sweetness. The La Francaise had a vigorous mousse (bubbles), and was quite dry with a lot of fruit, peaches and some nuttiness.
We tasted a citrusy orange zest on the finish. The wine is a blend of 40 percent Chardonnay, 35 percent Pinot Noir and 25 percent Pinot Meunier grapes which is a very traditional champagne blend.
The wine was paired with a Calvisius Caviar Tradition Prestige ($75 for 28 grams), which comes from the white sturgeon. This caviar requires about 11 years for the sturgeon to produce. The wine brought out the butter and cream flavors in the eggs, with strong marine salty notes on the finish.
The next pairing featured Taittinger Prelude Grands Crus ($95), which is made exclusively from grapes sourced from Grands Crus vineyards. The Prelude is an excellent wine made of 50 percent Chardonnay grapes and 50 percent Pinot Noir. It is very fresh with some citrus notes up front, yeasty notes in the middle and spicy notes at the finish.
This champagne was paired with Calvisius Caviar Oscietra Classic ($120 for 28 grams) made from the eggs of the Oscietra sturgeon which can take up to 13 years to mature. The wine with the nutty notes that came from the caviar brought the fruit out of the wine, and the marine salty notes from the eggs were noticeable toward the finish.
The photo at the top of this review features Calvisius Caviar Siberian ($70 for 28 grams), made from Siberian Sturgeon eggs. The fish require about 7 years to produce this fine caviar which, though slightly smaller than the other caviars we sampled has a buttery clean flavor.
The caviar was paired with Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs (2006: $200) This wine which is 100 percent Chardonnay, has a light golden yellow color, with a foresty nose that has an overlay of apple. The wine has an amazing mouse, with citrus notes up front and a tropical finish. This pairing was amazing, bringing nuttiness and butter out of the caviar. There was a lot of fat in the flavor – kind of like pork belly or lamb belly. This is an elegant – though pricey – pairing.
The last pairing brought together Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rose (2006: $260) and Calvisius Caviar Oscietra Royal ($140 for 28 grams). The wine had blood orange notes overlaying apple and some grapefruit.
The caviar had a very high fat content with large velvety eggs. This was another WOW in our tasting notes, the pairing reminded us of a fireplace with very nutty, smoky notes. The caviar pulled all of the acid out of the wine.
After the pairing we were able to sample some chocolates and baked goods from Chef Jacques Torres. His macaroons featured the Taittinger Champagnes as ingredients and were all buttery, soft, smooth and – well – celebratory. The chef created over the top champagne flutes out of buttery white chocolate sprayed with gold. Even with the amazing bottlings, it was hard to tell what was better – the wine or the flute!
The chef created over the top champagne flutes out of buttery white chocolate sprayed with gold. Even with the amazing bottlings, it was hard to tell what was better – the wine or the flute!
Bordeaux & Bordeaux Superieur Winemakers Association & Calvisius Caviar at Bobo NYC
Our second caviar and wine tasting and pairing occurred at Bobo NYC, a charming French bistro located in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village neighborhood.
While caviar is often paired with Champagne, this event, which was sponsored by the Bordeaux & Bordeaux Superieur Winemakers Association, in conjunction with Calvisius Caviar. Here Mr. Knierim was joined by 2012 Sommelier of the Year Michael Madrigale, and they presented five white Bordeaux and caviar pairings. This was followed by a selection of foods from Bobo Chef, Nelson Maldonado, which were also paired with Bordeaux varietals.
The Tasting: This was a big tasting – 13 wines – that showed off the pairing potentials of Bordeaux wines.
We started with a La Fleur de Francois Rose Brut, Cremant de Bordeaux ($16). This was a nice starter wine that was presented to the guests when they arrived at Bobo. Very light pink in color, the wine was a little yeasty up front, with apple, peach and some sugar notes. And while we did not pair this with the caviar, we are certain that it would be a great selection to try with Bobo’s $1 happy hour oysters.
The pairings began with Dourthe La Grande Cuvee 2015, Bordeaux Blanc ($10). This wine was light straw yellow in color with a nose featuring citrus and a lot of peach. On the palate the wine was citrusy with a lot of minerals, what one would expect from a 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc wine. This was paired with Calvisius Caviar Tradition Prestige (see notes above).
