The 2015 Napa Valley wine harvest has officially begun. On July 22, Mumm Napa began harvesting 12 tons of pinot noir grapes destined to become sparkling wine. What better reason to pay tribute to bubbly?
Summer is a great time to enjoy sparkling wine. Its effervescence makes it especially refreshing on a warm day – and even though they’re perfect for sipping on their own, there are countless pairing possibilities for any summer menu whether you’re enjoying them with appetizers or enhancing a meal. Because sparkling wines have a high acidity level, they harmonize perfectly with rich, creamy, buttery foods.
When it comes to bubbly, we often think of Champagne but there are a growing number of sparkling wines available in the US that are enticing enough to rival Champagne at dinner tables and celebrations everywhere. Sparkling wine contains high levels of carbon dioxide, making it fizzy, and almost every wine-producing region in the world has its own unique version of bubbly. Here’s a quick primer for a few of the most popular styles.
The iconic name “Champagne” is strictly reserved for wine produced in the Champagne region in France using traditional methods. Three types of grapes, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier are typically blended together to create the distinctive taste of this elixir. Méthode champenoise, a process whereby the wine undergoes a secondary fermentation inside the bottle, creates the bubbles. There are also many wonderful sparkling wines from the other wine producing regions in France.
Pair Champagne and sparkling white wines with triple cream style cheeses like Brie or Camembert, or with lobster, oysters, shrimp, shellfish and basically anything in a cream sauce. The effervescence of the wine cuts through the richness and buttery, creamy elements of these foods, balancing them beautifully. They’re also a fun pairing with dessert cheeses, buttered popcorn and butter cookies.
American sparkling wines, such as those made by Mumm, are labeled sparkling wine or champagne with a little “c”. They can be white or rosé, and range from dry to sweet. Sparkling Rosé pairs well with rich cheeses, prosciutto, smoked salmon, chocolate, berries, and (even better) chocolate covered berries.
Cava is a Spanish sparkling wine that also uses the champenoise method, but with different types of grapes than those used in Champagne. There are many cava sparkling wine varieties, so try to choose one based on the level of dryness you prefer.
When pairing, remember that Cava wins with savory foods such as manchego cheese, olives, almonds, potato chips, fried fish, smoked salmon, prosciutto, Serrano ham and a variety of tapas.
Prosecco is a popular dry white Italian that comes in slightly sparkling and fully sparkling versions. It does not age well and should be consumed while it is young. It’s often the main ingredient in “Bellini” cocktails, and can be used as an economical substitute for champagne in other cocktails.
Prosecco is a wonderful choice to serve with appetizers. It naturally complements almonds, antipasto, Asian dishes, sushi, smoked salmon, shrimp cocktail and honey-themed dishes.
Asti is a sweet Italian bubbly made in the Asti region of Piedmont, in northwestern Italy. Muscat grapes are used for sweetness and it has a low alcohol content of about 8%.
Asti pairs delightfully with toasted almonds, cheesecake, raspberries, ginger snaps, lemon sugar cookies, meringues, fruit sorbet and other fruit desserts.
Vinho Verde from Northern Portugal is a fresh, lightly sparkling white wine that should be drunk when it’s young. You can usually find it in the US between May and November.
With its zingy acidity, low alcohol and moderate flavor, Vinho Verde is a great match for seafoods, salads and hard to pair green vegetables such as asparagus.
So the next time you’re selecting a bottle of wine to take to a friend’s house or planning a dinner party of your own, remember the bubbly. It’s festive, versatile and invariably delicious.