Champagne opens up the taste of food

Excellent choices available, say  local merchants

Even those who prefer to ring in the new year with a quiet evening at home are likely to pop open a bottle of Champagne as the clock strikes midnight.

Real Champagne from France or sparkling wines from California, cavas from Spain and proseccos from Italy not only add celebration to New Year’s Eve and Twelfth Night parties, but are a good choice whenever celebratory food and wine pairings are needed, say local wine merchants.

Ian McCaffery, wine manager of Martin Wine Cellar in Baton Rouge and Charles Calandro, with Calandro’s Select Cellars, said there are excellent sparkling wine choices for every pocketbook.

According to the Champagne Bureau USA, Champagne received its name from the specific place where the grapes and wine are produced — Champagne, France, which is located 90 miles northeast of Paris.

“There are many sparkling wines produced around the world, but Champagne only comes from Champagne,” said the Champagne Bureau USA, the official U.S. representative of the grape growers and houses of the Champagne region. The bureau offers food pairing suggestions, serving tips and information about the region’s ongoing name-protection efforts.

It points out that “Champagne is a wine, and, like all wines, pairs well with food, which people tend to forget because of its image of a celebratory drink or as wine to be enjoyed as an apéritif.” It can be paired with a whole meal and can complement a wide range of dishes and cuisines.

Blanc de blanc is very popular as an apéritif due to its light, dry taste. It also is ideal for light first courses, including oysters, seafood, fish or soups, the bureau says. Blanc de noirs are full-bodied and deeper yellow-gold in color and pair perfectly with full-flavored foods, including poultry, veal, pork and cheeses, while a fragrant rosé Champagne can work well with meatier meals such as roasted monkfish, grilled swordfish or even lobster. For spicy cuisines, the Champagne Bureau USA recommend demi-sec or sec Champagne.

Champagne can even be paired with red meat if the champagne has a large proportion of pinot noir in its blend, according to Martin Wine Cellars’s McCaffery. He especially likes it with steak.

“It’s not great with chocolate, which brings out the acidity in the Champagne,” McCaffery said. “It brings out a bitterness in the Champagne.” The sparkling wine pairs better with such sweets as fruit tarts or crème brûlée, he said. McCaffery prefers pairing chocolate with red wine, port or Madeira, but the Champagne Bureau USA said pairing chocolate “with a powerful rosé vintage Champagne can be a real treat, especially if you supplement this dessert with ripe red berries.”

McCaffery said sparkling wines also “like lobster, scallops, most shellfish”

To serve Champagne, chill it in an ice bucket about 20 minutes before you plan to pour. Or you can refrigerate the bottle three or four hours in advance of opening — it’s generally best to avoid using the freezer to chill Champagne, the Champagne Bureau USA said.

When making mimosas or other drinks that include Champagne in the list of ingredients, select an inexpensive bubbly, such as Monmousseau Brut Étoile NV; $9.99, McCaffery suggested.

To open a bottle, remove the wire muzzle. Holding the base of the bottle with one hand, grasp the cork in the palm of your other hand and twist the bottle. The cork will come out of its own accord.

McCaffery warns that once the wire muzzle is removed, always keep a hand over the cork. Also, remember to keep the bottle is pointed away from your face.

It is best for the Champagne if the glasses used are simply rinsed (without using soap) in warm water and left upside down to dry. The Champagne Bureau USA said detergents and drying cloths coat the glass and may impede the formation of bubbles and can affect the aromas and flavors of the wine.

Here are some of McCaffery’s favorite sparklings:

  • Louis Roederer Brut Premier NV: “really nice, elegant flavor profile, fresh yeasty smell, candied almonds; $40.99.
  • Camille Saves Brut Grand Cru Prestige PV: 100 percent estate-grown fruit, “get chalk, minerality, good complexity, it’s wonderful;” $54.
  • Roederer Estate Brut Anderson Valley NV, California property: $18.99.
  • Pariot Cremandio Bourgogne Blanc Tradition NV: all estate-grown French sparkling wine with nice spice, very clean, $19.99.
  • Bosco di Grica Brut: a dry prosecco, $18.99.

Here are Calandro’s choices for toasting the new year:

  • 1988 Lanson Noble Cuvee 93WS: “Stellar year,” Calandro says of this wine, $150.
  • 1995 Pommery Cuvee Louise: $130.99.
  • NV Pommery Champagne: $40.99.
  • NV Heidsieck Monopole Brut or Brut Rosé: $39.99.
  • NV Laurent-Perrier Brut: $55.99.
  • NV Laurent-Perrier Brut Rosé: $110.99.
  • n NV Duval-Leroy Femme: $147.99.

NV Pol-Roger Champagne: $65.99.

  • NV Calixte Cremant D’Alsace: $16.99.
  • NV Jean-Luc Joillot Cremant de Bourgogne: $30.

Gruet Brut: a sparkling produced in New Mexico, $17.99.

Gruet Demi-Sec: also from New Mexico, $16.99.

2007 Domaine Carneros Brut: a California wine, $26.99.

Maschio Prosecco: $12.99.

Val D’oca Prosecco: $12.99.

De Paolo Prosecco: $11.99.

Terriero Prosecco: $14.99.

NV Graham Beck Brut or Brut Rosé: a South Africa wine, $18.99.

Montsarra Cava: a Spanish wine, $17.99.