This buttery, creamy caviar brought out the mineral notes in the wine. Mr. Madrigale suggested that this simple table wine pairs well with the creamy notes from the caviar and will not overpower it.
The second caviar pairing was Chatteau du Cros Sauvignon Blanc (2015) Bordeaux Blanc ($15). The predominantly Sauvignon Blanc wine was straw yellow in color with a tropical, floral nose. The wine was a bit heavier on the palate than the first Bordeaux Blanc, with good minerality and a hint of lime.
This was paired with Calvisius Caviar Siberian from the baeri sturgeon, a Russian fish bred to produce a lot of eggs. (see notes above). The minerality in the wine brought out the creamy notes from the caviar, and made it taste almost like a crème fresche.
Calvisius Cavier Oscietra Classic was paired with Chateau Lamothe de Haux (2014) Bordeaux Blanc ($10). The wine is a classic blend of Semillion, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle grapes. It was a light yellow in color with a nose featuring peach and roses. On the palate with wine was floral with apple and citrus notes on the finish.
The large dark eggs from the Oscietra caviar were slightly fishy on the front and moved toward a more marine note on the finish. Together, the caviar and wine brought out a fruit bomb with lots of apple and peach notes.
Clarendelle Blanc (2013: $19) a classic Sauvignon Blanc, Semillion and Muscadelle blend was produced by the winemaking team at Chateau Haut-Brion, a vintner that was a favorite of Thomas Jefferson. The wine was yellow in color with a very Muscadelle, raisin nose. On the palate, the wine was fresh, though a bit on the sweeter side for our taste as the Muscadelle seemed dominant even though it was just seven percent of the blend.
This was paired with Calvisius Caviar Sevruga, a caviar featuring gray somewhat oily eggs, with some salty notes up front fading back to a buttery creaminess. Paired with the wine, the caviar became almost nutty though still super buttery.
Following the caviar parings with white wines, we began a tasting of four Bordeaux rose wines. Mr. Madrigale opened up the tasting somewhat as waiters brought out a plethora of dishes prepared by Bobo’s Cordon Bleu chef Nelson Maldonado. The bites included Florida rock shrimp sautéed in garlic and peppers and topped with Calvisius Cabiar Siberian; oysters with mignonette and Calvisius Caviar Oscietra Classic; foie gras (from Izzy’s farm in Upstate New York), and charred octopus with a pesto.
The first wine Chateau Bonnet Bordeaux Rose (2015: $10) was salmon in color featuring a bit of strawberry on the nose along with some funky locker room notes. On the palate, the Cabernet/Merlot blend had a light acidity, with a fruit forward nature radiant in cherry notes. The wine paired beautifully with the smoky octopus and opened up the oysters nicely as well.
The second wine was La Cabane Aux Oiseaux Bordeaux Rose (2015: $14). This pink wine had a laundry room nose, and a palate that was grassy up front and minerally at the finish. The wine really brought forward the cucumbers used in the oyster mignonette sauce. (For more Rose Bordeaux pairings click here)
Chateau de Lardiley Bordeaux Rose (2015: $15) was a light orange in color with a laundry room nose. With a lot of mineral notes up front, the wine featured strawberry and some spicy notes on the finish. It paired very well with the rock shrimp.
Chateau Larroque Bordeaux Rose (2015: $15) had a pink hue, and a nose featuring strawberry and some marine notes. The wine was very fruity up front with lots of red fruits, and a clean laundry finish. The wine worked very well with the foie gras – our notes read simply “super fruit.”
To compliment the red wines, Chef Maldonado brought out yet more dishes: a duck confit and roasted duck breast on a toasted baguette, a spice crusted pork tenderloin, a salmon belly served with mirin and Calvisius Caviar Sevruga, and Beef Tenderloin tartare served with Calvisius Caviar Tradition Prestige. These were paired with a series of four Bordeaux Rouge wines beginning with Cheval Quancard Reserve (2012: $25) a wine that was designed to be consumed young. The 80 percent Merlot blend was dark red in color with a nose featuring licorice and plum. It had light tannins and was peppery without a lot of fruit on the palate. The wine paired very well with the duck.
Chateau Saint-Julien Bordeaux Superieur (2011: $14) was dark red in color and had a nose that featured pepper and some bacon. The wine was well structured and could use some more time in the bottle. The palate was peppery with some coffee notes. Our tasting notes simply say “Duck-wow.”
