By Lois Abraham
A lot of people think of sparkling wine only as an aperitif cocktail or to toast with at midnight on New Year’s Eve, and yet it’s so versatile that you can have it throughout a meal and not just during the holidays but over the entire year, says a wine expert.
Sparkling wine may be the toast of the town during this season, but it's good anytime of the year, according to a leading wine expert.
Sparkling wine is one of the most food-friendly wines because of its bubbles and acidity.
“It’s got that form of bubbles which is not only tasty and refreshing but also a palate cleanser,” says sommelier and food writer Natalie MacLean of Ottawa, who reviews wines from around the world for her website www.nataliemaclean.com, which numbers just over 156,000 members.
“So if you’re eating the problem children of the food world — asparagus or olives or eggs or green vegetables — those are wine killers. They can usually knock over most wines but not so with sparkling wine because of the bubbles.
“The acidity in sparkling wine is a second reason. But yet that acidity isn’t too strong. It doesn’t come too forward. It deals with the food nicely.
“So that means it can be paired successfully with even the toughest of foods, especially around the holidays when you’re at the hors d’oeuvres table or having cheeses or whatever.”
The acidity also makes it mouthwatering.
“So it’s such a great wine to not only start off your turkey dinner but also to have with the turkey. At our house we tend to overcook our turkey and it’s dry, so we fix our cooking mistakes with wine. So any juicy mouthwatering wine is going to moisten whatever you’re having it with.”
With turkey, MacLean suggests a dry sparkling wine, although you could have a touch of sweetness to pair with the cranberries and sweet potatoes.
For a cocktail party with hors d’oeuvres you might want a bit of sweetness, such as an off-dry still Riesling or off-dry sparkling wine which can handle more spicy and hot foods.
With holiday desserts such as fruitcake, have something with more sweetness and a deep plummy flavour such as a sparkling Shiraz from Australia. Italy also makes a sparkling red wine.
There are a lot of styles of sparkling wine, ranging from bone-dry to sweet.
“You can even get, which is a unique animal to Canada, a sparkling icewine for dessert, which is really cool. It sounds like it’s a nasty hybrid, but it’s not. It’s actually lovely because the effervescence and the acidity in the base sparkling wine softens the perception of the sweetness of the icewine component in there and so it just makes it really versatile as a dessert wine that’s not too cloyingly sweet.”
Since senses become less acute after a few glasses of wine or other alcoholic beverages, there’s no need to splash out the big bucks for expensive Champagne to toast the new year.
“There are many alternatives that are less expensive and will do the taste buds just fine at midnight, like a Prosecco from Italy, a Cava from Spain or we make terrific sparkling wines here in Canada,” says MacLean.
Some of them retail for under $30 while basic non-vintage Champagne may start at double that price.
Tall, narrow flute glasses are best to preserve the 250 million bubbles in each bottle. “Not the coupe (saucer-like) glasses that were moulded after Marie Antoinette’s breasts — they let the champagne go flat,” she says.
“Ensure the sparkling wine is well chilled to about 8 C to 10 C because if you open it warm that’s when you’re going to get the Formula One race car winner experience.”
About 20 minutes in a bucket of ice water or an hour in the fridge will do. Never put it in the freezer.
“The pressure inside a bottle of bubbly is equivalent to that inside city bus tires, so there are a few quick tips to make your New Year’s Eve celebrations a blast, but not the bottle itself,” MacLean says.
Point the bottle neck at a 45-degree angle away from you and all other living creatures, as well as any breakables.
Remove the foil around the top of the bottle.
Unscrew the wire with one hand while holding the cork with the other; the cork can come out under its own pressure once the wire is removed, so keep one hand on it, she says.
With one hand over the cork, hold the bottom of the bottle with the other hand (it’s easier putting your thumb inside the indentation at the bottom).
Slowly turn the bottle in one direction using your bottom hand (the top hand stays still on the cork). Don’t pull. You’ll start to feel the cork emerge. Done gently, the cork will emerge with a sigh rather than a pop, which is better for preserving the bubbles.