“Sometimes wine pairing is like threading a needle from far away,” says chef Sang Yoon of Napa’s Two Birds One Stone. “It’s difficult when you’re trying to hit a very small spot.” But there is a category that runs the gamut from dry to sweet, barely effervescent to eruptive for days, red to white with rosé in between: “Sparkling wines. They’re more like a sawed-off shotgun—you can easily hit a big target,” says Yoon.
Culling chefs from around the country, I wanted to know, what are their go-to pairings in the summer with a bottle of bubbles? The potato cropped up a few times.
“If you go traditional French fry, you can’t go wrong,” said Evan Hartman of Pleasantry in Cincinnati, whose menu complements one of the largest natural-wine lists in the Midwest. Oyster aficionado Renee Erickson of Seattle’s The Walrus and the Carpenter ultimately went classic, with bivalves and bubbles, but she’s also a proponent of mindless salty snacks. For me, that’s a bag of Cape Cod Potato Chips; for her, a toss-up between Utz and Kettle.
So you see, sparklers don’t have to be highbrow or only uncorked for special occasions. But if you are celebrating, Sarah Grueneberg of Chicago’s Monteverde recommends Prosecco—and a slice of funfetti ice cream cake with toasted meringue. Here are eight other ideas for summer dining.
Berries & Crémant d’Alsace
“Crémant can go at the end of the meal with a dessert—an Alsatian fruit tart, that would be a go-to. We make the tarts with a lot of different fruits: apple, mirabelle or berries. The pie crust is cooked with the fruit and then, half-way through cooking, you add a mix of milk, cream and beaten egg, and cook it until the flan is set. Eat this at room temperature with a glass of Crémant d’Alsace and the pairing is beautiful. The Kuentz-Bas is well balanced and refreshing: light, nice and crisp, with a great acidity, and not too sweet. When you pair something sweet on top of something sweet, it’s overkill. Here, you have the richness in the flan of the pie and refreshment from the wine.”
Chef’s Pick: Kuentz-Bas NV Crémant d’Alsace
Asian Spice & California Sparkling
“I think what is unique to sparkling wine is the way it can handle spices. The Roederer has a little extra ripeness to it, making it a bit fattier and adding a little residual sugar. It tends to be on the briochey side, almost tasting like liquid bread, and softens up the heat [in spicy food], so the spicier the better. In Southeast Asia, there’s this holy trinity of lime, palm sugar and bird’s eye chile. Those three ingredients are the anchoring flavors in dishes; they harmonize. That combination goes on everything—seafood, shellfish—or mix in fish sauce and use it as a dressing on a salad of green papaya, poached prawns and fried shallots.”
Chef’s Pick: Roederer Estate NV Anderson Valley Brut
Tony Chittum, Iron Gate, DC
Country Terrine & Lambrusco
“I’m going to sound probably like everybody else but I like salumi, cured meats. At Iron Gate, we love Red Apron Butchery. The country terrine is packed with pork liver, fat and savory spices, and has a smooth, moist texture. I look for beverages that are refreshing and can cleanse the palate and I prefer to have it with wines that can be served cool, are low in alcohol and high in acid. Maybe even a wine that’s a little bit sweet, to work with the richness and savory elements, like the Nicchia.”
Chef’s Pick: Cantina Fratelli Carafoli NV Nicchia Rosato Lambrusco di Modena
Country Ham & Prosecco
“I drink a lot of Prosecco as my after-shift drink—the Bisol Jeio. I love it with cured meats. The funky, earthy flavors of country ham go really nicely with the slightly sweet, effervescent nature of the Prosecco. We use Broadbent’s from Kuttawa, Kentucky. Some country hams are a little more salty and funky, but the Broadbent falls in between the stronger hams and Prosciutto di Parma. The difference between a prosciutto and country ham is that the hams are lightly smoked, which pairs nicely with the fresh flavors of Prosecco. At the restaurant, we serve our country ham in a dish we call burrata e ham. We make tigelle, which are breads that have lard in them, and we sear them, then put the ham inside with burrata and different vegetables. Right now, it’s ramps and rhubarb.”
Chef’s Pick: Bisol NV Jeio Prosecco Brut
Evan Hartman, Pleasantry, Cincinnati
Soft-ripened Cheese & Pétillant Naturel
“Tavignano’s Il Pestifero has a little bit of a cider quality to the fruit, and super high acid. Honestly, the bottom of the bottle is always my favorite; it’s a little bit murkier and has a milky mouthfeel from all of the residual yeast that settles at the bottom. And with that lighter, fruitier style of pét-nat something creamy is nice. One of my favorite cheeses to pair with it is La Tur [from Piedmont]. It is sheep, goat and cow milk—really creamy, slightly funky, with a lot of depth to it.”
Chef’s Pick: Tenuta di Tavignano 2015 Il Pestifero Marche
Crushed Tomatoes & Rosé Cava
“In the summer, when we have ripe tomatoes, an easy dish to make is tomato bread—grilled bread, crushed tomatoes, garlic, sea salt and olive oil. It’s really simple but we absolutely love rosé Cava with it. The Mascaró rosé has a mousse that is really fine and elegant. It is a hundred percent garnacha and has a savory red-fruit character that complements the tomatoes, while the bubbles cut right through the richness of the bread and olive oil.”
Chef’s Pick: Mascaró NV Rubor Aurorae Cava Brut Rosé
Razor Clams & Txakoli
“Ameztoi is slightly spritzy and super fun. There is a misty quality and it’s almost a metaphor for the climate—the Basques have a word for it, txirimiri. The wine is like damp, cold air, coupled with that quench factor and bracing acidity; it hits the back of your cheeks and makes you smile. It’s happy wine. The salty mineral qualities of the wine make it great with seafood, especially clams, which tend to have more salinity than an oyster. Razor clams were just a revelation for me the first time that I tried them: They have a grainy texture and a lot of very sweet liquor when you cook them. That broth and a piece of crusty bread is almost better than the clam itself. Anything you do with razor clams you can do with Manila clams or cockles, and a super-simple preparation is the best way to maintain the integrity of the wine and the dish: garlic, olive oil, parsley, a splash of the txakoli, and I like a little bit of crushed red pepper.”
Chef’s Pick: Ameztoi 2016 Getariako Txakolina
Renee Erickson, The Walrus and the Carpenter, Seattle
Oysters & Crémant de Loire
“With a Crémant de Loire, I would always choose an oyster from the Northwest, in particular something salty and briny; that is what I want to eat. It’s hard to say how oysters are going to taste consistently because of the weather, time of year and what they are eating, but, in general, my favorites tend to be in the middle of the salinity world, and have a lot of seaweedy sweetness to them: Hama Hama, a beach-grown oyster from Hood Canal, and the Treasure Cove, from Case Inlet—both in Washington. In the summer, these oysters are going to be super fatty, with less salinity. I don’t think people tend to notice the fattiness of an oyster as a reason to have something sparkling, really clean and refreshing, like the Château Brézé, but it’s there: All of the fat is located in the belly, the plump part. It’s a different experience when you chew that and wash it down with a sip of the Brézé.”
Chef’s Pick: Château de Brézé NV Crémant de Loire Blanc
This article first appeared in W&S August 2017.