Sparkling wine (it can only be called champagne if it’s made in the Champagne region of France) not only goes with most food and especially chocolate, but also is ideal for romance. This is why I think it’s a year-round wine, and not just something to drag out for special occasions.
What do you need to know about bubbly?
• The technical stuff on the label. The two most common styles are brut, (which is dry) and extra dry (which is more sweet than brut). You’ll also see methode champenoise and charmat, which describe how the wine was made. The former is the traditional French method, while the latter produces a sweeter, less bubbly wine.
• The best values are from Spain (called cava), where there are literally dozens of quality wines for $10 or less. Italy’s prosecco and spumante, made using the charmat method, also offer value.
• Most real champagne costs $30 and up (though you’ll find French sparkling wine not made in Champagne for $20 and less). You can taste the difference between champagne and sparkling wine, but it’s up to you to decide if the difference is worth it.
• Don’t overlook rosé sparkling wines. These aren’t sweet and are usually fruitier than traditional sparkling wine.
• What should you buy? Gruet’s rose, from New Mexico ($13), is well-made and dependable. J Vineyards & Winery Cuvée 20 ($32), from California, though pricier, has crisp green apple fruit and is fresh and bubbly. Spain’s Segura Viudas Reserva Heredad ($22), with the pewter fittings on the bottle, is a step up from $10 cava.
Ask the Wine Guy
Q. Why is champagne so expensive?
A. Because that kind of sparkling wine can only come from the Champagne region of France, which limits the supply and raises the price. Second, the leading champagne producers have done a fine job of marketing their product, which has also increased demand. Third, champagne is generally considered the best sparkling wine in the world and worth the premium.
Once you do this, you’ll never look at a box of pudding again. Other than separating an egg, it’s stunningly easy. Serve with a sparkling wine and you’re in dessert bliss.
Serves 4, takes 15- 30 minutes (adapted from Jacques Pepin’s “Cooking with Claudine”)
1 1/2 cups milk
1 Tbsp instant coffee
1 whole egg, plus 1 egg yolk
3 Tbsp sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, broken into pieces
1. Bring the milk and instant coffee to a boil in a saucepan. Meanwhile, mix the eggs and sugar in a bowl, and then mix in the flour. The mixture should be smooth.
2. Whisk about 1 cup of the hot coffee mixture into the egg mixture in the bowl and combine well. Then, pour this mixture back into the saucepan and bring everything to a boil. Stir constantly with the whisk.
3. After it boils, the mixture will thicken. Take it off the stove and pour back into the bowl. Add the chocolate pieces and stir gently every couple of minutes until the chocolate has melted. Then, either serve warm, or refrigerate and serve later.
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