Rathfinny Wine Estate

Sparkling Wine – Aperitif or Food Matcher?

Wine and food-matching is like sex and pizza, even when its bad, it’s still pretty good. Wish I could claim that quote, but unfortunately wine expert Mike Oldman beat me to the punch.

What I will say is that wine and food pairing is an art-form, books have been and are continued to be written about it. It’s a riddle, with basis in science yet subjective, with no right and wrong answers but a rule book longer than your arm. There is so much to learn yet it relies on our natural instinct. A complete contradiction, in other words!

We are lucky to have the ‘perfect storm’ here at Rathfinny, with top quality, super-ripe fruit that has had maximum hang-time due to our later harvesting, from which our Winemaker Jonathan has produced sparkling wines of mind-blowing purity, balance and elegance. Sparkling or not, like any top wine from around the world then, surely it would be enhanced by matching to foods that bring out its natural attributes?

With that in mind, I recently put together a list of foodstuffs that match well to sparkling wine, not the worst job I’ve ever had to do. It was for our new bespoke menu at the winery we now use for sommelier visits, matching our sparkling wines to each course. Bizarrely though, it’s the first time I’ve really thought seriously about fizz as a partner to food, rather than a stand-alone drink.

Ask the average person on the street, and I’ll bet they see Sparkling wine and Champagne as a libation to have at a celebration or before they embark on supper. Wine is the drink they’ll be having with their food, naturally. In my experience, most Sommeliers see it in a similar way, although there are some pioneers who are starting to see sparkling wine’s key role in food-matching.

Given that sparkling wine can be made from both red and white grapes, this should already give an indication as to the massive breadth of styles it has up its sleeve. With so many flavour options then, from bone dry through to super sweet, fresh to rich, shouldn’t it have all the tools to pair with food in all its forms? It’s no surprise that the answer is yes.

So, what are some of the flavour combo’s that I liked the sound of in my research? Blanc de Blancs paired with lobster mac and cheese, the creamy Chardonnay meshing with the sweetness of the seafood and the vibrant acidity cutting through the richness of the cheese. We opted for a cheese soufflé on our menu, for that same reason.

Blanc de Noirs and a lamb Sunday roast, the red-fruit notes of the Pinot Noir embracing the melt-in-mouth lamb flavours and slicing through the fat. We went for the more delicate option of Turbot, giving the fruit flavours in the wine a chance to be celebrated fully. For the final act, sparkling Rosé and Eton Mess sounded like fruit central and equal parts creamy heaven. We plumped for the fruity dessert idea and opted for a pear panna cotta, a strong but less showy partner.

As you can probably tell, it was a tough gig, but sacrifices have to be made in the name of research. All this, and not a pizza in site…

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    • Completely agree – BdN goes well with a host of food, including Lamb and Chicken, and it copes well with spice as well as deserts! It’s an around fantastic wine.

  • Great piece of writing, but my only comment, or perhaps it is a ‘non-comment’ and this from a vigneron is for sparkling wine one tends to look for fruit, (grapes), that are not over ripe in order to get the right balance. The English climate may offer different conditions.
    Marc from Burgundy.

    • Hi Marc,

      Slow response, but great point. We look for phenolic ripeness. Unripe grapes are all green and often have very raised acidity. We pick our grapes at the end of October when the grapes have had a good hang-time. The sugar levels and acidity is therefore quite balanced. Around about 20 Brix, so about 11% potential alcohol and Total Acidity of about 12g/l so pH of 3.05. That gives us a great balance to make sparkling wines. But the real thing is the flavours. With the hang time comes great ‘phenolic ripeness’ so great flavours. We know they’re ripe because the birds and badgers are at them!

  • “flavour combo’s”

    Grocer’s apostrophe “S” ( “Jersey potatoe’s” ) has crept into your
    rather self-consciously trendy writing style
    Trea the english language as you do your english wine!

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