Some food-and-wine pairings make such perfect sense that you’d be forgiven for assuming there is no alternative. And Champagne with smoked salmon is one of them. Fizz and fine acidity bring out the luxurious richness of a slice of Scotland’s finest, especially when the fish has been smoked by Lance Forman and his team.
But there are alternatives. Other drinks go every bit as well with smoked salmon as the treasures from Rheims and Epernay.
Just to prove that I’m not alone in saying this, I would guide you towards matchingfoodandwine.com, the website of the indefatigable Fiona Beckett. (Full declaration: Ms Beckett is my pal.) There you’ll find a page of ten recommendations for Champagne alternatives, and not just wine but beer and spirits.
For me, gentleness is all. Anything very weighty, fruity, and especially oaky is going to dominate the fish rather than complement it.
So Fiona and I both look first of all to crisp, briskly acidic whites. Chablis is an obvious choice. Sancerre, or another Loire Sauvignon Blanc, is another. For me, however, a well-made Muscadet Sur Lie can deliver the goods at low cost. Try the always-consistent Fief Guérin Muscadet Sur Lie 2012 (£7.99, Waitrose).
I look second, and this may come as a shock, to beer. (Fiona does too, by the way.)
This is the only thing I would consider drinking when the salmon is riding with an inch or two of cream cheese in a freshly made bagel. It needs to be light in colour and have a good though not overpowering hint of bitterness. Leffe Blonde (£2.50/75cl, Tesco), a personal favourite, is just right.
And finally, if blini and sour cream are in close proximity to the fish, good vodka is perfect. I adore the Polish Zubrowka, flavoured with something called bison grass. It has a gently smoky edge which is the perfect foil for the richness of the fish and the sour cream. Ice-cold, please. Sold by Waitrose and Tesco among others for around £20.
See? There’s more to smoked salmon than Champagne. Fiona and I both told you so.