smoked salmon

Food and Sparkling Wines

I recently posted a blog concerning a tasting I conducted of French brut Champagne versus California brut sparkling wines produced by leading French Champagne houses.  At the end of that posting, I promised to say a word or two about appropriate food.  Well … what does one eat with a brut sparkler?  Of course, Champagne and its brethren are widely known for their astonishing versatility with food, particularly with food that is salty.  So … would you have guessed that Champagne and salted popcorn are the closest of gustatory friends?  The same can be said for the likes of caviar or smoked salmon.

caviar mousse

caviar mousse

For this most recent tasting, I served caviar, but not bowls of Beluga or Sevruga caviar, both of which used to be moderately priced and widely available, neither of which is true today.  Rather, I used a good whitefish caviar, mixed it with some mayo and other flavorings to make a mousse.  I poured that into a mold  – makes a handsome presentation when unmolded – and served it on thin slices of rye.  For another accompaniment, get some good smoked salmon, chop it up, moisten it with olive oil and add some chopped shallots and ground pepper.  Then, place spoonfuls of the salmon on lightly toasted and oiled baguette slices, and add on top a bit of crème fraiche, embellished with a few capers.  If you like, you can mix in just a touch of prepared horseradish with the crème fraiche.  Smoked salmon, caviar mousse, and popcorn … who would have thought it?


What to Drink with What you Eat – a great book!

By the way, for those interested in the more general question of the pairing of food and wine, give a close look at A. Dornenburg and K. Page, What to Drink with What you Eat.  It is surprisingly inexpensive for a book so handsomely turned out, and deserves to be in every wine lover’s library.


A Sparkling Evening – Champagne tasting!

Last night I offered to a small group of old and new college friends a tasting and a comparison of sparkling wines.  About forty years ago, several of the top large Champagne houses in France (which is the only place that makes what may be legally called “Champagne”) decided to establish winemaking outposts in California, three in the Napa Valley, one in Sonoma, and one in the Anderson Valley.  Today, they continue to make fine sparkling wines at those sites, using the traditional Champagne method of inducing a secondary fermentation in the bottle … enclosing, thus, all those fine bubbles we enjoy so much.

preserving champagne

Put balloons on the bottles to keep the bubbles fresh! Blurry photo?…maybe I should serve smaller tastings to the photographer!

What I decided to do was to pair the basic house brut of a French Champagne maker against the basic house brut from that same maker’s California winery … for example, Louis Roederer Brut Champagne versus Roederer Estate sparkling brut wine from the Anderson Valley.  Each bottle was bagged so that no prior prejudices in favor of California or France could be indulged.  Though almost every participant preferred the real Champagnes to their California counterparts, the latter were still deemed entirely enjoyable.  That’s important to know because the French sparklers cost, on average, twice that of their American competitors … no small consideration, especially if one is serving sparklers to a large number of guests.  By the way, if you have sparkling wine left in the bottle, how do you best reseal that bottle?  The pressure remaining in the bottle will simply eject any cork, so try this:  put a rubber balloon over the bottle top; that way the seal is functionally air-tight, and that remaining pressure will do nothing other than to inflate a bit of balloon.  Looks weird, but it works.

I might add that when, for many years past, I conducted the same kind of tasting for senior undergraduates at the Claremont Colleges, they almost always liked the French version when drunk by itself, but the California when consumed with food.  Interesting.  So what does one eat with these bruts?  Stay tuned.

The Tasting List:

Bortolotti Prosecco Brut  DOCG  (Valdobbiadene)

G.H. Mumm (Reims)

Mumm Napa Brut Prestige (Napa Valley)

Moët & Chandon Impérial (Epernay)

Chandon Brut Classique (California)

Louis Roederer Brut Premiere (Reims)

Roederer Estate (Anderson Valley)

Taittinger (Reims)

Domaine Carneros, 2009  (Carneros)

Albino Armani 1607 Prosecco  Extra Dry (Veneto) DOC