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Champagne -
Recipes that Make a Celebration into a Feast!

by Michael Sherwood

Recipes for foods
that go with Champagne.

Sadly enough, sparkling wine is often relegated to a breakfast brunch, a birthday, New Year's Eve, a wedding or Mother's Day mimosas. These occasions take advantage of the festive nature of the beverage but the perception as a party drink has inadvertently obscured the absolute versatility of sparkling wine as a great food wine. Wisely, most wine savvy restaurants offer a sparkling wine or even a sparkling rosé on their 'by the glass' pours.

Throw convention out the window this year. Make today the celebration and open a bottle of sparkling instead of that Pinot Gris. Mother's Day - a great sparkling wine occasion is coming up in May. June weddings are not far behind, so it's never too early to find the right sparkler for those occasions much less your next dinner party. How sparkling wine matches with a dinner out or around your dinner table is the real test of this beverage as a great food wine. Here we look at a number of Pacific Northwest sparkling wines and how they pair with a variety of foods.


Grape Expectations

My wife Linda and I, with a group of friends, coalesced into a wine tasting group some 12 years ago. Along the way, the more organized among us attempted to name the group and actually try to do business when we got together. That failed. After several loopy names were floated, the suggestion of "sang de culte de vin du Christ" put an end to that nonsense. We're merely 6 couples who get together to share wine, food, music, bawdy humor and a touch of politics.

We try to meet frequently to catch up on each other's lives and try a new flight of wines from around the world. Alsatian Gewürztraminer and Rieslings; New World Syrah vs. Old World Syrah; Dueling dry rosé. A tour of Austria or a flight of Oregon Zinfandels mix seamlessly with the dramas of marriage, death, work, travel and raising children. This time, we went with local sparkling wines and everybody brought foods that might match. Below is a list of the wines we tried, the foods we ate and ones we wish we had.


Recipes Guaranteed to Be a Hit with Sparkling Wine:

Over the years we have tried dozens of recipes with sparkling wines. These are a few of our favorites that are guaranteed to go with your favorite bubbly.

Baked Crab, Brie and Artichoke Dip

This dip has everything going for it in terms of being a great match with sparkling wine. The crisp acidity cuts through the creaminess of the Brie, the mouth coating quality of the artichoke and the salty nature of the seafood.

1 medium shallot
1 medium Walla Walla sweet onion
1/2 cup drained canned artichoke hearts
1/2 cup chopped spinach. (Fresh and blanched works best. Frozen does the job in a pinch)
1 lb. Brie
2 Tbs. minced garlic
2 Tbs. olive oil
1/4 cup Riesling or other off dry white wine
2/3 cup heavy cream
3 Tbs. finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
2 Tbs. finely chopped fresh dill leaves
1 Tbs. finely chopped tarragon leaves
1 Lb of shelled fresh crab meat
2 Tbs. Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon of Tabasco or less

Preheat oven to 425° F. and lightly oil and 11-inch gratin or other shallow baking dish.

Finely chop the shallots and onions.
Rinse and finely chop the artichoke hearts.
Squeeze dry and finely chop the spinach.
Discard rind from Brie and cut in to 1/4-inch pieces.

In a heavy skillet, cook the shallots, onion and garlic in oil over moderate heat, stirring until pale golden. Stir in artichoke and spinach next.

Add wine and cook for 3 minutes, slowly stirring all the while.
Add the cream and simmer. Keep stirring.
Add Brie and stir until it just begins to melt.
Remove from heat and stir herbs into the mixture.

Check the crab meat for broken shell fragments. Stir crab, mustard, Tabasco, and salt and pepper to taste. Then stir into the cheese mixture.

Spread evenly in your baking dish and bake in the middle of oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown on top. Serve with toast or crackers and your favorite sparkling wine.


Gougere [Goo-share] Cheese Puffs

These very French cheese puffs made with Gruyere cheese and simply melt in your mouth. We serve them hot, right out of the oven. You can also make this with blue cheese for an added kick. Both cheese work splendidly with sparkling wines.

Here's what you need for the puffs:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. thyme
Pinch cayenne pepper
1 cup whole milk
4 oz. unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" cubes
5 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
6 oz. Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1/2 cup of grated Gruyere cheese

Here's what you do:
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. In a medium bowl, combine the flour with the salt, black pepper, thyme, and cayenne. Set aside.

