The Boston Phoenix
June 22 - 29, 2000


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Snap, sparkle, pop

Drinking bubblies when it's boiling

by David Marglin

As I mentioned in my column a couple of weeks ago, sparkling wines are made for summer.

Most people think Champagne and sparkling wine mean one thing: a celebration, whether it's a wedding or New Year's Eve or an IPO "popping." But they are sparkling wines, after all. Wine with bubbles in it is still just a drink. And, during the summer, it can be one of the best things to put in your glass.

Sparklers are, in many cases, the jack of all wines. Their flavors tend to be sharp and crisp, and they cut through acid like a hot knife through buttah. The bubbles are also refreshing. With fresh shellfish, consumption of which rises dramatically around these parts during the summer months, there is almost nothing better than a wine with some snap, crackle, and, yup, pop. But sparklers can also make excellent accompaniments to chicken (both fried and barbecued), grilled fish, pork, and spicy Asian dishes.

For summer, you want to deploy the more affordable sparkling wines -- the stuff that tastes great chilled. There are lots of relatively inexpensive wines from France (Champagne and other regions), as well as cavas from Spain, proseccos from Italy, and Champagne-style wines from the US and Australia. You don't need special glasses for these wines, either -- Champagne flutes are well shaped for preserving bubbles, but they are by no means necessary. Do bear in mind that bubbles can cause wine to go straight to your head, making you feel more intoxicated than a still wine might. So be careful, especially in hot weather: everyone reacts a bit differently to consuming copious quantities of sparkling wine.

The first key to serving decent summer sparkling wine is figuring out how dry you want it to be. Once upon a time, dryness -- the lack of sugar -- was the sine qua non of wine sophistication. Now the pendulum is swinging back, and people are appreciating a little bit of fruit in their champagne flutes. If you do like a touch of sweetness, there are many sparkling wines with ample sugar. And there are plenty that are dry as a bone -- often labeled "Brut," the term that has come to indicate dry sparklers in France.

Once you figure out what level of dryness you like, you may want to match the flavor of the wine with food. Lots of folks use plenty of lemon and lime when cooking during the summer; for example, I tend to use lots of lemon on my lobster and fried clams. Bubbles in and of themselves help keep acidity at bay, but I also like a little sweet with my sour. So although lobster with minimal lemon goes well with Champagne, as soon as I start squirting lots of citrus on my shellfish, I reach for something with a little less delicacy.

And though you may not want to serve fine Champagne or sparkling wine with too much chill on the bottle, for less expensive models, it's acceptable (if not preferred) to go with deep, penetrating cold. I love the feeling of the bubbling wine warming up in my mouth, releasing new and different flavors. Plus, the cold bubbles feel really nice in your mouth when the weather is truly sweat-inducing. As a bonus, bubbles can prickle your taste buds, too -- and allegedly they aid in digestion.

While some of these recommended wines may seem fairly simple, many of them are bold and assertive and snappy (or snappish, in Ally McBeal parlance). The bubbles are just a secondary attribute; these are excellent wines first, and you'll marvel at how diverse their flavors can be when you serve them as accompaniments to food.

Segura Viudas Cava Brut Reserva ($7.99). Cava means "cave" in Spanish, and that's where these wines are made. This one is fermented in the bottle for at least a couple of years. Never really deep, but creamy and clean and great with paella, ceviche, fresh shellfish, and spicy Asian food.

Banear Prosecco di Veneto ($9.99). Light as a feather, perfect for scorching afternoons, this gentle bubbler is pinkish and goes well with tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella or chips and guacamole. It's a click-your-heels kind of wine. Also nice with scrod or sole.

Carpene Malvolti Prosecco di Conegliano ($12.99). Northeast Italian, very light and ultra-smooth, well-balanced, with a hint of pear. A fine apéritif, or serve after dinner with fruit for dessert.
Otherwise, try it with sole, scrod, cod,
or shellfish.

Chandon Argentina Brut Fresco ($12.99). The sémillon in this chard/pinot noir blend makes it most creamy. As good as recent US Chandon, in my opinion. Like a real Champagne, this is best with lobster, clams, or steamed mussels. Mellow and welcoming.

Alexandre Bonnet Brut Champagne ($19.99). The real deal, and a steal at $20. Dry, flavorful, crisp. This is for your fresh shellfish, your caviar, for taking a bath in; for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. A winner from the old country.

David Marglin can be reached at wine[a]

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