Wines of the Week

Exciting new food and wine pairings

    How About Some Champagne – and Pasta?

   Every year, as the holidays approach, I’m always asked what kind of wines to pair with festive dinners.  Thanksgiving is a special puzzle, because the traditional dishes are all over the place in terms of flavors, textures, and sweetness.  The green bean casserole has cream and mushrooms, the cranberry sauce is tart, the sweet potatoes are…well, you know.  So my answer is generally Champagne or other sparkling wines because they seem to go with just about every type of food and flavor.

Recently, I received a suggestion about pairing Champagne with…pasta.  While I have a bit of a fevered imagination, this is a combination I never would have thought of.  When we eat pasta, we’re generally reaching for a big Italian red.  But the best thing about the world of wine is that it’s full of discoveries.  This is one.

Rachael Lowe, the Beverage Director of the famous Spaggia restaurant in Chicago, is apparently a big proponent of the pasta-and-Champagne combination.  She says, “When pairing Champagne and pasta, the texture and flavor profile of the dish’s sauce is your indicator. It’s the sauce that you’re matching not the pasta shape, so consider that first when looking for the perfect pair.”

This makes sense, though the shape of the pasta is important to Italian chefs because different shapes hold the sauce in different ways.  Anyway, she points out that different ingredients pair with various Champagne styles, which makes perfect sense.

Suggestion Number One:  Cacio e Pepe, which is like a minimalist mac and cheese.  The dish consists of spaghetti adorned with butter and black pepper, then sprinkled liberally with Parmesan and Pecorino cheeses.  This is best paired with a minerally, fresh sparkler (see our suggestions below).

A favorite around our house is a seafood-based pasta, like Tortellini with clams.  Since there’s shellfish on the plate, and several different textures, a lighter wine with citrus notes will go very well together.

Then we get to the really hearty dishes, like pasta carbonara.  This type of preparation has bold spice notes and herbs like rosemary and parsley, plus salty Pecorino cheese and either bacon or pancetta, so we use the “opposites attract” approach to pairing.  Heavy food, light wine. 

Below are some suggestions presented in the order of the dishes above.  Next time you’re making pasta, maybe you’ll leave the Chianti on the shelf just once and discover a new approach to complement your food with wine. 

Champagne Henriot Blanc de Blancs ($59) – While many Champagnes (and sparkling wines made by the Champagne method) are a blend of several grapes, a “blanc de blanc” is made from only Chardonnay.  This example has a fresh minerality and notes of honey that will set off the cheese and saltiness of the Cacio y Pepe pasta preparation.  WW 92

Champagne Henriot Brut Souverain ($45) – As mentioned above, seafood works best with wines that have pronounced acidity and citrus notes.  The flavors of this Champagne include lemon zest and a pronounced core of acid that pair perfectly with the “vongole” (clams). WW 91

Champagne Henriot Brut Vintage 2006 ($99) – Most Champagnes are non-vintage, unless the estate manager declares a “vintage year,” when the growing conditions and harvest are especially noteworthy.  For a treat, this sparkler has a bright acidity that balances and moderates the spices in the richly-flavored Carbonara sauce.  WW 94

Laurent-Perrier Brut NV ($45) – This is a very traditional style, blending all three heritage grapes:  Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier.  Since it’s almost half Chardonnay, the citrus and flower notes are very pronounced, and very pure.  This would go well with any type of seafood pasta.  WW 90