Sparkling wine is not just for special occasions. In fact, bubbly can make any occasion special. Especially when paired with food. Yes, there is so much more to these wines than ringing in the New Year. So let’s let the Champagne sit on the shelf for a bit and dive into some of the other fun and affordable sparklers out there that can be great no matter the occasion.
Cava is a sparkling wine from Catalonia in Northeastern Spain. It’s made in the same way as Champagne, with a second fermentation in the bottle, but from completely different and native grapes to their land (Chardonnay is sometimes blended in, though in small amounts). The primary variety in the blend is often the almond and floral Macabeu that gives off a little bitterness on the back end. To balance that slight bitter note Xerello is brought into the mix, matching those floral notes and bringing some melon hints to the blend. And lastly the Peralleda grape is added for its lemony bright acidity. The result is a very refreshing, somewhat dry bubbly that is still fruity.
For a food pairing simple tapas style dishes are perfect with this bubbly. If you can match the high acidity of the wine, then the fruitiness will come center stage and marry with the flavors of the food. Try an easy tomato rubbed bread with Serrano ham or grilled whole herring with mustard and grilled vegetables and you’ll be the life of the picnic!
Freixenet is the ubiquitous Cava on the market but I love the also not hard to find Juvé Y Camps, which is a blend of the three native grapes with a skosh of Chardonnay and runs at about $10-$15. The acidity will match the saltiness and make your palate pop.
Crémant de Bourgogne
Crémant is a term France ushered into its wine laws of in the seventies to distinguish all sparkling wine produced outside of Champagne. There are several styles of Crémant across the country but none so sexy as Burgundy’s Crémant de Bourgogne. Made form primarily Pinot Noir and Chardonnay — if the wine is labeled Blanc de Blanc it is made from all white grapes, and crispy Aligote may be added to lighten things up. When labelled Blanc de Noir it’s made from all red grapes (Gamay may be added for aromatics). There is also just straight up Blanc which can be a combination of any and all of the above mentioned grapes. There are different styles even within the Crémant de Bourgogne category but generally these wines are about half the price of Champagne, usually around $20, and full of elegance with delicate bubbles and a nice round texture, allowing the palate to really enjoy the floral and fruit aromas of the wine.
There are many of these bottles out there on the market but the white Domaine Louis Bouillot is a well-known example and runs $15-20. It’s a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Gamay and Aligote. The salt and fat of the above mentioned pork dishes will accent the round juicy structure of the wine and cleanse the palate.
This is probably my favorite pairing. American sparkling wine is all over the place. There are so many different styles of varying quality that it’s basically the wild wild west. So instead of going into the different examples I am just gonna throw down on something I love. The Gruet Family left Champagne 32 years ago and ended up in New Mexico. Since then they’ve made some of the best affordable Champagne method wine in the U.S. The Gruet Blanc De Noir (made from 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay) is just awesome with nice tight bubbles, slight notes of berry fruit and a comfortable density of baked apples and pears while showing bracing acidity. A bottle will run you from $10 to $15 and is PERFECT with fried chicken. Yes, good ol’ ‘Merican fried chicken. Whether you get it from Popeyes, go a little higher end, or make it yourself, this wine will cut right through the fat and wash down that delicious crispy breading, and the lean meat of the chicken won’t overwhelm the wine. This pairing is so fun and gloriously delicious you may find yourself doing it more often than you think.