Magazine article Sunset

Sparkling PARTY: Plenty of Bubbly Wine, Five Amazing Appetizers, and a Houseful of Hungry Guests-That's All You Need for a

Magazine article Sunset

Sparkling PARTY: Plenty of Bubbly Wine, Five Amazing Appetizers, and a Houseful of Hungry Guests-That's All You Need for a

Article excerpt

COUNTLESS HOLIDAY TOASTS are fueled by sparkling wine, yet most partygoers don't pay much attention to what's in the glass they're raising. But look deeper into the bubbles and you discover two terrific things: First, sparklers are fantastic with food. Their fairly low alcohol levels, bracing acidity, and texture from effervescence make the most of flavors and dishes that challenge many still wines: salty, fried, and spicy fare, for example, or soup. Second, sparkling isn't just one kind of wine. The brut (dry) category we drink most often in this country offers four styles that taste very different from one another, each working its own special magic with the menu. We've designed dynamite appetizers (including a beautiful bisque) to be spot-on matches for each wine style. Of course, no harm's done if your guests sip and nibble outside the recommended pairings; bubbly's food friendliness makes any combination here a good bite.

Blanc de blancs

Made primarily out of Chardonnay, this is the most delicate style.

It carries the apple, pear, and lemon that still Chards do, but because the fruit is on the light side, the toast and yeastiness from a sparkler's time on the lees (spent yeast) tend to pop.

And the bubbles are ethereal--small, vibrant ones that create an elegant creaminess.

OUR PICKS Iron Horse 2008 Ocean Reserve Blanc de Blancs (Green Valley of Russian River Valley; $45); Rack & Riddle Blanc de Blancs (North Coast; $20); Schramsberg 2010 Blanc de Blancs (North Coast; $38).

SERVE WITH Creamy, cheesy bites like our Herbed Onion Parmesan Toasts (page 70).

Brut blend

Our most common sparkling-wine style is a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (the two main grapes in Champagne). As in blanc de blancs, the Chardonnay brings its apple, pear, and citrus to the mix, but the Pinot adds some red berry and cherry character. The juice from the red berries is separated from their skins quickly, to avoid taking on too much color, so the tangy red fruit is just a hint. But the spectrum of flavors makes a brut the foodfriendliest of bubblies.

OUR PICKS Domaine Cameras by Taittinger 2009 Brut (Cameros; $28); Michelle Brut (Columbia Valley; $14); Roederer Estate Multi Vintage Brut (Anderson Valley; $23).

SERVE WITH A sweet-tart, spicy meat dish, like our Mini Corn Dogs with Cranberry Mustard (page 70).

Brut rose

Heavy on Pinot Noir, with a little time on the skins to pick up color a bottle of pink bubbles is the most festive form of all. The berry/cherry flavors seem more obvious, if only because of the wine's color.

And that fruit-forward character partners well with spicy foods, from Mexican to Southeast Asian.

OUR PICKS J Brut Rose (Russian River Valley; $38); Laetitia 2009 Brut Rose (Arroyo Grande Valley; $30); Scharffenberger Brut Rose "Excellence" (Mendocino County; $23).

SERVE WITH Toasty, spicy seafood, or salty, briny salmon roe: Creole Shrimp Bisque and Onion and Caviar Chips with Spicy Creme Fraiche (page 71).

Blanc de noirs

As the name implies, this is white wine made mostly from red grapes--Pinot Noir. Color in this style varies widely, from very pale straw to pale salmon, depending on how long the wine-maker chose to leave the juice on the skins.

No matter how light, though, the robust, spicy red fruit flavors that lurk in a blanc de noirs make it a delicious match for darker meats--duck, lamb, even beef.

OUR PICKS Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs (Cameros; $22); VML 2007 Virginia Marie Lambrix Blanc de Noirs (Russian River Volley; $50).

SERVE WITH A wellseasoned dark-meat appetizer involving toasty pastry and vibrant herbs, like Beef Empanadas with Chimi-churri (page 70).

Brackett, Aya

Herbed Onion Parmesan Toasts

MAKES ABOUT 40 / 25 MINUTES

An all-Chardonnay blanc de blancs has an herbal quality that loves the green onions and dill in this appetizer, a brioche layer that echoes the toast itself, and a bright acidity that cuts through the rich mayo and cheese. …

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