The wines for when you want a meal to sparkle

By Robert Paul.

Nearly a decade ago when talking to a French wine buyer for a large beverage chain, I asked him what wine he’d suggest when a couple’s meal choices were divided between fowl or seafood on the one hand and beef or lamb on the other. What he said has stuck with me. “You can never go wrong with a sparkling wine. It is celebratory; it pairs with a wide variety of foods; its acidity stands up to but does not overpower most dishes.” In essence, a sparkling wine is the ultimate winning choice that makes everyone feel special and nearly all foods friendly.

On vacation in California a few years ago, my wife and I were in a chic small restaurant in Mendocino. Faced with this fish/lamb libation dilemma, we chose a Handley Brut Rose. It was exceptional as a wine and as a pairing. Later we stopped at Handley on our trip back through the Alexander Valley to order a case of this lovely wine. Unfortunately, there was no more to be had. The 2003 version of this wine, rated 91 in the Wine Spectator, had sold out. But, fortunately, Handley should have a 2006 vintage Brut Rose available this Fall. You want to buy some.

My other favorite sparkling wine producer from Alexander Valley is much better known because it is owned and operated by Champagne Louis Roederer, the French producer of Cristal. They have attempted, with some success, to produce a consistent style, available widely at a reasonable price.

Sparkling wines have only been produced since the 17th century but the Brut or drier variety has only been produced widely since the 1870’s.

Although any grape can be vinified in a manner to produce a sparkling wine, champagnes are classically made from three grapes: chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier. Most are gold in color. The more rare types are blanc de blanc and rose.

Most sparkling wines follow the French example regarding grapes. However, since those wines are not being produced in the Champagne region of France from grapes grown in that region, they are called sparkling wines instead.

Champagnes can be expensive. Whether it’s a Dom Perignon, Cristal, or Armand de Brignac’s Brut Gold, a bottle can cost hundreds. The Armand de Brignac not only costs several hundred dollars per bottle, it is sheathed in gold, so it looks luxurious. The Cattier family, which has owned and cultivated grapes in Champagne since 1763, produces this classy artisinal wine. And, did you know there are 56 million bubbles in a bottle of champagne? The house of Bollinger did the calculations, not me. I just enjoy drinking versatile sparklers.

-Flavors And More Magazine: July 2009

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