One of Melbourne’s star French restaurateurs Guillaume Brahimi has a memo for Australian diners: Champagne isn’t just a before-dinner tipple.

“Champagne can be a wine you have during a meal – not just an aperitif,” says Brahimi, who recently hosted ‘Le Chef et l’oenologue’, a special one-off dinner during Melbourne Food and Wine Festival in collaboration with prestigious French Champagne house Ruinart.

To underline the pairing, Brahimi invited French Ruinart winemaker Caroline Fiot to build a menu with him. The five-course affair saw the best of French culture come together, matching Ruinart’s premium Champagne varieties with Brahimi’s signature dishes.

Brahimi says it was a privilege to work with Ruinart. “We did a tasting of Champagne [to prepare] – that was quite a bit of fun. Their Blanc de Blancs is my favourite – you don’t say no to a flute of Ruinart Blanc de Blancs. It’s always exciting to do a Champagne dinner.”

Fiot, who travelled to Melbourne for the dinner, is something of an outlier in the French wine trade: young and female in an industry dominated by older men. Her childhood was spent travelling between her home in suburban Paris and her grandparents’ homes in Normandy and the French Alps. Fascinated by chemistry and biology, she studied viticulture and oenology in Montpellier before taking up an internship at a small family winery in the famous wine region of Bordeaux, where the chief winemaker was a woman. “She was so passionate and devoted to her job,” recalls Fiot. “I really wanted to follow her path and become a winemaker.”

She then completed a 12-month business course, where she specialised in luxury brands, when a role came up at Ruinart combining her three passions – winemaking, research and development, and luxury marketing. “It was my dream job,” she says. After a rigorous recruitment process involving seven interviews, Fiot joined Ruinart as a winemaker in 2016.

Fiot says a crucial part of her current role is “sharing my love for gastronomy.” We asked Brahimi and Fiot for their reasoning behind the marriage of French pairings.

Smoked Potato Emulsion and Salmon Roe with Blanc de Blancs NV
Guests were greeted with a glass of Ruinart Blanc de Blancs NV, a 100 per cent Chardonnay blend with notes of fresh fruit, and a canape dish of crackers topped with a smoked potato emulsion and Yarra Valley salmon roe. “It’s a very nice combination with the Blanc de Blancs,” says Brahimi.

The Blanc de Blanc is a wine that “reflects the elegance, the refinement and the aromatic purity we’re looking for throughout our range,” says Fiot. As well as fruit and floral notes, “you also have some hint of spices, of ginger and cardamom, which is very interesting for the pairing.”

Seafood and Brut NV
Next, a dish of Ike Jime sea bream, served with oyster cream, samphire, and Sterling caviar was matched with ‘R’ de Ruinart NV, a full-bodied blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier grapes. “It’s a very crisp Champagne,” says Brahimi. “Oysters, tartare of fish, caviar and Champagne – it works.”

It's a wine that balances freshness, delivered by aromas of apple, pear and stone fruit, with what Fiot describes as roundness. “We’re looking for this savoury finish, this silky texture,” she says.

Roast Chicken and Prawns with Blanc de Blancs
A dish of Bannockburn roast chicken, Clarence River king prawns, confit cabbage, and crustacean jus was paired with Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs 2007. “I’m a big believer that great Chardonnay goes very well with white meat,” says Brahimi. The dish is “a little bit like a surf and turf. The crustacean jus with the chicken jus and the prawns are just delicious.”

Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs, Ruinart’s prestige cuvee, is not made every year – the latest vintage is 2007, only the twenty-fifth since 1959. It’s made from “only the best grapes from the best blocks from the best years,” says Fiot.

Rosé with Mud Crab and Pork Cheeks
The wine for the fourth course was Dom Ruinart Rosé 2004, which is made from a blend of 81 per cent Chardonnay and 19 per cent Pinot Noir. “This wine has a very oriental twist, it’s very spicy,” says Fiot.

It was paired with a dish of Queensland mud crab, braised pork cheeks, cauliflower puree and anchovy vinaigrette that echoed the wine’s complex spicy notes. The pork cheeks were braised in a master stock with star anise, ginger and coriander. “It’s very rich,’ says Brahimi. Contrast came from the sweetness of the mud crab – one of Brahimi’s favourite crustaceans. “It has the most delicate texture,” he enthuses.

Rosé with sorbet
The soiree finished with a final course of palate-cleansing sorbet served with Ruinart Rosé NV. “It’s very simple,” says Brahimi. “We don’t put much sugar into the sorbet – it’s the fruit you’re tasting.”

The intensely-hued Ruinart Rosé NV is similarly fruit-driven. “You have hints of guava, pomegranate, and lychee, and red fruits like cherry, raspberry, pink grapefruit, and some notes of mint and pepper,” says Fiot. “This wine is very delicate, very refreshing.”



This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Crown. You can enjoy a private dining experience with Guillaume Brahimi, but dates are limited. To enquire, visit crownmelbourne.com.au or call 9292 5777. Learn more about partner content on Broadsheet.