I find it unfortunate that we reserve champagne or sparkling wines only for “special occasions.” The magically effervescent drink that we've come to know as commonplace at weddings and christening of water vessels is also one of my favorites for summer food, wine pairing and enjoying on patios outdoors.
The light and bubbly nature of the wine complements the warmer temperatures and offers a refreshing option to your patio dining or get-together.
As many wine enthusiasts already know, true champagne can come only from the designated Champagne AOC in France’s Champagne region northeast of France, east of Paris. There are, however, many different delightful sparkling options available around the world, including the Cremant (pronounced “crehm-ahn” wines of France. One I truly adore is the Domaine Du Prieure Crémant de Bourgogne NV (retails for around $20-$25) courtesy of the Burgundy wine region, specifically a little village named Savigny Les Beaune.
Some may wonder why this wine doesn’t include a year — the short answer is multiple years of grapes went into this bottle. When Champagne or sparkling wine is produced, if everything goes to plan and the grapes are optimal for producing Champagne, they may then be declared “vintage” champagne and a year will be added to the label. If the harvest was poor because of weather, pests or another act of mother nature, the wine producers may opt to produce a wine combining several previous harvests and label it non-vintage. As these producers live and die by their wine sales from a given harvest, it's not hard to see why the practice came into being. It’s important not to discount non-vintage wines — many winemakers are experts at taking grapes from multiple vintages to create a dynamite glass of wine in a non-vintage year.
Sparkling wines should be drunk within 3 years for non-vintage. Vintage wines should be drunk around the 10-year mark, and for prestige cuvee, or Têtes de Cuvée, this slam dunk of a year for the wine producers can age up to 25 years. The bubbles will grow finer and the flavors will continue to evolve and develop over time. The lesson here is to know what you’re aging before you cellar. A somm once told me bad wine aged will just take like old, bad wine.
If cellar conditions were cool and controlled, these wines should be wonderful additions to any summer table. This particular wine I selected hails from an area south of Dijon to the east of France and in the northern Burgundy region of the Cotes du Beaune. Outside the town of Beaune, this region is primarily known for its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir productions.
Made from 60% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir, and 10% Aligoté, the resulting wine is a pale, barely pink-hued — dare I say it, rose-gold — sparkling wine that is the epitome of elegance.
As you smell the wine, aromas of fresh raspberry, orange zest, and toast begin to emerge with the delicate floras on the nose.
As you taste the wine, you'll notice flavors of melon, yellow apple, grapefruit and other citrus, white peach, and even a nutty bread quality. Grown in both brown and white marl (lime-rich mud or clay) as well as shattered limestone, you can certainly pick up on the slight minerality in the wine as you continue to taste it on your palate.
Strong in acidity and great in complexity, with delightfully small bubbles on the tongue, this wine is perfect for a warm summer evening outdoors.
On this summer evening, I decided to pair this wine with a summer classic, Ahi tuna poke bowls. While this is a dish traditionally reserved for vacations near the water, we were surprised to find that some of our local grocers carry sushi-grade Ahi tuna.
Complete with avocado, dressed cucumber and edamame, julienned red bell pepper, and shaved nori over a bed of rice, the result was perfection, with each element in the dish paired and complemented the wine in unique ways. The fruity elements in the wine heightened and matched the sweetness from the bell pepper, the nuttiness of the avocado and edamame with the toast and nutty qualities of the wine, and, finally, the acidity was a wonderful match to cut the richness of the thick cubes of tuna.
While I understand this may not be a dish for everyone, look for other ways to pair sparkling wines with your meals! Other options include baked parmesan crisps with goat cheese, creamy orzo pasta with lobster or crab legs, and even frisee salad with champagne vinaigrette, bacon and a poached egg on top. Ask for this wine at your local retailers — or at The Faithful Pilot, where I originally discovered this gem — and you won’t be disappointed.
With endless options for summer food pairings, I hope each of you will not pass on the opportunity to pop the bubbly and find the smaller things to celebrate each and every day of summer.