In a large saucepan, combine the milk and the butter. Bring to a boil over high heat. Remove the pan from the heat when the butter melts and add the seasoned flour all at once. With a wooden spoon, stir vigorously just until the dough masses into a ball and does not cling to the sides of the pan.

Transfer the dough to a large mixer bowl. On medium speed, beat in the eggs, one at a time. Stir after each addition until the egg is completely absorbed. Continue this process until 4 of the eggs have been used. The dough should be smooth and satiny. Add the Parmesan and Gruyere cheeses to the dough and beat in thoroughly.

Spoon 2 teaspoons of dough about 1" in diameter onto buttered baking sheets, setting the gougeres about 1-1/2" apart. Beat the remaining egg and, with a pastry brush, lightly brush the tops to glaze.

Bake for 10 minutes, rotating the baking sheets halfway through, until the Gougeres reach a rich golden brown. Let cool slightly. Serve immediately.


Smoked Salmon in Black Olive Pastry

This puff pastry was a favorite at Argyle for years. The olive purée makes a cup though you only need a tablespoon for the recipe, so freeze the rest or use it as a tapenade with crostini.

Olive Purée

1/2 cup small black olives
1/2 cup garlic
1 tsp. lemon juice
1/8 cup olive oil
salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

Process these ingredients in your food processor or blender until smooth.

Black Olive Pastry

1 cup water
4 Tbs. butter
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 eggs
1 Tbs. black olive puree
2 Tbs. parmesan cheese

Put water and butter in pan and heat to boiling.
Using wooden spoon stir in flour, salt & pepper.
Cook over low heat 2 mins., cool slightly and put in to bowl of food processor.
Add eggs one at a time while pulsing.
Add olive puree and parmesan and continue pulsing until pastry is shiny and smooth.
Drop by heaping teaspoons on baking sheet.
Bake 425 degrees for 15 minutes. Let cool.

Smoked Salmon Filling

3/4 cup chopped smoked salmon
6 Tbs. mascarpone cheese or cream cheese
1/2 Tbs. fresh dill ( less if dried)

Process in food processor for 10 seconds or so, scrape sides and pulse again until blended.

Either top each pastry with a dollop of filling and sprinkle with fresh dill or cut each pastry open like a clam shell and fill the center with smoked salmon filling. Sprinkle with dill. Serve at room temperature.


Cumin Scented Kofte Brochettes with Minted Yogurt Dip

The richness of the lamb combines with the creamy sharpness of the yogurt makes this a surprisingly good match for our local sparkling wine selections.

Makes 20+ brochettes

3/4 lb. lean minced lamb
1 medium onion, grated
2 galric cloves, chopped
2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
grated peel of 1 lemon
2 Tbs. finely chopped cilantro
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

For Dip

3/4 cup while-milk yogurt
1/2 cup (or less) finely chopped mint
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
juice of 1/2 lemon

Equipment

20 + 6 inch wooden skewers presoaked in cold water

Place lamb, onion, garlic, cumin, ground coriander, lemon, fresh cilantro, salt, and cayenne pepper in a food processor. Pulse until combined and slightly pasty.

Divide into 20 equal-sized pieces. With wet hands, roll into oval shapes and thread one oval onto each presoaked skewer and give it a light squeeze to adhere lamb mixture to the skewer.

Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes to firm up the mixture.

You can cook these in any number of ways. Broil them in your oven. Cook them on the barbecue grill outside or on a flat cast-iron griddle of some sort. Cook them until browned but still pink and juicy inside – about 3 minutes per side. Serve hot with chilled minted dip.

For the dip, combine yogurt, mint, parsley and lemon. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes to allow the flavors to blend.

Note: The dip can be made up to a day in advance. Cover and refrigerate. You can prepare the skewers up to 12 hours in advance. Store in airtight container in the refrigerator.


Tips:

Salty foods match well. The briny nature of oysters makes for a classic match. For everyday occasions, try potato latkes and sour cream or any number of salty tidbits. Acidity cuts saltiness and work better with salty foods than soft whites or most reds. Salty hard cheeses are excellent with sparklers.

