I always tout sparkling wine as being the most food friendly of the wines. I believe that, since I can pair just about any food or appetizer with a sparkling wine or champagne.
The obvious pairings involve cheese, and other appetizers, since it is a great way to start a dinner or a party. Moving on, a pairing with various courses, as well as dinner comes next. The conclusion comes with dessert and yet another champagne.
My favorite pairing at home is generally with cheese, with brie an easy and ever-present choice. I also enjoy manchego, Havarti, Monterey jack, gouda, camembert, stilton, and a few others whose names escape me at the moment. I try to keep two or three in the freezer or refrigerator, depending on which sparkling wine I am drinking. The big exception here is bleu cheese, which requires a sweeter wine.
Point of information: Believe it or not, there are only five tastes that our taste buds can perceive: sweet, savory (salty), sour (tart/tangy), bitter, and umami. Everything else that we experience as “flavor” is contributed by our sense of smell. (Test it out: Hold your nose the next time you taste something and you’ll see how muted it becomes).
Often the term, “strawberries and champagne” rears its fruit head in conversations. Perhaps it appears because of places like Wimbledon, or simply the idea of placing something sweet in your drink. Personally, I would not alter the flavor with fruit. But I have flavored champagnes that seem a little “off” with an elderflower liqueur called St. Germaine. It softens and adds an aromatic and pleasant fragrance to the “bad” bubbly.
From Bubble and Flute:
Champagne goes with pretty much everything but this is the way I look at it to keep it simple.
Tip Number One – Pair light meals/entrée with lighter champagnes (NV and blanc de blancs)
Tip Number Two – Pair heavier meals and meats with mature, vintage champagnes or champs with older/high reserve wine blends.
Tip Number Three – Rosé champagne loves duck and dessert.
Tip Number Four – Sweet (sec or demi-sec) champagnes work with dessert OR spicy food (Thai and Indian) OR after dinner cheese platters with strong cheeses like blue cheese.
Tip Number Five – Because it’s quite acidic, champagne cuts right through rich, fatty and fried foods. Fish and chips, pizza or KFC with champagne – hell yeah! (Not sure about this one!)
One rule favored by the experts is pairing aged cheese with aged wine. I never keep any wines around long enough to do this! My rule is lighter cheese suggests lighter wine. With my favorite brut rose’, I tend to lean toward brie, havarti, and the lighter cheeses. The experts say to avoid cheese with brut rose’!!!
Here is some cheese information:
- Fresh cheeses (mozzarella, ricotta, goat cheese, cottage cheese, feta) – These cheeses are typically not fermented, but coagulated using traditional acid or heat treatments. They’re usually lower in sodium and calories and higher in water content than other cheeses. For someone with a family history of heart disease or high cholesterol, fresh cheeses are best due to their low cholesterol content.
- Harder cheeses (cheddar, Swiss, Parmesan) – While typically higher in sodium and saturated fat, these cheeses also tend to have a higher concentration of calcium and protein than their fresh counterparts.
- Blue cheese (Gorgonzola, Roquefort, Stilton) – Blue cheeses are relatively high in sodium and saturated fat but are great sources of calcium and vitamin K, giving them a middle-of-the-pack ranking in healthfulness.
But sushi is absolutely great with champagne. Raw fish is a great pairing, as is cooked or fried fish. Since I am not a sake’ drinker, I prefer sparkling wine or beer with my Japanese food. One of my favorites, is tempura, a little heavier, and acidic, so a good brut cuts through the fat quite smoothly.
Seafood is a great pairing, particularly oysters and champagne. My last trip to London was highlighted by this pairing at Harrod’s on an off day from Wimbledon. And in the Gaslamp District of San Diego.
The experts suggest my brut rose’ paired with smoked fish and cured meats, though I seem to pair it with most any food. I particularly like to pair it with something spicy.
Pate’ and foie gras require a heavier pinot blend. I can’t remember if I have tried it, yet. Since I don’t eat much pate’ or foie gras, I do not have an opinion. Let me know!
Mature vintages go well with main dishes, though I rarely have the luxury of multiple wines with multiple courses. But heavier meats, like beef, chicken, lamb, veal, venison, and duck require a more robust sparkling wine or champagne.
Dessert is an area I am at a total loss regarding pairings. I much prefer some port or a sweet dessert wine like a passito, if I have anything at all. The demi-sec, vera-sec, or sweeter wines work best, but not with ultra-sweet desserts. Something in the range of an almond cookie, apple tart, or cake might work here. Of course, chocolate screams for port.
Another interesting tidbit from Winespeed: Did you know that what a food sounds like can also determine how good it tastes? Oxford University professor Charles Spence has shown that Pringles potato chips taste better if they sound noisier when you bite into them. Interestingly, he has also demonstrated that a person’s perception of how fizzy a carbonated drink appears to be can be modified by changing the fizzy sound. Perhaps that’s no surprise. After all, who can deny the charming hiss of Champagne being poured into the glass? Even the sound of a food’s or drink’s packaging can influence our perceptions of its flavor and quality. The pop of a Champagne cork? – totally appealing. So is the multi-sensory food and wine pairing of potato chips and sparkling wine.
Above all, remember the only pairing that counts is the one you enjoy! We do not need “experts” telling us what we should like. But a little guidance can prevent some disasters. After all, who wants beer with M & M’s on the menu?