Sparkling wines perfect for celebrating Valentine's Day
Sparkling wine, what's not to love? It plays well with other beverages as the base for famous (and infamous cocktails), can turn any event (Tuesday laundry, for instance) into a special occasion and is the one boozy beverage that one may drink in style and without impunity morning, noon and night.
And love it we do, America recently achieving the status of the world's Number One bubbly consumer. I'm so proud.
But sparkling wine's unique qualities pose unique questions, which I'll try to answer, including:
Can I swirl it? Yes! Every wine wants to yawn and stretch after sleeping in the bottle. While sparklers ask for a lighter touch than table wine, a gentle swirl increases oxygen contact and seasons the glass with your bubbly's delicate but distinct aromas.
Can I mix it? Yes! Bubblies are the inspiration for such cocktails as the Bellini (created for Ernest Hemingway), Death in the Afternoon (created by Ernest Hemingway) and the Soixante Quinze.
The Chopping Block will feature the French 75 (Soixante Quinze) -- a cocktail said to have the kick of a French 75mm field gun! -- made with Citadelle Gin and Lanson Champagne during a Celebration of Champagne and Bubbles (see details below).
Can I pair it? Yes! With bubbles to give a lift to food flavors and bright acidity to cleanse the palate, sparkling wine pairs with the most unctuous, flavorful and decadent dishes.
A classic pairing is a Blini, the small buckwheat pancakes favored by Russian Tsars as vehicles for their luxuries of caviar, cured salmon and Champagne. During their Celebration. The Chopping Block will pair Smoked Salmon Blini, Caviar and Crème Fraiche with Gruet Rosé, with soft fruitiness to balance the salt and smoke of the seafood.
Can I pop it? It's up to you. Nothing signals celebration like a popping cork, if you don't mind losing a bunch of bubbles.
But unless you're looking for a lawsuit, don't shoot a bubbly cork from the bottle. Corks erupt from bottles at 60 miles per hour, a threat to breakables, including the human eyeball.
Can I flute it? If you'd like. Narrow flute-style glasses carry delicate aromas directly to your nose. Still, nowadays, more sommeliers are serving sparklers in white wineglasses, allowing flavors space to expand (with the added benefit of reducing the breakage cost of fragile flutes.)
Can I toast with it? Yes! Here are my favorites: "Champagne for my real friends, real pain for my sham friends." (Francis Bacon, Irish painter.)
"To Champagne -- a beverage that makes you see double and feel single." (Anonymous)
"Kiss French, drink American." (For the American bubbly lover.)
"Here's to Champagne, the drink divine, that helps us forget all our troubles. It's made of a dollar's worth of wine and three dollars worth of bubbles!" (Anonymous)
Which brings us to ... Can I afford it? Yes and no. True Champagne's exacting production techniques, limited geography and mankind's best marketing, keeps costs high. For more affordable, if less sophisticated, bubblies, look to other French regions (see Ross's Choice) and other countries, including Italy's fabulous fizz:
Prosecco, "Cuvee 1821," Zonin (Prosecco D.O.C., Italy): A joy to enjoy, with inviting white flower and white fruit aromas, creamy texture and crystal-clean flavors. A delicious complement to Potato Beignet with Chervil prepared by Chicago's Brindille restaurant. Widely available for under-$15. Also available in 187ml and 1.5ml bottles.
To savor and discuss Prosecco, Champagne, other international bubblies, including the French 75, all paired with luscious food complements, join The Chopping Block and Advanced Sommelier Mary Ross in a Celebration of Champagne and Bubbles. At the Merchandise Mart location: Thursday, February 13, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. At Lincoln Square: Sunday, February 16, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Seating limited, registration ($100 per person) required. Please view TCB's Class Calendar: https://www.thechoppingblock.com/classes or call: 773/ 472- 6700.
• Mary Ross is an Advanced Sommelier (Court of Master Sommeliers), a Certified Wine Educator (Society of Wine Educators) and recipient of the Wine Spectator's "Grand Award of Excellence." Write to her at food@daily herald.com.
Ross' choiceWine: Brut, Blanc de Blancs
Producer: Francois Montand
Vintage: NV, a multivintage blend
Availability: Widely, $14.99. Check with your retailer for pricing.
Distributed by: Winebow, Chicago
Tasting Notes: A sommelier might peg the creamy palate, fine bubbles and an aroma hinting at fresh baked bread as Real McCoy Champagne and, yes, it's the costly Methode Traditionelle production technique. But vineyards outside Champagne's prime real estate, and great-value grapes Colombard and Ugni Blanc added to Chardonnay, give this elegant sparkler an everyday price. Enjoy with a mixer or without, for breakfast, lunch, dinner and beyond.