What to drink with caviar...

...depends to some extent on what you are eating it with. If the caviar is used as a garnish, then the main dish will decide the choice of drink.   Caviar is suitable as a garnish for any fish or shellfish, and the natural accompaniment for those is, of course, white wine.

White wines

If you opt for a white wine to go with your caviar, whether the latter is served as a garnish or as hors d'oeuvre, then the drier, crisper wines are best, such as Chablis, or some Chardonnays.   The heavier, stronger whites, like Gevurtztraminer, are unsuitable because they tend to smother the subtelties of flavor.   The same is true of wines that have a distinct oaky taste, which is why I empasized some Chardonnays.   Oak-matured Chardonnay is very popular in Britain and the US, and often, when wine drinkers say they like Chardonnay, what they really mean is that they enjoy the oak flavor.   Pouilly-Fuissé, a Chardonnay from Burgundy, is a good caviar accompaniment.   Sauvignon Blanc is another very suitable grape variety.

If you lack confidence in choosing a good wine, a useful rule of thumb is to avoid French wines - which are very variable, from dreadful to excellent, depending on vintage - and to opt instead for Italian wines, which tend to be more consistent and better value than wines from elsewhere.   Wines from Australia and New Zealand are also usually safe choices.   The choice is vast; look for the words 'light', 'crisp', 'dry' and 'subtle' on the label of a mid-priced Sauvignon Blanc and you won't go far wrong.

We have so far overlooked the classic wine choice...

Light, white wines are usually in order.   Chilled, of course.



...Champagne

Champagne and caviar are compatible not just because they are both horribly expensive and surrounded by the same absurd mystique, but because they genuinely complement each other.   Whatever you drink with caviar should have the effect of cleansing, or refreshing, the palate.   A sparkling wine does that superbly.   Again, crispness and dryness are the features to look for.

Moet & Chandon, Roederer, Mumm, Taittinger and Veuve Clicquot are among the most respected marques.   Krug is probably the best but is out of my price range.   Send me a crate and I'll gladly review it.

In the spirit of 'not all roe is caviar but who cares?' we should note that Not all wine that sparkles is Champagne.   By law, in most countries, the word 'Champagne' is reserved for wines actually produced in Champagne, France, like those mentioned above.   The term Crémant is used to refer to French sparkling wine not made in the Champagne region.   A better discipline would be to restrict the use of the name 'Champagne' to sparkling wine made using a secondary fermentation in the bottle, the classic way of inducing carbonation.   It's that secondary fermentation that makes it true 'Champagne', regardless of where it's done.

Sparkling wine is known as sekt in Germany, spumante in Italy, and simply sparkling wine in the United States, Australia and southern England.   Some wines are made only lightly sparkling, such as some vinho verde wines in Portugal, known as pétillant.

As noted, Spumante is the Italian term for a sparkling wine.   Frizzante refers to a semi-sparkling wine.   But not all wines with those words in their name are actually made using secondary fermentation, and so do not qualify for our purpose, which is for a wine that does justice to caviar.   Some Spumantes are excellent; just check the label first to see if it mentions how the wine is made.

Cap Classique is a South African sparkling wine made by the traditional Champagne method.   Having never tried it, I have nothing useful to say about it.

In case all this is making your head spin, let's summarize:   Go for an expensive French Champagne if you wish to impress your guests, but make sure you display the labels and corks prominently so that you get your money's worth.   Choose German, English or southern Australian (Tasmania or the Yarra Valley) wine if you want quality combined with value for money.   Choose a Portuguese or South African wine if you are seeking novelty and a reputation for adventurousness.   Finally, avoid anything under $10 a bottle or above what you can cheerfully afford.

If some of the countries mentioned above are not what you usually think of as the great wine-growing regions, remember that the grapes for Champagne-style wines grow better in relatively cooler climes.   Note also that although the French monk Dom Perignon did much to advance the technology of sparkling wine production, he did not actually invent the process.   It was the English who did that.

But before we get too nationalistic, let us return to the home of caviar...



Vodka

Champagne's great rival as the perfect suitor for caviar, and with the advantage of common ethnicity, is vodka.   If you are serving caviar by itself, or on crackers, or in any way other than a garnish, then vodka rather than white wine may be your best choice.   Its pure taste is the equal of Champagne in freshening the palate.   Caviar and vodka is a great and novel way to welcome guests to a party.   It's probably a bit much if accompanying a first course of a large meal, where wines will accompany the other courses.

As (most) guests will drink less vodka than they would have drunk wine, you may as well choose a high-quality, known brand.   Cheap vodka can be pretty dreadful.   Opinions differ fiercely on which vodkas are best, but Grey Goose, which is widely available, and the Polish Chopin are both good.

Another advantage of vodka as an accompaniment to caviar is that, if you snacking alone, or even as a couple, then opening a bottle of wine may be wasteful, whereas you can always pour a shot or two of vodka and put the bottle back in the fridge (or freezer).



Water

Yes, don't overlook the obvious.   As we are looking for a drink that will refresh the palate and not have an aftertaste that will mask the flavor of the caviar, water is the obvious choice.   Even if you have one of the other beverages mentioned here, you can usefully have water in addition.   That's especially true of vodka.   A sparkling water is worth considering.   I don't think I can usefully recommend particular brands of bottled water; you probably already know what you want.   I only know that where I live, in Los Angeles, tap water is not an option.



Beer

Less intoxicating than vodka or wine, but more interesting than water, a light beer can be an excellent accompaniment to caviar.   A lager beer is a good choice.   Corona Light and Rolling Rock are good, too.

Having said that, some people prefer exactly the opposite; a rich, dark beer that matches the full flavor of a good quality caviar.   Imperial Russian Stout is a strong, heavy ale that was specifically brewed for the Russian aristocracy by British brewers.   American versions are now available.   It's not to my taste, but try it, with a generous portion of caviar, and see what you think.



Sake

I have mentioned elsewhere that caviar is an excellent garnish for sushi; for color and texture as much as for flavor.   In particular, the gritty texture of some cheaper roes can actually enhance certain sushi dishes.   Sake, Japanese rice wine, is a favorite accompaniment to sushi, so how about trying it with caviar?   I have never seen sake recommended as an accompaniment to caviar but, as this site honors everything except convention and respects everything except tradition, I hereby so recommend.   Sake is perfect with caviar eaten by itself or as a garnish.   There are also many Japanese recipes featuring sake and roe as ingredients.

Go for any mid-price brand.   Check the label and choose a brand that is just fermented from rice, with no added alcohol.   When you open a bottle, use it all; it does not keep well.   The bottles are usually quite small, anyway.

Here in America, I first encountered the barbaric practice of drinking hot sake.   It should be drunk chilled or at body temperature, never steaming hot.

And on the subject of temperature...



...The importance of chilling

With the very notable exception of sake, all of the above beverages should always be drunk chilled.   Vodka can be stored in the freezer.   White wine, including Champagne, should always be served chilled.   Chilling the glasses is also a good idea.   Sake can be served chilled, well chilled or warm, but never hot.   Serving sake or vodka on the rocks tends to spoil the flavor, but many drinkers insist on ice.   Water of course, should always be chilled and even I cannot object to it being served with ice.



The role of the lemon in all of this

Many caviars have a flavor that positively cries out for a hint of lemon.   If you are drinking water or vodka (or both) as the accompaniment, then a twist of lemon is the perfect addition.   Alternatively, you can buy lemon-flavored vodkas and mineral waters, but I much prefer a freshly-cut twist of lemon that you can add, and squeeze, to taste.

If the caviar is a garnish on a fish menu, then lemon is just about mandatory.

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