It’s a humid summer evening. You’re seated at a restaurant poring over the wine list, trying to find something that matches your mood, the food, and the weather. Something light for the humidity, chilled against the heat.
There are, of course, plenty of options. Pinot noir for beef or lamb. A verdicchio for fish. Alsatian riesling, New Zealand sauvignon blanc, Chablis and so forth. There’s a good chance, though, you weren’t looking at the sparkling end of the wine list.
I don’t think I’m alone if I say sparkling wine doesn’t leap instantly to mind when considering what to drink with a meal. In the Anglo world, bubbles are usually considered an apéritif, a celebratory starter served alone or with minute morsels of dainty delicacies Yet throughout the Continent, Champagne and its sparkling cousins are frequently the go-to wine for many main courses.
I was first exposed to this at a lunch at the Champagne house, Bollinger. Following the Sciences Po International Tasting competition (semi-ironically known as SPIT), the contestants were treated to a four-course lunch. Each course was paired with a different champagne. It was incredible to note the different characteristics of different vintage champagnes, and how well they complemented the food.
Recently, I encountered Deutz at dinner. The Brut Classic had a nose of honey, elderflower, apple and pearblossom; a nutty ‘biscuitiness’ came through after a while. Vanilla was present on the palate, though the wine was not overly oaky. The complexity of the palate increased in the mouth – apples, elderflower, butter, toast, biscuit, vanilla all competing for attention – before tapering as you swallow, and finally thinning out into a long elderflower-heavy finish. The crisp acidity helps to cut through food, refreshing the palate.
The Brut Classic went exceedingly well with a celeriac tart starter, and fairly well with a main of pork belly and apple sauce. The Deutz Brut Rosé accompanied brilliantly a strawberry soufflé. The palate of strawberries and raspberries followed on brilliantly from a nose of vanilla and redcurrant and is one of the best wine and dessert pairings I’ve encoutered!
Don’t be afraid to take a leaf from the Continent and explore the possibilities of adding some sparkle to your meal. Some traditional champagne-food pairings are noted here, but use your imagination, and the full extent of the wine list!