From the ceremonious uncorking of the bottle to a fizzy build-up in the glass, bubbles are often linked with celebratory events, whether it’s New Year’s Eve, a birthday bash, or a special anniversary.
Wine directors at restaurants are trying to rewrite that imbibing tradition by encouraging customers to consider Champagne, cava, brut, Prosecco, or sparkling wine any day of the year.
“They’re still in that special-occasion, celebratory wine category,” says Daniel Pernice, sommelier at Osteria Mattone and Table & Main in Roswell, Georgia, and formerly of The Modern inside the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. “I’m all about getting them at the forefront.”
Paired with non-pretentious edibles like fried fish, bar snacks, and comfort foods, the options are endless, each capitalizing on the wine’s high levels of acidity. In fact, salsa is among winemaker Tom Tiburzi’s favorite food matches. (Tiburzi is the winemaker at Domaine Chandon, a sparkling wine producer in Napa Valley, California.) So are capers, either tossed in a salad or part of a Mediterranean-themed fish dish. Yet another of his favorite pairings is a glass of sparkling wine with either oysters or calamari.
If the wine is left for a time on the lees during the aging process, says Tiburzi, it leads to compatibility with mushrooms or dark, broody sauces. “Sparkling wines, in general, are a good pairing with food as they have a good amount of acidity. The structure helps to build stronger food,” he says, adding that the wines can also stand up to spicy foods.
The chalky minerality and notes of toasted brioche that are found in most sparkling wines pair well with crustaceans such as shellfish or lobster, says Pernice. “It can also cut through the richness and not make the palate fatigued.”
Vonda Freeman, wine director at Indigo Road, a restaurant group in Charleston, South Carolina, where fish is a restaurant staple, has noticed increased interest in sparkling rosé wines from France, a less-expensive option than Champagne counterparts. Still, she believes it’s important to include well-known labels on a wine list, such as Taittinger, along with Grower Champagne—a new buzzword where grapes are grown on-site at the winery—selections that “give more of a sense of place,” says Freeman. And she notes Spanish Cavas for providing tremendous value at less than $35 a bottle.