Northwest Wine

Sparkling wine works with most cuisines

Perhaps the most versatile of food-pairing wines is bubbly. This is especially true during the holidays, when we are thinking about how to celebrate life and the year that just passed.

Thanks to its brightness because of the bubbles and acidity, sparkling wine can really work with most types of cuisine.

"The nice thing about sparkling wine is you almost can't go wrong," said Juergen Grieb, owner and winemaker at Treveri Cellars, a young Yakima Valley winery that focuses exclusively on sparkling wine. "It's easy to pair with because you don't have high tannins. It goes with almost everything."

Indeed, Treveri makes no fewer than eight different sparkling wines, so the holidays are an especially important time for the winery.

The same goes for Domaine Chandon in the Napa Valley town of Yountville, Calif. Tom Tiburzi just completed his 24th harvest with the sparkling wine house.

Chandon, which began in 1973, is owned by Mot & Chandon of Champagne, France, which produces the world's most famous sparkling wine -- Dom Prignon. The company also owns Veuve Clicquot in Champagne, as well as sparkling wine houses in Spain, Argentina, Brazil, Australia, India and China.

"The world's desire for sparkling wine is growing," said Tiburzi, who grew up in Southern California.

Tiburzi and his team produce an astonishing 14 different sparkling wines at Domaine Chandon.

The wide range of sparkling wines for Grieb and Tiburzi -- from dramatically dry to off-dry -- provide them with plenty of food-pairing opportunities.

Grieb especially likes pairing his Brut and Pinot Gris sparkling wines with seafood, including scallops, crab and shrimp dishes. His Mueller-Thurgau and Riesling sparkling wines work well with cheeses, crackers and appetizers. And his ros goes especially well with turkey or chicken.

Tiburzi concurs. His Brut, the driest sparkling wine he makes, pairs well with oysters and crab, and he loves eating lobster with his ros, especially with a rich cream sauce.

Both winemakers think spicier foods also pair well with sparkling wines. Grieb said his sparkling Gewrztraminer, which is off-dry, works nicely with Indian curries. Tiburzi turns to his Extra-Dry Riche, a bubbly with a kiss of sweetness, for spicier Asian dishes.

Both men make rare sparkling red wines, with Grieb using Syrah. He loves the versatility of this wine because it can pair with everything from chocolate to lamb or beef. He also enjoys it with pasta dishes.

For a heavier dish such as a rabbit stew with a rich gravy sauce, Tiburzi turns to an aged sparkling wine, such as his Carneros Vintage Brut from the 2007 vintage. The wine's creamier texture helps pair it with rich foods, he said.

Pairing cheeses with wine can be a bit tricky, Tiburzi said. Chefs often will help by putting sweeter elements such as jams and chutneys on a cheese board to help pair with dry sparkling wines.

Pairing tomato dishes also can be difficult, he said. But growing up in an Italian family, he has spent years perfecting that pairing, and he really loves matching lasagna with his sparkling Pinot Noir ros.

Tiburzi is fortunate to have Etoile, Chandon's restaurant, on site. And one of his true joys is working with the chefs.

"It's the best part of my job," he said. "I come up with ideas, and they do all the work. It's not often that you get a pairing that turns out horribly. But we do enjoy taking things to a higher level by making magical pairings."

Though he occasionally likes to break out a tin of caviar, Tiburzi said he prefers to keep things simple on New Year's Eve with his wife, a former chef at Etoile.

"Our tradition at home is Brut with crab. We spread out newspapers, bring out crab, butter and lemon, then roll up our sleeves and go at it."

Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company.