Creamy foods hold up well with sparkling wines. Where you might be tempted to pair a Dijon clone Oregon Chardonnay with say, a fondue - a sparkler might do the job better. Egg based dishes such as soufflé or quiche can coat the tongue. Sparking wine cleanse the palate of egg which is why it works so well as a breakfast drink.

Sparkling wines match well with fatty foods. You now have permission to indulge in tempura of all types; onion rings, savory fritters, hush puppies and even fried chicken. It is the racy acid and the bubbles of sparkling that make this combination work so well.

It is no wonder that sparkling wines are considered the most versatile of wines to match with food. Its lighter weight, refreshing acidity and those tiny palate scrubbing bubbles makes this an ideal food wine.

How the food pairings worked

All these sparklers were quite good with food. Northwest sparkling wines are typically crisp and zingy with touches of apples, pears and bready yeast.

We all brought a small plate entrée or appetizer we thought would go well with sparkling wine. Creamy shrimp pasta, sushi, feta cheese spinach quiche, sesame chicken, olives stuffed with blue cheese, smoked oysters and a cream cheese salmon spread. It was a bit of a sensory traffic jam though - half a dozen dishes with six wines. Here's what we found:

Sushi, soy sauce and sparkling wine were great matches. The spare richness of sashimi grade fish on sticky rice was a good match. Wasabi on the other hand, clashed with the sparkling wine. The bubbles and high acidity seemed to only sharpen the razor's edge of the wasabi - more Yin than yang.

The spinach and feta quiche was likewise a great match. The crispness of the sparkling wine cleans the palate of the egg and cheese. A Quiche Lorraine would also be a good combination. The added bacon would lend a smoky flavor, fat and salt that goes so well with sparkling wines.

Linda and I stopped on the way to the party and bought two servings of deep fried sesame chicken from a local Chinese restaurant. Sparkling wine and fried food is another great match due to the ability for sparklers to cut through the fat of a meal. We ditched the sweet & sour sauce, as sweets and sparkling are not good partners, but kept the tangy tomato and vinegar based sauce. The group pounded down the heaping plate of sesame chicken in no time flat. It was hard to even take notes it went so quickly. Shrimp or vegetable tempura, bacon scallion hush puppies or savory risotto fritters would all have gone well with these wines.

Creamy pasta with shrimp was a nice choice for a dinner entrée. Everything works - the cream - the seafood - the pasta. All the sparkling wines we tried tasted better with this dish.

The olives stuffed with blue cheese were wonderful, though they were barely noticed. The tin of smoked oysters likewise disappeared into the mélange of food that night. The smoked salmon and cream cheese didn't fair as well as I thought it would, but maybe our palates were getting tired. The seedless grapes thrown in as finger food generally did not work. The inherent sweetness of the fresh fruit clashed with the acidity of the wine and made the sparkling seem sour instead of delightfully crisp.

The missing element in this night's tasting was a cheese course. Hard salty cheeses such as Spanish Manchego or the Italian classic Parmesan Reggiano compliment the sharpness of the sparkling wine like few others. Soft cheeses such as Camembert or baked Brie pair well due to their creaminess. If you are going to serve a sparkling wine for any occasion, don't pass up the of the best and easiest food available - cheese.



How the wine pairings worked

No real surprise that the Argyle Extended Tirage was the house favorite with its tantalizing toasted nut and baked apple flavors. The 10 years on the 'lees' add an extra element of flavor that is killer either on its own or with a meal. Every sparkling wine we tried worked with something though. Not to worry.

The Domaine Meriwether Prestige Cuvee Brut was a bit more acidic than some others and worked better with something creamy like the shrimp pasta. The Van Duzer non vintage held up well against the big guns of vintage Brut though it worked better with food than on its own.

The Meriwether Blanc de Blanc was used exclusively for champagne cocktails on another evening but the hints of apricots and quince made this another great food wine well worth seeking out.

As nice as each of these wines were on their own these Pacific Northwest sparklers were quite uniform in how well they paired with food. You are not going to go wrong with any of these wines.

Except the outstanding Argyle Extended Tirage Brut, these sparkling wines were all in the $20+ dollar range. I hear people complain about a $25 -$30 bottle of exceptional sparkling wine yet hardly blink an eye at a $45 Syrah.

In reality, a $20 bottle of Oregon sparkling wine is a bargain in the age old value to quality equation.




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