Whenever it's time to celebrate an important occasion with our loved ones, sparkling wine is never far from our minds. Then we add elaborate dishes to the mix and the choice of the right kind of bubbly can become a tad complicated. Even so, sparkling wine pairings are something special and different.
Acidity, a distinctive attribute of all wines, is essential when it comes to the effervescent kind. Climate is an important factor in determining the level of acidity; riper grapes equal lower acidity. High-acidity foods will bring out fruit concentration and sweetness, and add freshness. Aging imparts sweet notes, making a sugary dosage unnecessary. Structure (balance and body) helps our palate discern the identity and character of a wine, whether its texture is fine and elegant, or rich and dense.
Effervescence is the key to pairing. The carbonic acid also makes for a nice palate cleanser between courses. Plus, it's the signature delight of sparkling wines.
Sous-vide eggs, migas with sobrassada oil, and Ibérico ham paired with Cuvée Esplendor by Vardon Kennett, a wine with a modern and elegant culinary persuasion. A Vinoteca Torres (Barcelona) food and wine pairing.
Similarity and contrast are two different approaches to navigating the harmonies of sparkling wine, with common sense dictating the ultimate choice. Matching by similarity means identifying similar basic flavors in order to enhance them. Contrast pairings seek complementary differences between the food and wine, a balance between contrasts; sweet-salty, light-unctuous, or fresh-rich.
The art of pairing is subjective, but experience has taught us certain practices that will guarantee successful and wholly delightful harmonies. Sauces and garnishes are as important as the basic ingredients of a dish, and we should also consider cooking times: a slow-cooked dish will seek its temporal equivalent, a sparkling wine with more body and structure.
For example, a dish with a sweet base will seek the company of an off-dry or sweet sparkling wine. A dish with exuberant umami seeks the embrace of a sparkling wine of greater complexity, whereas hearty oven roasts will find their perfect counterpart in a Gran Reserva brut or a vintage sparkling wine.1
When it comes to cheese, fresh or soft variations pair well with a young, fruity bubbly. If we're pairing mature, hard, and/or smoked cheeses, look for sparkling wines that have undergone prolonged aging, with a well-defined personality that won't be overshadowed by the briny, powerful flavor of the cheese.
Ultimately, food and wine pairing is a subjective experience that goes beyond the senses. It's about intelligence and intuition, common sense and creativity, culture and history, emotion and memory.
1A Japanese term for savory, one of the five basic flavors along with sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. (Source: Wikipedia)