Chateau LaFont-Fourcat (2014: $15) Bordeaux Rouge from the St. Emilion region was purple in color with a laundry room nose. On the palate the wine was light with a lot of black fruit and a good peppery finish. This wine is built to be drunk young and paired excellently with the salmon belly bringing out the buttery notes in the Sevruga caviar.
Chateau Jean Faux Bordeaux Superieur (2011: $25). This wine was dark red in color with a complex nose of vanillas, cherry, and plum. This is likely due to the blend which is 80 percent merlot and 20 percent cabernet franc. On the palate, this wine was super fruity, featuring lots of plum, blueberry, and dark fruits. It is a super wine and opens up some spicy notes when paired with the steak tartare.
Caviar & Champagne Tasting at Olma Caviar NYC:
Our third caviar and wine tasting occurred at the Olma Caviar Boutique and Lounge on NYC’s Upper West Side.
For those not fortunate enough to be able to attend a caviar-wine pairing event, a similar experience can be had every day at OLMA Caviar. We enjoyed a sample pairing at the OLMA Caviar Boutique & Lounge at 420 Amsterdam Avenue.
About Olma Caviar:
Founded in 2001, OLMA is a producer and importer of fine caviar based in Brooklyn, New York. The company imports dozens of varieties of the very best red and black caviar from Italy, Israel, South Korea, Russia, and Alaska. Remember, in the United States any fish eggs can be classified as caviar, and OLMA provides a wide range of products ranging from salmon eggs to fine beluga caviars.
Olma features a number of caviar tasting platters, along with a full bar and menu. We had the Caviar Tasting Platter ($79), which featured a small portion of 8 different eggs on little blinis (pancakes). This was paired with a flute of Charles de Monrency Reserve Brut.
Our tasting platter began with salmon caviar. These large orange eggs were salty and buttery but a bit on the fishy side. At just $5 a portion, they bring out the nuttiness in the champagne, and provide a tasty example of fish roe. This was followed by bowfin ($5 per portion). This small, onyx black roe was buttery with a slightly sour taste the brought out apple notes in the champagne. From here we tried medium gray colored paddlefish eggs ($9). These were slightly salty, buttery and very light in tone. The small, black, hackleback eggs ($10) were also light in flavor and were almost overpowered by the blini.
The next four samples were all from different types of sturgeon. From the white sturgeon ($15), the caviar was gray in color. The large eggs were well defined, very buttery and had just a hint of salt. The Siberian Caviar ($16) eggs were gray in color. They were also buttery with just a hint of salt, though there was some fishiness on the end. Both of the caviar’s paired well with the champagne and brought out its nuttier notes.
Our favorite caviar from the sample was Karat ($22 per portion). This medium sized, gray-black caviar was amazing. Creamy, buttery and sweet, the caviar opened up the fruity notes from the champagne. Finally, we tried the beluga ($32). Very few providers offer beluga caviar in the United States. The eggs were huge, and gray-black in color. They were nutty and sweet, with no fishy or salty notes. The caviar actually reminded us of hazelnuts, and it opened the apple notes in the champagne.
Caviar prices at OLMA range from about $80 per 100 grams for bowfish to $450 per 100 grams for beluga and is available for sale at both locations.
You don’t have to go to a formal tasting to enjoy caviar with food or wine. It pairs easily with so many things. If you like champagne or Bordeaux wines, there are so many ways to let them compliment your cuisine.
“Caviar and wine is just divine!!”
For more on Champagne Taittinger visit: http://www.taittinger.com/ (Taittinger is also a wonderful place to visit while in Reims)
Read our Two-Part review (Visiting Champagne? Things to Know Before You Go and Champagne Travel Review-Visiting The Champagne Houses)
For more on Calvisius and on caviar in general visit: http://www.calvisius.com/
For more on Jacques Torres visit: http://www.mrchocolate.com/
For more on the Bordeaux wine visit the official site of Bordeaux Wines: http://www.bordeaux.com/us
For more on Bobo NYC Restaurant visit: http://bobonyc.com/
For more on OLMA Caviar Bu=outique & Lounge visit: http://olmacaviar.com/lounge/
*photos by Alison Blackman, Caviar tins courtesy of Calvisius Caviar