Top | Vine to Table

Bubbles and comfort fare

(article, Kerry Newberry)

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Sometimes the best food-and-wine pairings are the most unexpected. Bubbles with your burger? Pizza and Champagne? 

To get the lowdown on pairing sparkling wine and comfort food, I talked to sommeliers and sparkling-wine producers across the country. Their message was consistent: Don't overlook bubblies when serving your favorite feel-good fare.

h4. From pot pie to pizza

“Sparkling wine has long been associated with celebrations, but I think it adds liveliness to any meal or evening,” says Erica Landon, an Advanced Sommelier and the wine director for Bruce Carey Restaurants and The Heathman Restaurant and Bar in Portland, Oregon. “The spirit of the wine seems to be more animated, much like the bubbles themselves, dancing in the glass.” 

Michael Stanton, the Heathman chef, is currently dishing up a turkey pot pie with braised turkey leg, peas, and carrots. Landon suggests pairing the comfort-food dish with a slightly richer sparkling wine, such as the 2001 Argyle Extended Tirage Brut.

“\[It\] is a late disgorged wine, meaning it spends an extended period on the lees, giving the wine an unctuous, creamy feel while retaining the vivid acidity,” says Landon. The bubbles, she says, play off the rich gravy of the pot pie and the delicate puff-pastry crust. “The acidity cuts through the creamy texture of the dish with a beautiful lingering finish.” 

Pizza is another classic comfort food that satisfies in any season. To accompany, for example, a Via Tribunali pizza with tomato, Italian meats, and a mix of mushrooms, Landon recommends the '2006. “Rosé sparkling wines tend to have a slightly higher percentage of Pinot Noir, which offers a richer, more supple palate that pairs well with denser flavors,” she says. 

“With the high acidity in the sparkling wine to offset the bright tomato sauce and the earthy component from the Pinot Noir complementing the mushrooms, you have a beautiful collaboration between the odd couple,” says Landon. 

h4. Bubbles with beans

“Comfort food and Champagne are a pretty natural match in my mind,” says David Speers, owner of Ambonnay, the new hot boîte for bubbles in Portland. The chandelier-lit nook features a rotating selection of glass pours and more than 50 bottles of sparkling wines from around the world. Nibbles include olives and nuts, a platter of local cheeses, and the ultimate gourmet comfort food: truffle popcorn. 

Champagne is easy to pair with many different kinds of food, says Speers, so whatever your comfort food is, there's a sparkler to go with it. One of his favorite glass pours at the moment is Olivier Horiot Seve Rosé de Saignée 2006. The wine is 100 percent Pinot Noir and made by the saignée method rather than the blending method — basically, the rose color is achieved through skin contact rather than blending still red wine into white. As a result, it is much fuller in body and drinks more like a red wine.

Speers’ dream pairing for the rosé is a cassoulet, rich slow-cooked beans with a bit of lamb, duck, and sausage. “All of the earthy flavors of the wine and the food would be great together, and the high acid in the wine would help clear your palate from all of the rich flavors,” he says. 

h4. Pairs well with rich foods

The Schramsberg estate is home to the oldest hillside vineyards in the Napa Valley; 43 of its 218 acres are planted to vines. At any given time, as many as 2.7 million bottles can be found in the caves, aging two to 10 years before release. 

[%image kh float=left width=150 caption="Keith Hock"]

Sparkling-wine maker Keith Hock has been with Schramsberg since 2002. (Prior to that he was a professional cyclist, living in France and Norway.) Hock says that his sparkling wines pair well with rich foods because they are made with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay — both food-friendly wines on their own. “The sparkling wines pair exceptionally well because they have higher acidity, lower alcohol, and fruit flavors and aromas that complement food, not compete with it,” he says. 

“Exploration of food-and-wine pairing is one of the most rewarding parts of my job,” he says. Hock finds the Schramsberg Brut Rosé pairs well with cheese fondue and salted Kettle Chips. It’s also his pick for weeknight take-out sushi, summer BBQ ribs, and backyard burgers. 

