Platinum Pairings A-Z: Champagne For No Reason


We drink champagne in times of celebration –a big birthday, a promotion, to celebrate the purchase of a new home, or to bring good luck in the new year. I suggest you pop that cork for no reason! Celebrate the wine for what it is – consistency delicious!

You probably don’t put much thought to it, because you know you can turn to the champagne label of your choice and it never disappoints. Dom Perignon or Veuve Cliquot are always consistent and there’s never any second-guessing that your big celebration will be ruined by poor vintage selection. Year over year, you can just count on good champagne – almost as a commodity or a brand.

In fact, most champagne produced is “non-vintage”, a unique wine making tradition. Champagne consistently tastes the same year after year because it really is a blend of 30-60 wines from different vintages mixed to create a final product of bubbly the vintner feels represents the label. There may be small nuances in taste but in general you always know what you are getting.

Another interesting tidbit is that authentic champagne can only come from the wine making region called Champagne in France, where they exclusively use only Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunièr grapes. The flavors of real champagne are influenced by the chalky soil of the northern terroir of France.  The weather there is inconsistent -and so are the grapes from year to year – hence, the blending process mentioned above.

Champagne is produced in a somewhat complicated two fermentation wine making process, first aged in oak and then again in the bottle (which is when and where the bubbles are produced).  All other wines made in the champagne-style technically have to be referred to as “sparkling”. Prosecco from Italy, Cava from Spain and sparkling California wines are made in the 2 fermentation “method du Champagne” but may use other grape varieties…which definitely infuse flavors of the soil where the grapes are grown. So you may not find the same chalkiness as the French wine in your sparkling wine bottle.

Champagne goes perfectly with oysters (also something we seem to save for special occasions, I’m not sure why); it’s also wonderful with raw fish, so enjoy it with sashimi at your sushi bar. But why wait for a special day? Have champagne for no reason!

Special thanks to my friend Carl who let me use this photo. chamgpagne for no reason

His boat inspired this week’s blog.

Platinum Pairings A-Z: Barbera, Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello…


When I first learned about the yummy Italian wines starting with the letter B, I was hooked. Of course I love a smooth Chianti from Tuscany (stay tuned for a blog post just on Chianti and the Super Tuscans), but those B wines… they really make me happy.

The Barbera grape is known for bright flavors of blackberry or cherry, with a silky finish. Produced mainly to the north in Piedmont, where the days are cooler and the growing season is a little longer, I would call this the simplest of the “B’s”; try it with a rustic pizza or a simple bowl of pasta. Barbera usually has a lower price point, making it affordable to try, and often found as a table wine (Vino da Tavola). Or if you see Barbera di Asti, order it. California winemakers have started to use Barbera in their blends, but I suggest you stick with the Italian versions for now to get to know its flavors.

Moving to a Barolo we step up the game. Barolo is bolder, bigger, fuller-bodied, and goes well with all those marvelous northern Italian bolognese meat dishes or maybe a lasagna. Made from the Nebbiolo grape, also from Piedmont’s cooler, higher elevation, wines are rich in tannin and may take 6-10 years to be ready for consumption. But watch out, because these full bodied garnet or ruby colored wines are beautiful when they are ready to be opened!

Lovely Barbarescos are also made from Nebbiolo, and are lighter, less masculine, and not aged quite as long as it’s cousin Barolo. You could pair either wine with my favorite pasta dish, pappardelle with wild boar (Ragu Di Cinghiale). For a great recipe to try at home, check out this great blog:

For me, it’s the Brunello di Montalcino that’s the best “B” of all. Made from 100% Sangiovese grapes that grow basking in the dry, sunny slopes of Southern Tuscany, these hearty grapes provide the body, color and tannins that pair a Brunello well with food. Because Brunello di Montalcino is aged a little longer than other wines, often seraltesino brunelloved at 8-10 years, it has developed a character that goes well with a big fat steak. My first pairing memory of this grape was a Brunello served with a veal chop at Macello Restaurant in Chicago – delicious! After that experience, I was fortunate to pick up some bottles of Brunello at Altesino, a gorgeous winery high on the hills overlooking the Tuscan countryside. I opened my 2005 Altesino and served it with steaks cooked on the grill last New Year’s Eve. Yes, Brunello di Montalcino is indeed for special occasions!

So if starts with a “B” and the next time you are in the mood for Italian food, try one of these wines. I promise you will fall head over heels for some lovely Italian gems.