Vines & Vittles

Summer foods: A sparkling idea!

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Summer is a time to kick back and relax. Picnics, barbecues, back porch lounging and casual dining rule the day and that’s a very good thing. So the beverages we choose to match the lighter, fresher and more casual foods we consume this time of year should not only be delicious, but also refreshing too.

But nothing should require us to eliminate whatever style or type of wine we wish to drink. So if you prefer full-bodied reds with your barbecued chicken, go ahead and uncork one – just know that popping that bottle in the refrigerator for a half hour before you drink it will make the experience a whole lot more enjoyable.

But me? I prefer summer-style wines such as rose’, lighter whites like pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc or albarino and less intense reds such as Beaujolais, pinot noir or Dolcetto. But there is one particular type of wine that is my overall warm weather favorite and that’s because of its versatility with just about any food, and its overall refreshing nature.

This is a wine that goes equally well with fish, meat, veggies or fruit. You can match it with spicy foods like jalapeno pepper -infused dishes as well as delicate seafood entrees such as Dover sole. This wine is really good with popcorn, anchovies and pizza, and it punks any type of beer as the go-to beverage for chili, baby back ribs or even fried hot banana peppers.

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I’m talking about Champagne and sparkling wine! Yes, the wine that most of us only open on celebratory occasions is probably the most flexible beverage to use with just about any food – even a green salad with vinaigrette dressing. I am not a food chemist (though I have stayed at a Holiday Inn Express), but the refreshing fruity flavor and mouth cleansing bubbles seem to marry well with just about any dish.

We seem to forget how good sparklers are with everyday meals, especially those that are spicy, rich or salty. And you really do have a wide variety of reasonably priced domestic and international wines from which to choose such as Cava from Spain, Prosecco from Italy and Champagne-like wines from just about every wine-producing country including the US.

Here’s a little refresher on sparkling wine.  While many sparklers are made in the Champagne method, none can be called by that famous moniker unless they are produced from grapes grown in the region of Champagne in northern France.

If you recall, the Champagne method (or methode champenoise) is a process where still wines (traditionally pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier) are blended and then put in a bottle to which yeast and a small amount of sugar are added. This causes the wine to go through a secondary fermentation and the result is a bubbly wine like Champagne. While Champagne is regarded as the gold standard, many other countries produce excellent sparkling wine using this method.

And while true Champagne (which is the most expensive of all sparkling wine) certainly deserves to be paired with decadent foods like foie gras or caviar, it and other sparklers are equally copasetic with just about any dish on the planet. Hey, if food could talk, don’t you think a spicy dish like chili would prefer to be paired with Champagne rather than that hoppy,foamy yellow stuff?

Champagne is priced from the mid thirties to upwards of hundreds of dollars a bottle. Here a few of my favorites priced under $60: Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve; Nicolas Feuillatte Brut; Mumm Cordon Rouge Brut; Moet & Chandon Imperial; Veuve Cliquot (Yellow Label); and Perrier Jouet Grand Brut.

Sparkling wines (those made outside France, but using the Champagne method) priced under $30: Gloria Ferrer Brut; Schramsburg Brut; Domaine Carneros; Mumm Cuvee Napa; Domaine Chandon Reserve; Piper Sonoma Brut; Ste. Michelle Brut; Castillo Perelada Cava Brut Rosado; Dibon Cava; and Gustave Lorentz Cremant d’Alsace Brut Rosé.

Prosecco (these don’t use the Champagne method) priced from $10 – $20 a bottle: Santa Margherita; Ruffino; Zardetto; Lamarca; and Mionetto.