A Super Fancy Pants Grilled Cheese Pairing: Salmon Caviar Croque-Monsieur with Charles Dufour Bulles de Comptoir 6 La Benjamine 2.0 Champagne #Winophiles

Do you know that feeling when you read a book or watch a movie and you don’t know exactly how you feel about it right away? Maybe you’re not sure if it’s good interesting or bad interesting. Maybe there’s something a little different about it or it challenges you in some way, but it sticks with you and you wrestle with it for a while, and you come out liking it all the more for it. I had that reaction to Champagne a while back. This wine has rattled around in mind for over a year. What’s more, a funny set of coincidences have arisen that have endeared it all the more to me.

This month’s Winophiles topic is “Unexpected Pleasures in Champagne” led by Gwendolyn Alley of Wine Predator. I was really excited by this topic and considered lots of different wines and angels. There are a bunch of Champers I’d love to cover at some point made from lesser-known permitted grapes in the region, or people using unusual techniques, and then there are the still wines in the region. So many wines, so little time! 

It dawned on me that I have a friend, Alex, who started an import company with her husband and they’re bringing in beautiful, interesting, organic Champagnes by Charles Dufour. In particular, I had his Bistrøtage and Bistrøtage Rosé in mind. I reached out to her about teaming up in some way for this post, but the timing wasn’t working out and we left it for a future date.

Now running out of time and having difficulties finding
specific bottles during COVID, I ultimately decided to find out more about a grower Champagne that had been stuck in my brain for the last year and a half. When I dug up my photos and notes of on the wine, lo and behold, I discovered that the winemaker is Charles Dufour.

The discovery was definitely an unexpected pleasure!


Our friends Lucy and Drew have made appearances many times on this blog as we often team up with them on feasts (they’re also part of our quaranteam). Drew shared a bottle of the Charles Dufour Bulles de Comptoir #6 La Benjamine 2.0 Extra Brut Champagne that had been gifted to him with us during a brunch feast one weekend.

The wine had fruit notes of gold apples, peaches, and preserved lemon. There was a mix of sweet and savory notes, kind of like candy cap mushroom, along with yellow flowers. There was a slightly oxidative note on the palate that gave it toastiness. What threw me off about the wine at first was that it also reminded me a bit of a Pét-Nat in that it had this kind of raw, young, wild streak, although it was more vinous than a Pét-Nat. I wasn’t really expecting that in a Champagne and had to wrestle with it for a while, but ultimately decided I liked it, and like I said, it stuck around in my mind for all of this time. I'd love to revisit it at some point.

It’s a distinctive wine on the palate and it turns out that there is a lot that’s distinctive about how it’s made. He farms organically (certified by ECOCERT) and uses native yeast for his fermentations. He maintains a perpetual blend, which is a good way for smaller winemakers to maintain a house style without taking up all the room that is normally required for a reserve wine system the way larger houses do. In this system, winemakers add young wines to a designated tank or barrel each vintage, and then draw out as needed for their nonvintage blends. The system is often compared to the solera system used for making sherry.

Each year, Dufour makes a new “Bulles de Comptoir” cuvée combining the base wine from the perpetual blend with wine from the current vintage. Each one gets a new name and new label by a different artist. For this particular vintage, the label was created by a Bay Area artist named Joanie Hudson. In addition to the usual players of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Dufour also uses a bit of Pinot Blanc in the cuvée, which is far less common.
It tends to lend floral and honey notes to a blend and adds richness, all of which we can see here. It’s historically been allowed in the blends of the region, but very little is grown nowadays. 

Apparently, “La Benjamine” means the youngest child born in a family. Charles is the ‘benjamine’ of his family, but reading that, the name also seemed to me reminiscent of that youthful, wild streak in the wine.

Dufour comes from a winemaking family and I get the sense the whole family tends to do things their own way. His father, Yves, decided to retire in 2010 and divvied up the vineyard lands in Vallée de l’Ours in the Aube Department between Charles and his sister, Julie, so that they got 6 hectares each. At that point, the vineyards were already undergoing conversion to organic farming. Apparently the family had begun the process of applying for biodynamic certification as well, but Charles ultimately decided to pull the plug, preferring to preserve some optionality for himself in farming practices. He does, however, continue to use quite a few biodynamic practices. 

