Bubbles & Bites

by Liz Caskey on October 8, 2012

I love bubbly. Any kind. Champagne, Cava, Prosecco, Sparkling wines from California, Argentina, Chile, etc. etc. If you asked me what would be my preferred wine to pair with food for the rest of my life it would be (good) bubbly.

What never bores me with bubbly, when it’s well done, is its mouthwatering, delicious acidity. It goes down so easily, and between each bite it cleans and refreshes the palate. That same acidity also activates all the flavor buttons in food. Wham, all of a sudden, humble veggies have intensified flavor, the slightly sweet notes in shellfish and crustaceans become more noticeable, spices become more pronounced, and even meat takes on a more savory taste. Honestly, I believe that bubbly is the most “neutral” wine that exists when it comes to wine pairings. It combines with just about everything.

Now, the above being said, I do not pop open a bottle of champagne every night. While French bubbles are particularly tasty, today in Chile we have several excellent options to enjoy Sparkling as an everyday wine within all price points. Here go my favorite pairings. It’s always a process of experimenting with the abundance of the season, orchard, sea, and my own eclectic taste buds and their hankerings.

Blanc de Blancs: I heart this style of sparklers. A few of my favorites are from Schramsberg in Napa, Valdivieso or Casablanca winery in Chile. This bubbly is made only with Chardonnay grapes and has a decidedly tangy flavor with a certain elegance. I go nuts for this wine with Oyster Rockefeller, bubbling and delicious out of the oven. Or how about seared diver scallops on top of mashed parsnips drizzled with a few drops of truffle oil. Mmmm.

Rosé: This sparkling wine gets it rosy complexion from the addition of Pinot Noir to its blend. This subtle touch adds complexity and structure making it a natural partner for meat-based dishes. If you have a special occasion, you can never go wrong with Ruinart Rosé champagne (now sold in Chile). Exquisite. An ultra-Chilean version is from Miguel Torres, Santa Digna Estelado, made with país grapes from small producers in the Maule region. To eat? Nearly any meat goes well but here I would jazz things up and get a little wine wild with a lamb tagine, churrasco skirt steak and chimichurri, or steak tartare with a dash or three of Tabasco. A favorite dish we prepare at home is Patagonian salmon seared with a crushed wasabi pea crust. Besides the contrast of colors, it’s delish.

Brut: This dry bubbly does not have sugar so it pairs divinely with seafood. At home, we are big lovers of Miguel Torres (Pinot Noir Extra Brut) or Undurraga. Leave aside the traditional Pisco Sour and peel yourself away from the glass of Sauvignon Blanc to try it with ceviche—several ways. Ceviche made with fresh sole, shrimp in coconut milk with lime juice, Peruvian-style with seabass or octopus. Peru’s exotic Nikkei cuisine, a fusion of Peruvian and Japanese, hits constant home runs with this style of wine. I am dreaming of a fresh tuna tiradito with tamarind sauce. Or how about oysters with mignonette sauce, steamed mussels in champagne, or machas pil pil.

Cava: Born in Spain, this sparkler is very dry, crunchy, and zingy with good acidity. It is an ally of tapas and perfect companion to a tortilla española, stuffed piquillo peppers, pata negra ham, and bacalao fritters. You know what? I also dig this with cauliflower. Screech. What?! Poor cauliflower, the misunderstood vegetable, particularly in Chile where they make royal mush out of it. Let’s cook cauliflower with some respect and it will become a wine pairing diva. For example, roast its tiny flowers in a touch of butter until it gets a golden, delicious glaze, like popcorn. Toss it with something nutty and crunchy like toasted pine nuts and some herbs and listo, you just have the perfect appetizer or side dish. Also classic with Cava is a baguette smeared with chevre that melts to cheesy bliss in the oven topped with sundried tomatoes.

Prosecco: This Italian sparkling wine hails mainly from the Veneto region and varies from dry to off-sweet. With this bubbly, you can knock out a round or two of the famous brunch drink, Bellinis (Prosecco plus peach purée). I am a huge brunch fan, savory or sweet. Oh so many options. A spinach omelette, eggs Benedict on English muffins, French toast. And French toast doesn’t always necessarily have to come swimming in Maple Syrup. How about French toast made with brioche that is stuffed with smoked ham and gruyere, almost like a grilled cheese. Lately, we have sipped on Prosecco with quinoa pasta which has a nuttier, lighter flavor than wheat-based pasta. My favorite is to sauté up some tender baby artichokes, sweet peas, leeks, new garlic, and fresh seafood like machas or scallops. Don’t forget to deglaze the pan when cooking with a glass of wine a la Julia Child.

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