Popping the Champagne Food Bubble

Something to celebrate: Champagne takes the pressure off food-pairing.

During a recent candlelit dinner with my hubby, I paired our favorite Chardonnay with honey-glazed salmon and orzo marinated in tomatoes and basil. The sweetness in the honey and the acidity in the tomatoes would be tempered by the wine’s oak—or so I thought.  

We took our first bite in unison. 

“To us,” he said. We clinked glasses, took a sip and looked deeply into each other’s eyes…with disgust. 

“This is terrible,” I said, before corking the bottle and fetching a couple of beers. 

There’s no denying it: I can’t pair wine with food and I absolutely loathe the pressure.

Sure, I love hosting dinner parties, but after I clean house, mix a playlist and create the perfect menu, I start to get tense. It’s not anxiety from coordinating the timing of courses, or the fear of being stood up. It’s selecting the damn wine.

That is, until I attended a friend’s Champagne pairing party, and found myself staring down a lemon slice. 

“Go ahead, bite into it,” my pal said.

My mouth puckered even before lemon reached my lips. But when I chased the sour flavor with a sip of sparkling, my palate was cleansed and refreshed.

After the acid from the lemon, the hostess had us pair Champagne with green olives (salt), potato chips (fat and salt), a chunk of Parmesan (fat, salt and umami), two pear slices (sweet) and cubes of jerk chicken (spicy). 

One by one we tasted the foods before the wine. And each time I was pleasantly astonished.

Like most Americans, I viewed sparkling wine as a celebratory drink, something to be reserved for holidays and special occasions. I hadn’t thought to mix the celebratory fizz with food because it’s usually fruit-forward, low in tannins and often even lower in oak—three reasons, I discovered, why bubbly can work with dozens of dishes.

While I still drink vin non gaz with food, when I’m hosting a dinner party I uncork all the pairing pressure by offering everyone bubbly. 

Done and done.

Now that’s something to celebrate! 

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