Break Out the Bubbles

By Fred Armstrong

Remove the foil carefully. Twist off the wire cage. Firmly apply pressure to the cork. And POP! That wonderful sound of a cork firing off a bottle of Champagne sends the blood moving through my veins and cries “celebration!”

The small bubbles that seamlessly float to the top of the glass and tickle the taste buds are almost universally used to represent special events: the big promotion, a wedding, New Year’s Eve. But when was the last time you popped a bottle on a Tuesday night to drink with leftovers?

Known as the sommelier’s cheat, Champagne has high acid, small amounts of sugar and carbonation, so it pairs well with most food.

Acidity is key; without it, the wine will taste flat. It gives the fruit a lift and boosts the flavor. Instrumental in food and wine pairing, the acid helps cleanse your palate for the next bite of food. To put it simply, wines with higher acid levels usually work better with a wider variety of food.

Salty foods, in particular, excel with sparkling wines — notably, classic pairings like oysters and Champagne or caviar and Champagne. You can never go wrong with a bit of bubbly and shellfish. For a fun experiment, try some with buttered popcorn.

Sparkling wines also help cut the richness and balance creamy and fatty foods. Try a Blanc de blancs with pasta and a velvety clam sauce.

Only sparkling wines from the Champagne region of France can truly be called “Champagne.” The Champagne region is located about 100 miles northeast of Paris and grows Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier grapes for its wines. Who else grows these fabulous grapes? We do!

To help choose the right sparkling wine for your meal, check out the following styles, listed by their level of sweetness: Extra Brut: Very dry; only a few producers make a sparkling wine in this style. Brut: The most common type; basically dry but with a small hint of sweetness. Extra Dry: Just to make it confusing, this actually means that it will have a little bit of sweetness.  Sec: Sweeter than an extra dry; usually light to medium in sweetness. Demi Sec: Medium sweet; closer to dessert-style wine. Doux: Very sweet. Pair with dessert.

Most sparkling wines tend to be a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, with Pinot Meunier as a minor blending grape. However, there are a few exceptions: Blanc de Blancs: White from whites. A sparkling wine made entirely from Chardonnay; usually the richest and creamiest. Blanc de Noirs: White from reds. Made exclusively from red grapes like Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier; generally a fruitier flavor. Rosé: A light red color usually obtained from either short skin contact or adding a touch of red wine to the final blend.

Oregon has become well known for producing world-class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Many producers have also proven that world-class sparkling wines can be made here as well.

For your next meal, break away from the ordinary and try one of these incredible sparkling wines:

Chehalem 2009 Sext Riesling ($25) Departing from the Champagne style of sparkling wine, Chehalem took influence from Germany (sekt) as well as Northern Italy (Moscato d’ Asti) for this semi-sparkling, slightly sweet wine. The Sext has less carbonation and more sweetness than the other wines mentioned but the sweet is very well balanced with the acid, so it does not come across as cloying. Pears and lime with a hint of minerality flavor this refreshing wine. Pair with a blue cheese soufflé or poached pears.

Argyle 2007 Black Brut ($30) To quote Monty Python, “And now for something completely different.”  Rollin Soles creates this dark brut made from 100 percent Pinot Noir in the style of an Australian Sparkling Shiraz. Deep, dark cranberry in color, this mostly dry sparkling wine has notes of ripe black cherry, cassis, cola, earth with a touch of leaf. This is a unique wine that certainly piqued my interest. Pair with grilled foods, herb-and-mint-crusted lamb or, for something fun, try Argyle’s own Black Brut Float (raspberry sorbet in a glass, pour Black Brut over the sorbet and slush it up).

J. Albin 2005 Blanc de Noirs ($30) This wine, comprised of 100 percent Pinot Noir, welcomes you with a nose of candied blueberries. With lithe bubbles, the wine contains notes of blueberry, strawberry patch and a hint of earth along with good acid and a dry finish. Pair with salmon with a very light drizzle of blueberry balsamic reduction or crème brûlée topped with blueberries.

Argyle 2006 Blanc de Blancs, Knudsen Vineyard ($50) Made from 100 percent Chardonnay, this sparkling wine has a rich, creamy mouthfeel with notes of bright ripe peach, pear, a touch of yeast and a hint of honey. It has crisp acidity with a lingering lemon-lime dry finish. Try this wine with either fresh crab or pair with crab cakes with a spritz of lemon.

Soter 2005 Brut Rosé ($50) Light salmon in color, this blend of both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay has light silky bubbles that lead to an elegant finesse. It has notes of strawberry leaf, raspberry cream, orange peel, almonds and a hint of cranberry. Try this wine with roast duck with a raspberry sauce or a salad with chèvre, strawberries and blanched almonds. 

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