Champagne, Cigars & (Ratafia) Champenois!
13th October 2021
Three very big C‘s here in Champagne, Cigars and Champenois (Ratafia) and I wanted to explore how they exhibited themselves when paired together. Just to add to the C collection we also had a fine display of Cheese to enjoy in between each tasting.
Champagne will need no introduction and for many will be a wine reserved to be enjoyed on its own, that chilled glass of bubbly either at home, at a party or during a well earned venture out to the local wine bar / restaurant. With tens of thousands of labels to choose from via thousands of winemakers, you are both spoilt for choice and also given a lifetime of exploring the aromas and flavours this wine region boasts.
Cigars, which is a whole subject in itself with great depth and likewise aromas and flavours, is not always seen to be the ideal companion for Champagne, most would suggest it is whisky which really is its best partner. Nonetheless, Cigars are certainly paired with Champagne by a fair few people with many references online and photos shared such as on Instagram. Each cigar offers relaxation, luxury and sophistication and can each be relatively affordable up to finer and more expensive examples (just like Champagne).
“Every year 6.7 million tons of tobacco are produced throughout the world. The top producers of tobacco are China (39.6%), India (8.3%), Brazil (7.0%) and the United States (4.6%).” source wikipedia
Ratafia Champenois is the ‘other’ famous drink that is made in Champagne, lesser known than the sparkling wine, though nonetheless well regarded amongst those who work and live in this industry sector. Many smaller grower Champagne houses will likely have a barrel or two in the cellar, mostly for friends and family and not available to sell – Others will put more focus on this wine liquor and sell nationally and more so today, internationally. What is Ratafia Champenois?
Ratafia Champenois is a sweet (fortified style) wine with a minimum of 110 grams of sugar per litre and alcohol that can range from 16-22% and aged at least 10 months in tanks or oak barrels.
“Terroir plays an important part in all three (cigars, Champagne and Ratafia Champenois) including the likes of seasons, harvest, production methods, irrigation, blends and much more. Just like Champagne, cigars can be made to perform with different aromas and flavours such as lighter and floral styles which are suited better to Chardonnay wines (and Champagne). Heavy Champagnes can overpower the cigars and likewise for stronger cigars that are paired with lighter style Champagne – you must look to match as best as you can in order for both to complement each other.” Quotes from Roy Sommer FIH (Managing Director UK at Oettinger Davidoff).
“Ratafia Champenois styles vary. You can have a very light and floral style (most likely Chardonnay) though you can have the complete opposite and experience deeper and more intense flavours showing oak, caramel, prunes and more. Just like Champagne, the variations enables you to pair well with a host of accompaniments such as food (cheeses are amazing) and cigars. When paired, and at the same intensity level within each, then the match is perfect and a delight to the palate.” Christopher Walkey
So, do Cigars, Champagne and Ratafia Champenois go well together? Let’s review the tasting notes between myself and three guests who were all new to Ratafia Champenois, very knowledgeable on Champagne and seldom paired cigars with any wines.
Cigars used were Davidoff Grand Cru No.5
Tasting and Pairing notes selected randomly from guests Leslie Coverdale, Cheryl Mackie and Peter:
Champagne Chateau Boursault – “It’s got a really nice taste, good length of flavours, a little bit of leather and childhood memories of butterscotch.”
Paired with Cigar – “These two pair quite nicely in that they are relatively light. The palate is cleansed after each inhale of cigar leaving the fresh fruity and floral flavours of the Champagne. The acidity is not too aggressive with the wine which enables a smoother balance.”
Champagne Celebrity & Co – “It is quite a relaxing Champagne, soft fruity expression along with a silky chalky style. Time in the glass brings out red berries, flaky pastry and grapefruit with sprinkled sugar on top.”
Paired with Cigar – “For me the cigar over took things a bit too much. The Champagne has character and charm though not robust enough to fully cleanse the palate and I feel you are losing all the care and attention the winemaker put in to making the wine. I prefer to enjoy this Champagne and then after this enjoy the cigar.”
Champagne Roger Constant Lemaire Trianon 1966 – “Oh now this is why it won the best Champagne in the world! This is a cut above the other two Champagnes, it is really expressive with many layers to explore and importantly the aromas and flavours are long lasting. I get mostly yellow fruits, lemon pastry, toast, hints of caramel.”
Paired with Cigar – “These two pair very well. Both are rich and bold in character yet elegant and subtle in the way they show their flavours. Both are ever so relaxing to enjoy.”
Jean Goyard (3 year old) – “Rich flavours and you can certainly get the Champagne characteristics. It gives a dried fruit tasting experience with a layer of golden syrup on top. I am so pleased I have been introduced to this drink.”
Paired with Cigar – “The Ratafia helps to refresh the palate in-between puffs and leaves a mouth-watering cleanse. Both cigar and Ratafia are bold in character and each competes well with the other. I do not feel I am losing anything of each by enjoying them both together.”
Dumangin et Fils MV027 – “Deep and intense flavours. It is a very clever drink in that there are many layers of flavours from prunes to honey with a touch of leathery dark chocolate. A lovely rich colour makes it even more tempting in the glass.”
Paired with Cigar – “To be honest, this is a step up from the Champagne and cigar pairings. The quality and depth of flavours that the Ratafia Champenois hold really works better with cigars, though without doubt I am sure richer and older vintage Champagne could step up to the mark too. Here the Dumangin et Fils holds deep dark characters of prunes, oak, yellow stone fruits, dried apricot, caramel / dark honey, hazelnuts and so much more. In between enjoying the cigar it gives a burst of fruit flavours to the palate livening the palate then leaving the complex layers to showcase themselves in the mid-length to close. This is a fabulous pairing.”
Autreau Lasnot – “Rich dried yellow stone fruits with golden honey.”
Paired with Cigar – “A nice battle between the roughness from the cigar and the freshness and sweetness from the Ratafia. I enjoyed having both together, this made my cigar moment much more memorable. These go well together.”
Moutard 5 ans – “Plenty of character shown. Deep and intense and a most relaxing Ratafia Champenois. Golden fruits, honey, touch of oak / freshly cut oak, prune syrup, splash of lemon slices.”
Paired with Cigar – “The Ratafia is intense yet delicate. For me it (Ratafia Champenois Moutard 5 ans) is far better appreciated alone, though saying this paired with the cigar was a pleasant tasting experience for me. The cigar dominated the tasting overall, though it was a nice burst of flavours in between from the Ratafia.”
Dom Caudron Chardonnay – “This tastes young, fresh and of yellow fruits, Quite easy to drink, doesn’t feel to strong on alcohol, medium length in the mouth.”
Paired with Cigar – “Very refreshing when enjoying this Dom Caudron Ratafia in between tasting the cigar. This Ratafia is very yellow fruit and fresh driven which helps to nearly fully clean the palate. I am just missing some very fine well aged hard cheese to accompany this!”
Co-founder of Glass of Bubbly. Journalist and author focused on Champagne & Sparkling Wines and pairing them with foods.