It’s been a quirky summer so far, for whatever reason, – and there’s no relief – or consistency – in sight. I’ve been enjoying my “new favorite” summer wine that I’ve recently rediscovered.
My palate had been getting fatigued with most of my go-to summer wines: ubiquitous Rosés from just about every major wine region, Spain’s Albariño and Austria’s Grüner Veltliner for whites, and France’s Beaujolais and Côte du Rhônes for reds.
As enamored as I am with each of these refreshing summer wines, they were becoming a bit too predictable, especially when paired with the foods of summer. Yes, Rosé is an easy go-to wine for many summer dishes, but it coexists with, rather than defines, most dishes. Grüner Veltliner’s minerality and crispness is refreshing, but it doesn’t pair well with a number of summer dishes. Beaujolais, slightly chilled, comes close to an all-purpose summer wine, but falls short on complexity and body.
What’s a fellow to do? Abstinence was out of the question. In seeking out a new favorite summer wine that complemented the most summer dishes, I needed a wine that would perk up my palate with each bite of food but would be equally suitable as a Vin de Soif – the French term for a stand-alone thirst-quencher.
And then it struck me: sparkling wine. Always a favorite of mine, it has been relegated by many as an accompaniment to spicy Asian foods. Why not enjoy it as a multipurpose wine whose acidity and effervescence pairs so well with light dishes, seafood and other traditional summer recipes?
Even better, why not enjoy it as a Vin de Soif – held in hand on the backyard deck, on the beach at sunset or at any other venue calling for a bright, crisp wine with the right balance of fruit and acidity that titillates your sensory membranes with each sip and never dulls the flavor receptors in your mouth?
Here I must introduce a caveat. My reference to sparkling wines are those made in the classic French Champagne method, known as the Méthode Champenois. It does not include other “carbonated” wines, such as Prosecco, that are produced en masse, without the finesse of the Méthode Champenois wines.
Having reached this ah-ha moment, I began to mull over the misconceptions among consumers concerning sparkling wines. In my mind, sparkling wines are the stepchild of wines. Underappreciated and vastly misunderstood, they have been pigeonholed as special occasion wines for decades, even centuries. Sparkling wines, in my opinion, are the most versatile of wines. They pair as well with chicken piccata as they do with oysters, as well with hot dogs as they do with foie gras.
Every refrigerator should be stocked with at least one bottle (magnum?) of this palate-pleaser. When confronted with a difficult pairing decision, consider sparkling wine. When attempting to pair multiple dishes to a single wine from a restaurant list, consider sparkling wine. When confounded by the overwhelming number of choices of wines when planning a dinner menu, consider sparkling wine.
Why? It’s the effervescence of sparkling wine. It can restore your taste buds when inflamed by a Sichuan-inspired fiery shrimp dish. It can cut through the saturated fat of a classic French cream sauce that coats your tongue and dulls your taste buds, thus revitalizing your palate with each sip.
Is sparkling wine the answer to all of our pairing conundrums? No. But for my palate, it comes the closest of all wines. It won’t pair well with a rich fettuccine with wild boar sauce, but it will gracefully enhance the simple yet exotic flavors of spaghetti carbonara. It won’t pair well with a porterhouse steak but enjoy it with pork tenderloins in a white wine/garlic sauce. Hamburgers? No. Turkeyburgers? Yes. Lobster rolls (with French fries)? Yes, Yes, Yes!
Raise your glasses to the versatility and adaptability of the other white wine.
Nick Antonaccio is a 45-year Pleasantville resident. For over 25 years, he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member and program director of the Wine Media Guild of wine journalists. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sharingwine.