Monday, January 19, 2009

Gettin' Fizzy with It

Eisenhower said that, "Some people want Champagne and caviar when they should have beer and hot dogs." Point taken, especially in light of recent subprime events. The problem is, I won't go anywhere near beer and hot dogs. Maybe a Chimay on the rare occasion, but a hot dog? Not with my last buck-fifty.

Among the whole globe of varietals to discover, there are plenty of alternatives to Champagne that can delight for much, much less. In Chicago, you do all you can to get through the snowbound doldrums of a long winter, making a stash of affordable sparkling wine justifiable at least from Thanksgiving through Valentine's Day. Here's what we stock in our wine 'fridge:

Cava - Spain's answer to Champagne seems to have fully hit the mainstream. I took a few bottles to a holiday office party last month and it was inhaled without pause. It's the closest in flavor profile to the big "C," with doughy, yeasty notes accompanied by lots of peach and melon.

Prosecco - Italy's lesser-known sparkler in the US is definitely catching on. Most upper end restaurants I've been to are offering one or two on their sparkling wine-by-the-glass menus, especially in the summer when its dry, minerality, balanced with great fruit, is so refreshing.

Sparkling Rose - it's pink, it's bubbly...what's not to love? I've had great sparkling rose blends from several places, most notably Australia and Spain. In most cases, they've been surprisingly dry and just as versatile as Champagne, Cava, and Prosecco.

Sparkling Moscato - aka Asti Moscato...A fruity, floral dessert wine that's the equivalent of a Dior party dress. Light, frothy, totally delicious. We served one at our wedding three years ago and people still ask about it. I brought a few bottles to the same office party, and the label was thoroughly investigated by many both before and after it was drained to the last drop.

Sparkling Shiraz - Those Aussies. You can always count on them for two things: 1) "Pants-off fun," as they call it, and 2) a serious commitment to delivering the perfect fruit bomb. Is it weird to drink dark, fizzy wine? Yes. I was entirely skeptical...until someone said the magic words: "It's designed for chocolate." Then I tried and loved its weighty, smooth richness, capped with froth. Grab some truffles and party down.

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