Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Pairing Champagne with your Valentine's Day Dinner

     Valentine's Day is approaching and it is time to make your plans. Enjoying some of France's favorite bubbly with your loved one is usually a good place to start. The name Champagne evokes feelings of romance and celebration while its light-bodied, acidic and usually dry nature make it an ideal pairing partner for a variety of foods. Whether you are preparing a romantic meal at home or going out to eat, choosing the right style of Champagne for your dinner will make your evening that much more special. 
     Brut is the most common sweetness level found in the wines of Champagne. The non-vintage, Brut NV, house blend from the region's major producers is what defines Champagne for most people. It is also, typically, the most affordable and available. The best pairings for these crisp and usually mineral-laced wines are salty dishes like caviar, raw oysters, cold-boiled shrimp and sushi or light styles of grilled fish with citrus and herbs. Other salty snacks such as potato chips, nuts and popcorn also pair well if you are celebrating at home curled up by the fire.         
     Blanc de Blanc Champagnes are made exclusively from Chardonnay grapes which tend to create a creamier-textured wine. This feature makes it an excellent partner for most seafood dishes (crab cakes, white-fleshed fish, lobster tail, shrimp and scallops) and pasta or risotto vegetarian dishes that have either been cooked in or are served with lemon butter or light cream-based sauces. Mild cheddar or Chevre goat cheeses alone or melted on crostini as an appetizer or even used as a component of the cream sauce also makes for an excellent pairing.
      Blanc de Noirs Champagnes are typically fuller-bodied with cherry notes in both aroma and flavor. Both Gouda and Edam cheeses make good starters for this style. It would be an excellent choice for stuffed mushrooms, as well. It is an ideal partner for almost any roasted meat (poultry, lamb, pork or veal) as long as it is not served with anything sweet or fruity.
      Rose' Champagnes can be very versatile. They work well with heavier seafood such as grilled salmon, lobster or swordfish and they complement many cured meats and semi-soft mild cheeses such as Havarti, as well. Rose' can be a wonderful pairing with roasted turkey or duckling particularly if these dishes are served with a slightly tart berry sauce.
     Vintage-dated and Cuvee de Prestige Champagnes have the purity of flavor and the fuller body to partner with any type of umami-rich seafood or chicken dish, especially if it has been prepared with mushrooms and/or in a heavy cream sauce. A chilled bottle of this Champagne waiting back at home after dinner unquestionably puts a special seal on your evening while allowing you to fully appreciate the complex aromas and flavors that these more rare styles deliver.
     Each type of Champagne above will also work with fresh berries and fruit-based desserts such as cobblers, crisps and tarts particularly if they are not overly sweet. Of all of these, Rose' Champagne is the best partner for Chocolate-dipped strawberries. Each will also lend a special flair to egg dishes in the morning after Valentine's Day. What could be a better way to keep the romance going than a Champagne breakfast?
     Though somewhat less common, drier styles than Brut can be found. They may be labeled as Brut Naturel, Brut Sauvage or Ultra, Brut Zero or Extra Brut. Each of these will work with the same foods that work with the Brut NV. A slightly sweeter style, Extra Dry, will work well with slightly spicy Asian and Southwestern foods as well as with fish and poultry dishes cooked with slightly-sweet fruit or vegetable sauces. Demi-Sec and Sec styles are much sweeter and balance better when paired with heavier-spiced Asian curries.
     When choosing your wine for this special night, remember that real Champagne only comes from the Champagne region of France. On Valentine's Day, raise your glass with the one that you love; then raise it again and again throughout the year while sampling the many food's that go so well with the world's most famous sparkling wine.