It's not just for special occasions: Bubbly complements almost any kind of meal.
Champagne is "probably one of the most versatile wines for food, period," says Andrea Immer, a nationally known wine expert. And unless the meal includes steak or sweet desserts, it almost always will be compatible.
Champagne contains high levels of acidity and a small amount of sugar. The two extremes complement elements in almost any food, from a tame poached salmon to red-hot Thai food. And then there are the bubbles. "I call them scrubbing bubbles for your palate," says Immer, whose title of master sommelier places her among the world's most elite wine experts.
Her favorite foods to eat with champagne are popcorn and potato chips. She once served them at a champagne tasting for a business group, "and everyone was just freaked out."
Champagne gets a bad rap in the United States because people tend to save it for special occasions and then too often they drink it in vast quantities, leading to hangovers. Champagne is generally served at weddings with sweet wedding cake, one of the few incompatible foods.
The acidity of champagne can be off-putting when it's not paired with food. Nor is champagne widely advertised in the media or promoted in restaurants for its versatility with food. Most champagnes are a blend of chardonnay and pinot noir grapes, from across several vintages.
Like any wine, champagnes range from sweet to dry. Here are the labels to look for:
There are some special categories, which tend to be more expensive than the traditional champagne blend:
The following food pairings are recommended for traditional brut champagnes, unless otherwise noted.
Dessert that isn't very sweet, such as berries, shortbread, pound cake, angel food cake, or tart, lemony desserts, are appropriate for demi sec. Chocolate is OK with an extra-dry or demi sec, if it's dark or bittersweet and not gooey. An Italian asti is better for desserts, because it's sweeter than French champagne.