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On the Bubble

Champagnes and sparkling wines have advantages over still wines in pairing with cheeses – their effervescence. The juice of hundreds of different varietals can go into crafting sparkling wines but true Champagnes are limited to three: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Each of these is planted in roughly the same amounts in the Champagne region. For sparkling wines produced outside that area just about every other grape known to man has had a go at sparkling wine production. I enjoy a good Cava every now and then, a chilled glass of Prosecco can be spectacular, but the sparkling wines that are made with Chardonnay and/or Pinot Noir (maybe with a little Pinot Meunier mixed in) are my favorites. There are some spectacular sparkling wines made with these varietals that rival some of the better known Champagnes, and they are usually available at a much lower price.

Champagnes (and their facsimiles) are noted by their acidity, which helps carry the sweetness across the palate. The effervescence, the acidity and the fruity qualities of these wines makes them especially refreshing. If it were left up to those qualities alone, the ideal cheese partners would be easier to predict – cheeses that had a balancing level of salt, a harmonious level of acidity, and textures that can meld with these sparklers. As with any wine, the aromatics ultimately come into play. For example, the Chardonnay-dominant Champagnes fare better with cheeses that pair best with still wines made from that varietal. This may sound like a given yet there are some people that will forego a glass of Chardonnay but will gladly accept a Blanc de Blanc made solely from this grape. The other major player in Champagne is Pinot Noir – a varietal everyone seems to enjoy. The Champagnes and sparkling wines made primarily with this varietal will be a little different than those made primarily or solely with Chardonnay. The most recognizable difference is in the aroma.

The Champagnes and sparkling wines that are 100% Chardonnay favor cheeses such as the especially pungent Beermat (a.k.a. Aarauer Bierdeckel) and Försterkäse (a.k.a. Bergfichte), the more modest Langres (from Champagne country itself) and Pont l’Evêque. The ones that are mostly Pinot Noir pair better with some related but more aged cheeses such as Beaufort, Gruyère, Hoch Ybrig, Val Bagner and Sbrinz. The bubblies that are blended with both varietals successfully pair with more cheese types, most of the above as well as Tomme de Savoie, Vacherin Fribourgeois, Terraluna and Brazos Cheddar. The less-Brut styles, the ones with a little extra residual sugar, will pair very well with the broadest range of cheese types.

You might try pouring a little Blanc de Blanc into the crater on top of a Langres and allow the Champagne to seep into the interior of the cheese. This is more than mere theatrics; it softens the texture of the paste making the cheese that much more delectable. Keep in mind that it is the Chardonnay-dominant Champagnes that work best with Langres .

Max McCalman

Spread the curd!
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Posted by Artisanal Cheese

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