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Wine And Food Wednesday
Sparkling Wine and Food Matches

By Stephen Eliot

Given the astonishing amount of free advice available these days, I suppose it is not surprising a random sampling of blogger-provided electronic commentary leads to the inevitable conclusion the Champagne and its sparkling cousins pair beautifully with just about everything. Hmm, once again I feel the curmudgeon in me start to stir, and, while I am delighted that Champagne is getting its just due as a brilliant mealtime companion, I find it hard to sit silent when I see a grand bottle of bubbles acclaimed the perfect foil to barbecued spareribs in sweet sauce or spicy brisket chili. Now, in truth, I do think that outside of teaming a crisp sparkler with very sweet foods that emphasize the wine’s acidity (and remember, Champagne and most of its pretenders are quite high in acid), it is hard to go horribly wrong. If, however, the idea is to let the wine show its best and serve as more than a simple palate refresher, then there are some wine-friendly foods that are worthy of note, and that point was brought home this week when Charlie and I attended a fascinating sparkling wine luncheon in San Francisco put on by the folks at Schramsberg.

We began by tasting our ways through a select offering of the very finest French Tête de Cuvée Rosés and then followed with a succession of various amuses matched up with several of Schramsberg’s current releases. We will have more to say about the altogether stunning Rosés in the days ahead, but, as it is Wednesday, food-and-wine affinity gets top billing today. I have long thought that eggs, an especially tricky match with table wines, are especially sympathetic partners to sparkling wine when prepared in most any way. Deviled eggs made with a mustard crème fraiche and topped with fried capers and a touch of anchovy were, as expected, a delicious accompaniment to every wine, while a simple bite of roasted beets and ricotta played beautifully against those marginally sweeter bottlings made with a slightly higher dosage. The tuna crudo came across as a too rich for the lightest wines, and those edging to sweetness seemed to bring out a certain “fishiness” in the dish, but an emphatically yeasty, older reserve bottling made the match a solid success, the moment was a reminder of many eye-opening dinners that I can recall where the richness of well-aged Champagnes played beautifully against lighter meats and game birds, especially those served in mushroom-influenced sauces. (As an aside, the main course that followed was a meaty short rib napped in a truffled jus, and while the sparklers were all but irrelevant and no attempt was made to suggest otherwise, I thoroughly enjoyed my last sip of the reserve with a spoon of the sauce.) The most surprising and, I am sure, slightly controversial pairing was bubbly and bacon-wrapped dates sitting atop a garlic-fennel puree. No way, I thought as I took my first sip, but I must admit to being at least conditionally won over. Both salty and fatty foods are fairly classic matches for the acidy bite of top-notch bubbly, and deep-fried dishes from chicken to calamari to tempura and seafoods in cream sauce are sure-fire hits. In this case, the fat of the bacon tempered the date’s sweetness just enough to make a fine match with younger, slightly fruitier wines, and, if I am to be entirely truthful, I should not have been all that surprised as I remember unexpectedly transcendent enjoyment when washing down a perfect bacon-lettuce-and-tomato sandwich after a CGCW tasting last month with a half-bottle of leftover Blanc de Noir Brut!

All in all, the afternoon was well spent and only added to our long-held convictions that those who think of Champagne and fine sparkling wines solely in terms of the occasional toast or simple aperitif drinking are missing a world of very real pleasure.


Fizz and Food
by Chuck Hayward
Posted on:11/10/2010 9:52:18 AM

"I find it hard to sit silent when I see a grand bottle of bubbles acclaimed the perfect foil to barbecued spareribs in sweet sauce or spicy brisket chili."

As do I. That's why the right bubbly for this would be a sparkling shiraz from Australia. Yum!!

Sparkling Shiraz ??
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:11/10/2010 11:28:23 AM

Did you say "Sparkling Shiraz"?

I remember my first encounter with Sparkling Shiraz about ten years ago. I was invited down to Australia to be a judge at the Sydney International Wine Competition. It was a grueling six day event, but always a lot of fun because of the people involved.

My very first panel was the bring "forward or eliminate" round for Sparkling Shiraz. In that round, the dozen or so judges tasted in groups of two with the charge to accept or eliminate some of the 2,000 wines entered so that the Competition could end up with its Top 100.

My tasting partner that day was Huon Hooke, perhaps the leading winewriter in Australia. I had never tasted high acid, tannic, sparkling red wines by the dozen before and pretty much hated them all.

Huon, who knew and loved them, must have thought I was crazy. Eventually we did work out a list of the wines that would move into the medal round, but not without some pain on my part since I could have eliminated them all.

So, when my buddy and Ozzie wine expert, Chuck Heyward shows up here with recommendations for puckery, acidy, mouth-curing bubbles to go with anything, I have to roll my eyes. OK, Chuck, I get it that I don't get it. I just wonder, knowing you as I do to have a wicked sense of humor, how much leg-pulling is going on here.

Re: Food and Fizz
by Stephen Eliot
Posted on:11/11/2010 3:45:08 PM

Hi Chuck, and thanks for checking in. I confess that my sentiments are pretty much in line with Charlie's, and I usually regard Sparkling Shiraz simply as further proof that the ozone hole over Australia is getting bigger. My first inclination would be to point out in repsonse to your comments that I said a "grand" bottle of bubbles", but, you know, I must admit that I have never tried Sparkling Shiraz with either chili or ribs, so I suppose I should before ruling it out. If, in fact, my leg has been successfully pulled, well, you got me. If not, thanks for the tip...maybe. 

Oh, okay fine...
by Samantha Dugan
Posted on:11/13/2010 8:43:27 AM

Sure Stephen, respond now...humpf.

by Stephen Eliot
Posted on:11/14/2010 4:32:55 PM

Mea culpa Samantha, but "late" is better than "never", yes?  I hope that someone out there still looks at these posts several days later. I confess to doing just that with my favorite sites.  This time, as you know, the path to timely response was to some degree blocked by bottles of bubbles and oysters and good company. At other times, however, the USB cable comes disconnected from the back of my head and I find myself suddenly lost in the real world instead of the virtual one. But...know that I am tickled that you are reading, even if it means that I earn a "humpf".

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