Photo credit: Stockfood
You and your friends are sitting at a dining table of your favorite restaurant, popping bottles of sparkling stuff (as you do), and the party next to you asks, “What’s the occasion?”
“It’s a Tuesday,” you reply.
This was a scenario painted by Roco Winery’s Rollin Soles at a panel discussion during last weekend’s Feast Portland food festival, after which much clapping from the audience followed. And it’s a sentiment we’ve heard before: Sparkling wine suits any occasion—even a Tuesday evening—and sparkling wine goes well with food, too.
“I like to drink them sometimes deep in a meal—it has that scrubbing bubbles effect,” said David Lynch, owner of St. Vincent in San Francisco who moderated the panel. Its title was “Tiny Bubbles,” which speaks to another point.
“Size does matter,” said Les Marchands's Eric Railsback, another panelist, “and in this case, smaller is better.” He was referring to the bubbles. Many wine geeks measure the quality of sparkling wine by its “bead”; the finer the bubble, or the bead, the better the product. A steady stream of tiny bubbles means a more consistent release of flavor and aroma—that’s why they’re so valued. “The little bubbles pick up flavor and aroma molecules during their celebrated ascent, pulling them along until the bubbles literally explode onto the surface of the liquid, creating the sensory fireworks that are generally associated with a good tasting, refreshing champagne,” wrote the American Chemical Society in 2003.
Here are some other things to keep in mind:
You don’t need a flute. Not one of the experts on this panel drinks wine out of a flute. “Where did the flute even come from?” Lynch wondered aloud. Whatever the answer, it didn’t matter to them; it’s all about white wine glasses.
Champagne is just one kind of sparkling wine. Champagne is a particular style of sparkling wine that comes from the Champagne region of France. Yes, it’s the gold standard, but there’s also Italian prosecco (seek out labels with col fondo, a traditional but resurgent style that’s less sweet), Spanish cava, and French sparkling wines made outside of Champagne (look for the word crèmant). If Champagne is all that will do for you, the buzz word is “farmer fizz” or grower Champagne: “Champagne has been marketed as luxury luxury luxury and not the product of a small farm,” said Lynch. “’Grower Champagne’ has changed that, opening people’s minds to smaller-scale Champagnes and treating them like wines instead of handbags.”
You can find a price tag under $30. The most expensive wine tasted at the session was the Nicolas Feuillatte Palmes d’Or, and that’s because Beall from Nicolas Feuillatte was there. After that, it was Schloss Gobelsburg Brut Reserve ($22), Breton Vouvray Brut “La Dilettante” ($20), and 2010 Argyle Vintage Brut ($27).
Drink it like wine. Because it is. “Champagne is adamantly savory: there are mushroom, bread, and umami flavors,” said Punch’s Talia Baiocchi, another speaker. “Quite frankly, I would drink a good sparkling wine with pretty much anything I’d drink a corresponding white wine with,” said Lynch. “The whole key is that it’s wine, and people have this disconnect when it comes to sparkling stuff.”