Why you can't go wrong with bubbly

Here's a well-kept secret that shouldn't be: There's asensational wine that goes with a huge range of foods, can be foundjust about everywhere, and isn't even expensive. The wine?Sparkling.

It's a fact ― bubbly pairs with a broader range of foodsthan most of us realize. It's one of the best all-around choicesfor cheeses, southeast Asian dishes, Italian pastas, spicy Latinfood, seafood, and even meats like chicken, veal, and pork.

Why don't more of us know this? Maybe it has to do with our(unfortunate) proclivity to drink bubbly only on special occasions.Or maybe it's because many of us (wrongly) assume that sparklingshould be served only as an aperitif. But after years of studyingthe compatibility of sparkling wine with a vast array of foods, I'mconvinced ― bubbles are a food lover's best friend.

The reasons? First, sparkling wines are naturally crisp, andthat acidity cleanses the palate. A sip of the wine makes you readyfor the next bite of food, and that bite makes you want another sipof the wine ... it's the perfect seesaw. Sparkling wine'srefreshing bolt of acidity is especially effective incounterbalancing the dense creaminess of dairy foods (like cheeses)or foods prepared with oil, olive oil, or cream (such as manyAsian, Italian, and French dishes). It's also a great counterpointto salty and smoky foods (like, say, smoked salmon).

Second, sparkling wine has a vibrant texture. Ever wonder whybeer tastes so good with everything from barbecued ribs tostir-fried prawns? All those cold bubbles set up an enticingcontrast to the food. Try either of those dishes with sparklingwine, which is even more effervescent, and I think you'll beamazed.

Third, sparkling wine is clean and pure. It's not made with oak,so there's no sweet, toasty flavor of wood to get in the way of amatch with the likes of cold Dungeness crab or even a quesadillawith guacamole.

Food friendliness aside, some people assume that sparklers arejust too pricey. They probably haven't been to a wine store lately.You can get a terrific West Coast bubbly for the price of amodest-quality Chardonnay. And best of all, bubbles go on sale thistime of year. While you're at the shop, buy a sparkling-winestopper so you can recork the bottle and enjoy the wine again andagain over the next week or so.

BEST BUBBLES IN THE WEST

Domaine Carneros Brut 2000 (Carneros, CA), $24. Light,brisk, and frothy. Great with goat cheese and seafood.

Gloria Ferrer Brut 1992 (Carneros), $32. Medium-bodied,fresh, and lively ― a terrific all-around sparkler. Try itwith roast chicken, grilled salmon, and creamy cheeses.

Gruet Brut nonvintage (New Mexico), $14. If you spot thissurprisingly delicious sparkler from ― of all places ―New Mexico, snatch it up and try it with spicy dishes.

Roederer Estate Brut nonvintage (Anderson Valley, CA), $20.Rich and creamy, with lime, custard, and almond notes. Wonderfulwith duck, pork, or other substantial fare, including richercheeses.

Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs 1999 (Napa Valley), $30. Citrusybut rich at the same time. Delicious with scallops, crab, and manyAsian dishes.

Sunset's Wine Club

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