I hope that Robin Leach will forgive me for using his motto from “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” to title my article. In the West, we typically pair caviar with Champagne. However in Eastern Europe, it is more prevalent to pair caviar with chilled vodka. I thought it would be fun to take a look and both traditions and offer some suggestions, as you continue down your path exploring the world of wine and spirits.
Caviar is made from salt-cured fish eggs. The best or freshest roe (fully ripe eggs) is non-pasteurized. Harvesters use only the roe from sturgeon in the Caspian and Black Seas. The most popular being Beluga, Ossetra, and Sevruga. The finest caviar should taste neither fishy or overly salty.
When indulging in this delicacy, what is the proper way to serve and eat caviar? Fine caviar should be served on its own, very cold, and preferably in a non-metallic bowl. This is because both silver and metal bowls, along with utensils, are an absolute no-no. This is due to oxidation. I have found more often than not, a metallic taste can be imparted on the caviar. I prefer glass servers and utensils are the perfect choice. Some of my colleagues feel wood or plastic are acceptible. For me, this would be unseemly. The thought of the finest Beluga from north of the Caspian chilling in two plastic bowls destroys the moment. On the other hand, if you fancy yourself the James Bond type, or the Tsar of all the Russias, tradition must be adhered. Only servers of mother-of-pearl or gold are acceptable.
Today it is popular to serve caviar with toast or unsalted crackers. Other accompaniments include lemon wedges, sour cream, cream fraiche, hard cooked eggs where the yolks and whites have been chopped separately, and minced onions.
Purists would totally disagree. They believe that nothing should should interfere with the flavor of the caviar. As for libation, the most commonly preferred is Champagne. Once again, the purists would disagree. They claim that only a straight shot of chilled vodka is appropriate.
Why vodka? Before we can answer that question, we must decide upon which style of vodka. I am particular fond of rye vodka, but not when paired with caviar. Rye is much too sharp and will over power and destroy caviar’s smooth texture. As for potato, I have never been a big fan of potato vodkas. It is slippery in texture and with a slight greasy quality. When potato vodka comes up in a conversation, I am always quick to quote Peter the Great. “Potato vodka is for serfs. Wheat vodka is for Tsars.”
Since I was first introduced to pairing caviar with vodka by my Russian colleauges, I felt it only appropriate to recommend a Russian vodka. I decided upon Russia’s #1 premium vodka, Russian Standard Imperia. Distilled and filtered eight times through quartz, the result is a silky, and exceptionally smooth vodka. It is very clean, with almost no aftertaste, and just a slight, but pleasurable burn on the finish. The texture on the Imperia, as with most wheat vodkas, is plumper and broader than other grains. And when seved ice cold (-18 degrees Fahrenheit), wheat vodka’s subtle flavor best allows the distinctive taste of caviar to prevail. The price tag on Russian Standard Imperia is $60 a bottle.
The clean crisp flavor of a dry Champagne is in my opinion, the perfect compliment to caviar’s savory saltiness. Perhaps its just my penchant for the bubbly, but as my palate goes, this is the perfect pairing.
Which Champagne? Prefably a wine that has undertones of citrus flavors accompanied by just enough yeast to round out the wine. Do keep in mind that it is of the utmost importance to keep the wine properly chilled by keeping it in the bucket.
As my readers already know, I have an affinity for Bollinger. Rather than recapitulate the virtues of this delectable wine, I have selected another favorite that serves well to compliment caviar. NV Barons de Rothchilds Blanc de Blancs. This rich Champagne is 100% Chardonnay and at $125 a bottle, a perfect compliment to caviar. Other popular Champagnes paired with caviar are Taittinger, Krug, which is considered by many to be the creme de la creme of Champagnes, and of course, the perenniel favorite pairing, Moet’s Dom Perignon.
For those of you who are not aware, caviar also pairs nicely with a good beer. Hefeweisen immediately comes mind. “But that my friends is a a different story … Perhaps one that my friend and colleague, Rusty Sly, can offer his insight.”