Wednesday, December 5, 2007

It's Tuesday . . . Pass the Bubbly!

Dust off the holly-berry stemware you got from Aunt Carol last year, the cork has once again been popped on the holiday cheer! That means you are likely to find me in the corner of the cellar where we stock our champagne and sparkling wine. And trust me, I am not complaining!

Well, ok, maybe just one little lament…

It is so sad that many wine drinkers wait until the holiday season to uncork the sparkly stuff! Come on people; Happy Tuesday, pass the Gosset! You party-only poppers are missing out on the amazing versatility and food compatibility sparkling wine has to offer, and the breadth and diversity of styles and flavors available to explore.

As I help customers select the perfect bubbly for their holiday fête, my first question is consistent and simple: “What do you like?” What I hear most often in response always strikes me as a little odd, and my time in the Cellar has lead me to believe that this may be the work of the Ghost of Office Holiday Parties Past. One too many plastic cup has runneth over with Asti Spumante or Andre, poor quality liquid-candy that can produce the kind of profound hangover that would make a bubbly-scrooge out of anyone. The common replies I hear time and again: “I only like really dry Champagne” or “I can’t drink sparkling wine, it always gives me a headache." Right…six glasses of Champagne and half a tray of snowflake cookies gives me a headache too. Moderation just doesn't seem to have a place in the holidays, and I think this (rather the lackthereof) is more the culprit in this medical myth.

To dispel the former common assumption, most champagne and sparkling wine one will encounter in stores and restaurants are nice and dry, but have some small percentage of sugar that is added during the latter stages of sparkling wine producation. There are sweeter versions (Demi-sec or Extra Dry will often be on the label to indicate), but they are not prevalent, and will never match the teeth-aching doses of sugar found in the cheap gas station varieties. These are delightful as an accompaniment to delicate cakes and desserts, where a little sweetness keeps the wine from tasting tart. These are also pleasant with spicy foods, for those of you who celebrate the season Cajun-style. But understandably, people tend to prefer a drier flavor, but a bone-dry Champagne (Extra Brut or Nature, on the label) which tend to have no dosage of sugar, are a rough breed not suited to most tastes...If you can find one, and are the Mr. Wizard experimental sort, include it in a side-by-side tasting with a more common Brut and the lightly sweet Demi-sec.

It is true that there are many different styles, one to suit every occasion, and please a broad range of palates. Some styles tend to be lighter and fruitier, like Prosecco, the Italian bubbly with soft citrus and green melon notes that make a beautiful partner to sushi , ceviche, and many other fresh, delicate dishes. Mionetto Sergio Prosecco is an all-star choice. California sparkling wine is very diverse, but is often fuller and richer in body like Champagne; it does tend to have more ripe fruit in the mix, and is often a crowd pleaser. It can be served with many different foods; personally I love Domaine Carneros Brut Sparkling with a slab of smoked salmon and my mom’s Mac and Cheese, but you may also find it a wonderful match to the roasted chicken or turkey that highlights your holiday meal.

And of course, there is the classic Champagne: toasty, creamy, candied and fruity, yet sophisticatedly earthy, and raging with acidity, it is hard to find a wrong pairing. For a taste of text-book champagne, try the delicious and unbelievably affordable Gosset Brut Excellence Champagne. Served with an elegant yet hearty winter supper-say a goat cheese and potato tart seasoned with fresh thyme and bacon-it is sublime. Equally as sublime? The same bottle of champagne, a fresh bag of kettle potato chips(any flavor will do, I fancy salt & pepper), and the company of those you love.

So I urge those of you bubble-shy wine drinkers to make an early resolution to explore the wide world of sparkling wine, not only at your parties this month, but at everyday occasions as well. And when you find yourself reaching for the same, security blanket bottle you have been drinking since college, push your arm down and to the left, and grab the Franciacorta instead!

Crack the bubbly. Drink up. It's Tuesday.


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