Before you start thinking about the perfect bubbles to accompany your dish, it’s probably best that you acquaint yourself with the basic understanding of the types of sparkling wines that you are likely to come across.
At the top of the hill is Champagne. The king of sparkling wines Champagne is both a style and a place at the same time. Situated in the north of France, two hours east of Paris, is the spiritual home of sparkling wine. Champagne is produced when a second fermentation of the base wine is allowed to occur in the bottle under pressure. This secondary fermentation creates the bubbles in the wine and gives the finished product a yeasty complexity that is highly regarded.
Three varieties go into making French Fizz: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier and whilst all three varieties can contribute, not all often do.
The main style you come across is a Non-Vintage blend of the three grape varieties which is labelled Brut. Brut is reference to the sweetness of the wine and means dry in French. Other styles of Champagne you will see are Blanc de Blanc made from only Chardonnay, and Blanc de Noir made from either red grapes (Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) without Chardonnay, and Brut which is generally all three.
Within that, you can have a “vintage” wine which is made only from grapes of one year or a “Cuvee” which can have wine from other years blended to create a consistent style.
There is also Rose that is pink or red in colour and these wines are made by either adding a small amount of red wine to the base wine prior to fermentation or the wine has seen time on the skins of the red grapes to add colour prior to or during fermentation. These wines can sometimes be sweeter.
To be called “Champagne” it must be from grapes grown and vinified from within the boundaries of the region. Everything else is called sparkling wine.
Other sparklers do exist and the two most famous are Prosecco from Italy and Cava from Spain.
Prosecco is made from Glera grapes that were once called Prosecco. These wines originated from the Prosecco village situated in the very North East of Italy but now can be made in 9 regions across the country. Characterised by peach and apple characters, Prosecco is less expensive than Champagne, and its popularity is on the rise.
Next comes Cava, Spain’s much loved sparkling wine. Made in the traditional Champagne method, Cava was originally produced only in the Penedes region of Spain but is now produced widely. It is made from 5 varieties but the main 3 are Macabeu, Parellada and Xarel·lo, and like Prosecco, is generally cheaper than Champagne.
Cava wine has a fresh, lifted complexity to it that is characterised by lemons, white flowers and a dry finish.
So what about matching with the vast choices that Asian food has to offer?
When it comes to light, young and fresh sparkling wines, you really need to first think about the high acidity as this will provide the backbone of the wine around which everything will flow. High acid wines will clash with foods with lots of spice as well as dishes that have a high amount of complexity, density or creaminess. In short, less is definitely more when it comes to young fresh sparkling wine.
Vintage sparkling wines and Rose wines have a little more breadth and depth to the palate and can handle foods with weight. Having said that, for general matching with sparkling wines, stick to delicate foods for the best results.
As for flavours that work, here are lists of flavour descriptors that will really work with sparkling wines:
Any cured meat or fermented vegetables will be great with sparkling wines; they really love salty, briny, developed characters, so anything in this area is a great place to start. Think Char Siu pork or kimchee.
Like cured meat, sparkling wines love smoky flavours – the yeasty citrus flavours really meld well. The more smoked a dish is, the more complex the wine should be. Think smoked duck, ribs and fish dishes, as well as dishes cooked closely over charcoal like Satay Chicken.
The bright acidity and bubbly texture of sparkling wine makes for a perfect complement for sour foods. The only consideration here is weight, meaning that if the protein of the dish is heavier than fish, chicken or game, you might want to start thinking about light reds. Think sweet and sour veg, and or Chinese-style sour dishes.
Fruit is another amazing sparkling partner and will generally work unless the fruit is cooked in some way. Sparkling wine’s affinity with fruit makes it a superb partner for a lot of Asian desserts. This is really exciting territory!
The yeasty complexity of umami based dishes is another go-to option for sparkling wines. When considering matching sparkling wines to umami-rich food, you need to think about how the weight for weight matching equation (see below) works. The richer the dish, the richer and more complex the wine needs to be.
You need to be careful here. Sparkling wine can clash heavily with really salty foods. A little is really good but any more than that can be horrible.
When it comes to considering what wine will work with your food, apply the general food matching advice provided at the end of the post.
Younger wines generally can have a higher level of acidity. This can sharpen the flavours and can affect the flavour of the food. Acidic flavours can clash with some flavours but acidity in wine is great for cutting through and balancing out fatty, creamy components of dishes.
If you have big flavours in your wine you will need big flavours in your food so that the wine does not dominate.
Think about the general fruit descriptors for the wine and then consider the flavours in the dish; look for components that might complement. For example, citrus based wines go great with savoury dishes and stone fruited wines love a little sourness.
The texture match of your food and white wine is really important. If you have crispy crunchy food, a soft textured wine will generally be a better fit. For soft, creamy and fatty textures you will need acidity to cut through and balance.
Spice needs texture to balance it out, so think of how intense the spice is in the dish and then think about texture of the wine. Sparkling wines do not like heat, so keep the heat to a minimum.
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