At the time Charles’ father decided to retire, his mother, Françoise Martinot, decided that she was not ready for retirement. She wanted to hang onto the Pinot Noir vines she has in the Vallée de l’Arce, located one valley over. Charles and Françoise ultimately decided to collaborate on the Bistrøtage wines that I hope we’ll get to explore another day. 

Map courtesy of WineFolly.com


We enjoyed these bubbles as part of a rather decadent brunch. We made these Salmon-Caviar Croque-Monsieurs based on a recipe from Le Bernardin. We used this version of the recipe, which is behind a pay wall, but it also available here.  Basically they’re grilled cheese sandwiches with smoked salmon in place of ham, plus caviar. YUM!

“Bulles de Comptoir” means “bubbles of the counter” or bar. That to me suggests a certain casualness for this wine. It makes me think of bistros and the food they serve, making me think that it’s also intended to be paired with food. If I had remaining doubts about the wine, they completely went away when I tried it with these tasty sandwiches. They made for a VERY happy pair!

Now before you judge me too harshly for being bougey AF for talking about delighting in the pleasures of caviar and Champagne during such lean times as we’re living in, let me remind you that this was in the “Before Times” –– indulge me in reminiscing just a bit.

Let me also offer a few adaptations. First, if you are using caviar, spoon a little on top of the sandwiches instead of layering the caviar on the inside as is called for in the recipe. I find this allows the caviar to shine a bit more, and a little bit goes a lot further. You could also easily substitute salmon roe in for the caviar, or leave it off completely and top it with a béchamel sauce as in a classic croque-monsieur. I will say though that I have seen some very good deals on caviar during these lean times, which could make it a much more reasonable proposition.

As to the Champagne, well, I don't think that needs an excuse. As many great figures have noted before me, Champagne is always in order, in good times and in bad. We all need indulgences from time to time, even if it’s just via memories. Plus, topping what amounts to grilled cheese sandwiches with caviar makes for such a fun high-low combo!


Taken from tech sheets here and here.

APPELATION: Aube, Champagne
COMPOSITION: 60% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay, 10% PinotBlanc. The 2015 vintage makes up the base of the blend, with reserve wine from perpetual blend going back to 2010.
VINIFICATION: The perpetual blend is aged in barrels while the harvest ferments naturally in barrels and then aged for 11 months on the lees before racking followed by a rest of 2 months in vats, without fining, and without filtration. The bottles are disgorged in successive batches from January 2018. Extra raw dosage (<4g / l) without added sulfur.
TIRAGE: October 2016
DISGORGEMENT: January 2018
SOIL: Clay/Limestone


As I mentioned above, the rest of French Winophiles are exploring "Unexpected Pleasures in Champagne." Please join our twitter chat on Saturday 6/20/20 by following the hashtag #Winophiles.  We’ll be live at 8am Pacific time!
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  1. Fascinating bottle. It's good to see another champagne from the Aube. Have you visited the region? If not, I highly recommend it. I believe Drappier uses a similar perpetual blending system. I find those slightly oxidative champagnes fascinating and find them very appetizing. Sounds like a great bottle and one that I would enjoy. Love the look and sound of that sando too!

    1. I've never been to Champagne at all, but definitely dream about it! And like you, I really like the oxidative style. I definitely recommend the sandwich -- easy, fun, and decadent!

  2. Have to try that croque monsieur. Sounds amazing!

  3. This wine, that kept you thinking, sounds wonderful. Quirky enough to catch your attention and make you question something unexpected. I love the idea of the "perpetual blend". I was aware some winemakers were doing that, but had never heard it explained quite so clearly.
    I'm curious to learn more abut biodynamic certification in France. I have been learning how surprisingly open Demeter in the states can be. I'll keep reading! There is so much to learn.
    As to the indulgence...I think in these times, small pleasures are necessary to get through. I think they look delicious!

    1. Thanks so much Robin. Totally agree on all fronts -- there is always so much to learn and totally in need of small pleasures these days!

  4. Love the adaptation for lean times and yes, champagne is always in order. Informative read!

  5. OMG! That sandwich! And no judgment here. Do your thing and live in the moment.

  6. That sandwich does look amazing and absolutely no judgement. Life is short and decadence and pleasure are good at any times, lean or not. I don't know that producer but the story and the family history and especially his Mom make me want to try both of them. I like the idea of a bistro champagne and croque monsieurs have helped me on many a day. Cheers, Susannah

    1. A good croque monsieur really can work wonders! Thanks Sussanah


Thanks so much for leaving your comments and questions. I always love to hear from you!