Wine and caviar are as classic a flavor pairing as strawberries and chocolate, bagels and lox, or bread and olive oil. The two have long been equated to decadence and luxury, but how did this come to be? Who first invented wine? Who came up with caviar? And why do we serve the two together?
In this comprehensive guide to wine and caviar, we will cover all of the internet’s most burning questions about these two beloved members of the fine dining world. By the time you’ve finished reading, you will have learned all about the origins of wine, the origins of caviar, what makes for high-quality wine and caviar, and how to pair the two together for social gatherings and dinner parties that exude luxury.
The Origins of Wine, a rumor?
Today, wine is produced in countries all over the world, but I bet you didn’t know that the very first recipe for wine can be traced back to ancient China. Around 9,000 years ago in a Chinese village called Jiahu, a recipe was created for a fermented beverage made with rice, honey, and fruit.
As you likely know, modern-day wine is made with grapes. Back in 2011, scientists discovered what is believed to be the earliest evidence of wine made with grapes in a cave in Armenia. The 8,000 year old pottery fragments found in the cave bore drawings of dancing men and clusters of grapes, with residual wine compounds inside. So, it is now widely believed that the first grape wine originated in Western Asia.
By the time of the Roman Empire, winemaking had spread throughout Europe and the Mediterranean, quickly becoming a prized commodity. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that the United States caught up to the craze, with the import of European grapes that flourished in the mild California climate. To this day, California is the largest producer of wine in the United States, with over 4,400 wineries in the state.
Winemaking is a science with many components working together at any given moment to ensure a final product that is pleasing to the palate. The site of the vineyard, the type of soil used to grow the grapes, varieties of the grapes, sun exposure, temperatures of the environment, harvesting times, and irrigation techniques used; these are all critical aspects of the winemaking process. Winemaking aspects like the type of soil used to grow the grapes are typically dependent on the region, which is one of the reasons why different regions are known for having specific flavor profiles.
The Origins of Caviar
Caviar, the roe (eggs) from the sturgeon family of fish, have been considered a delicacy for thousands of years. It’s most often enjoyed raw or atop savory dishes to add fresh, salty flavors. If you have an affinity for sushi, you’ve likely eaten some kind of fish roe before, but it most likely was not caviar. In order for roe to be considered caviar, it must be from the sturgeon family.
Long ago, caviar was exclusively reserved for royalty. It was Aristotle who first wrote about eating the eggs of the sturgeon, back in the 4th century B.C. Over time, caviar became known as a luxury food item that was prized all over Europe and enjoyed only by the extremely wealthy. Sturgeon was primarily found in the Caspian Sea, but could also found in parts of the Pacific Northwest and South Atlantic regions of North America, as well the Black Sea.
In the early 1900’s, North American waters were filled with sturgeon, leading to what was known as the caviar boom. During this time, sturgeon was overfished to the point of near extinction, causing an exorbitant shift in the price. While caviar is still categorized as a luxurious food today, the influx of farmed sturgeon has allowed it to become much more affordable than it once was. Caviar is now produced all over the world.
Much like wine, there are controllable factors that play huge roles in the flavor profile of caviar. For example, it is as much about the waters that the sturgeon comes from, as well as where it is spawned. as it is about the process by which it’s produced. Both the environment and diet of the sturgeon have huge impacts on how rich or briny the caviar will be, which means it’s important to pay attention to who produces your caviar and how the fish was raised.
How to Pair Wine with Caviar
Wine and caviar have been paired together for centuries for their many similarities in both flavor and production methods. Just like wine production involves a careful and timely grape harvest, caviar production requires carefully curated conditions to ensure top quality.
Because wine and caviar are both delicacies with complex flavor profiles, they pair wonderfully together. However, just like certain wines go with certain cheeses, the same goes for caviar. Here’s a basic guide on how to pair wine with caviar:
Champagne. The rich, salty flavors of caviar pair brilliantly with crisp, refreshing champagne. There’s a reason this is one of the most popular beverages to pair with caviar! When pairing caviar with champagne, we recommend sticking to champagne on the drier side with notes of citrus or fruit tones. From high-quality small growers like Barnaut, Jacques Selosse, and Henri Billiot to historic houses like Bollinger, Ruinart, and Champagne Krug; there are plenty of incredible options for champagne that pairs well with caviar. To experiment with flavors add the caviar atop blinis and crème fraiche or other accoutrement.
White Wine. Due to the salt used to preserve caviar, you want to avoid white wines that are too dry. White wines that are slightly fruity with citrus undertones will pair the best with salty, savory caviar. Stick to mildly sweet, light-bodied white wines to avoid overpowering the delicate flavors of your caviar. After all, it is the star of the show! Some of our favorite white wines to pair with caviar include Chenin Blanc, Burgundy, and off-dry German or Austrian Riesling.
Red Wine. While white wine and champagne are more commonly paired with caviar, however you can absolutely pair red wine with the delicacy, so long as you choose the right one. When pairing red wine with caviar, you want to stick to options that are on the lighter side like a Pinot Noir. If you’re looking to serve red wine with your meal, the caviar should be served atop red meat or lobster to help cut the acidity of the wine and fresh fish flavors.