An advocate for uncorking sparkling wine at the table year-round, Hock also encourages unexpected pairings: “Take a risk and try something new and unknown, because you won’t know if you like it until you try it.” 

h4. Novelty and tradition

Speaking of trying something new, how about a sparkling wine from Virginia? Kismet brought Claude Thibaut, a fifth-generation French Champagne-maker, to produce sparkling wine in an area he never anticipated: the Blue Ridge Mountains near Charlottesville, Virginia. Thibaut and Manuel Janisson, the producer of the Champagne Janisson & Fils, became partners in 2005, launching the Thibaut-Janisson label; their first Blanc de Chardonnay was released in 2007.  

[%image Thibaut float=right width=300 caption="Claude Thibaut"]

Thibaut says that his wife would choose salty chips as a comfort-food pairing for his 100 percent Chardonnay bubbles from the Monticello appellation, but he favors more hearty fare. One of his favorite Champagne food pairings whenever visiting France is gougères — the savory yet airy cheese puffs made with choux pastry. 

“We also eat a lot of quiche Lorraine,” he says — often paired with a glass of sparkling wine. Once Thibaut visited Champagne and ran into one of his best friends, who is also the winemaker for Gloria Ferrer. “He saw me eating a quiche and he laughed and said, 'In the U.S., men don’t eat quiche.' So I try not to say that I like quiche,” says Thibaut. “But a glass of sparkling wine with quiche works so very well.” 

h4. Bubble path

Since 1996, the Manhattan Mecca for Champagne and sparkling-wine lovers is The Bubble Lounge, located in the Tribeca neighborhood. The Bubble Lounge traveled west in 1998 to open a second venue in San Francisco, but the mission at both locations is the same: to eradicate the myth that Champagne and sparkling wines should be reserved only for special occasions. Both spots feature more than 300 Champagnes and sparkling wines, along with a menu of upscale comfort fare — think pigs in a blanket, with Kobe beef dogs bundled in puff pastry. 

The housemade Sweet Garlic-Stuffed Duck Meatballs with Fig Purée and Sriracha Chili will warm up any winter’s eve; it’s also the dish of the moment for Emmanuelle Chiche, The Bubble Lounge's managing director. Chiche pairs the duck meatballs with a glass of André Robert Blanc de Blancs Le Mesnil. “A 100-percent Chardonnay may not be the typical wine partner to a gamey dish, but it works perfectly well for my palate," she says, "letting the slightly fatty texture of the duck express itself accompanied by a bit of spicy veal demi-glace.”  

h4. Good bubbles

Back in Oregon, Rollin Soles brings Texas roots and a sharp wit to winemaking at Argyle Winery, where he has been producing award-winning wines for more than 20 years. (Argyle wines have been ranked among the top 100 wines of the world by Wine Spectator 11 times.) 

[%image porch float=left width=400 caption="Rollin Soles is the winemaker at Argyle."]

This winemaker celebrates eclectic fare when scheming comfort-food pairings for his sparkling wines. If the night calls for Italian, Soles suggests whipping up fettuccine Alfredo to pair with the 2007 Argyle Blanc de Blancs. “Alfredo can dress up or dress down, and cream is a dream for the Chardonnay-based Blanc des Blancs,” says Soles. He gives extra points if you include bacon.

For weeknight ramen, try the 2008 Argyle Brut Rosé. There's no better way to elevate the Asian noodle dish than with a bottle of bubbly, says Soles. The salt lifts the rosé to a whole new level of perfection, he says, and the pairing brings out the 20-something in each of us. 

Soles nods to his Southern roots with his final pick: a mashed potato, green bean, and hamburger pie with the 2008 Argyle Brut. The brut has enough richness and bright honest fruit flavors to work with all the ingredients of this dish, says Soles.

“Nothing says take some time for yourself and put your feet up better than bubbles out of occasion," says Soles. "Good bubbles lift you up and energize you for the rest of the evening. That book you're reading just got wittier. That HBO show you're watching just got funnier. And your conversations just got punched with élan!”

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