After numerous wine tastings, winemaker dinners and stay-and-play golf outings in the Napa Valley, my wife and I finally pulled the trigger and moved there from the San Francisco Peninsula in the Fall of 2015.
There were several reasons for our move, but one of the main ones was to enjoy, as full-time residents, the warm Mediterranean climate. There are, clearly, other benefits of residing in Northern California’s Wine Country, and in future articles I may comment on some of them.
We quickly learned that high 80 and mid 90-degree temperatures occur far more often than the breezy 60s and 70s to which we were previously accustomed.
And in a welcomed and refreshing change to our lifestyle, alfresco lunches and dinners, whether at local restaurants or in our back-yard patio, also became more common than before.
While we still pour Sauvignon Blanc, oak free European whites and dry Rosés to accompany the food, I have come to an appreciation, sip by sip, of a new weekday and weeknight alternative: Lower priced Champagne and Sparkling wine.Seasoned wine enthusiasts know all Champagne is Sparkling wine, but they also know not all Sparkling wine is Champagne. The latter is an appellation-protected name and winemaking technique (méthode champenoise) that produces the world’s reference point for sparkling wine.
While other regions in France and Europe make their own Sparkling wine, it usually embodies different winemaking procedures, different names, and very different grapes.
Their sparklers are known as Cremant in France, as Cava in Spain, Sekt in Germany and as Prosecco in Italy. New World producers, especially in California, tend to follow the above Champagne method, but still label the product as Sparkling wine. Clearly, everybody loves a Bubbly!
No question, Sparkling wine is the undisputed beverage of choice at New Year’s Eve, weddings, anniversaries and other “celebratory occasions.” However, the pleasures it delivers for those events can also be enjoyed at any weekday lunch or dinner, no matter how ordinary the occasion or recipe
For recipes whose weight, texture, seasonings and preparation methods point to white wine as the likeliest pairing, Sparkling wine can, in most cases, be a viable alternative. It shares many of their qualities, (crisp acidity combined with herbal and citric notes) and in that sense, there will be little or no need to adjust one’s palate to the sparkling alternative.
Prior to my Champagne epiphany, Sparkling wine had already proved its worth as an aperitif and dessert accompaniment.
Though it should not have surprised me, I also am slowly discovering its flexibility with more main course food. Last night’s Linguine con Vongole, aka steamed clams over pasta, was an easy pairing. Several days ago, Panko-topped, roast Halibut was a perfect 100, as were last week's Provencal spiced, grilled chicken thighs.We normally enjoy Pinot Gris or dry Riesling with our Choucroute and Bockwurst, but it should be a cakewalk with Sekt. Also, I expect fried or sautéed fish, chicken or pork will embrace Sparkling wine, as will fish tacos, the current restaurant rage for small plate food. (Chinese stir fry should be a no-brainer). And, while I have yet to try it, a lush, Blanc de Noir or Rosé with lightly spiced, grilled red meats may yield some interesting results.
No matter your preference for Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, or Sauvignon Blanc, the underlying crisp, oak-free, palate-cleansing characteristics of Sparkling wine will make for an easy palate transition.
In many respects, Sparkling wine is a nifty, easy drinking amalgam of those varietals, and the effervescence, of course, is the visual, mood-enhancing bonus that helps seal the deal.
Finally, with a little low-risk, exploratory effort on your part, I believe that Sparkling wine may well become a new addition to your weekday wine and dine options. Spain’s Cava and Italy’s Prosecco are good, economical starting points, followed by the several California producers that are owned by Champagne companies. (Be sure to note their various styles and sweetness levels.) After that, if your palate is up to the test, a few French or American artisan producers should round out and reward the pursuit.