The Champagne High-Low Project

Sparkling wine has an image problem.  Somewhere along the way it was relegated to wedding toasts and mimosas... and the backseats of chauffeured Rolls Royces. A lot of people think it's expensive, only for the rich, and only for special occasions.

In the 1990s table wine had the same reputation, with people reluctant to open a bottle on a random Wednesday night; a marketing effort on behalf of wine producers slowly rolled back wine's snooty image.  Releve Champagne Lounge in Minneapolis is trying to do the same for sparkling wine by pairing sparkling wine with really accessible comfort- and fast-foods.

"Actually one of my favorite pairings is Champagne and fried chicken. It's kind of an everyday thing," says Dan Springrose, an expert on sparkling wine, and Restaurant Assistant Manager at Cosmos in the Loews Hotel Minneapolis.  "Blanc de Blancs Champagne, in particular, I really like with fried chicken.  The bright acidity from the Chardonnay with the richness and the saltiness of the fried chicken -- it's a match made in heaven."  If you're looking for a low-cost option, Dan says to try Francois Chidaine Montlouis Brut, at about $20 a bottle. If you have cash to spare, pick up a $200 bottle of Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs (2002).

Below are a few additional food-and-sparkling-wine pairings that Dan recommended to me, including suggestions for budget bottles and break-the-bank bottles of wine.  Cent'anni!

Scrambled Eggs: "OK, so I’m not recommending a glass of wine with breakfast before work, but maybe when you’re on vacation or serving eggs for dinner. I love eggs with sparkling wine. The custardy texture of eggs and egg dishes can be problematic with wine, but the bubbles in sparkling wine really break that up and the wine shines. Almost any sparkling wine works here, but I would shy away from anything too sweet."  Try Segura Viudas Brut Cava for $12 a bottle, or Ruinart Brut Rose at $100 a bottle.

Chinese Take Out: Sparkling wine is an excellent complement to Chinese cuisine and a break from the more traditional lager beer. I choose a bright, fruit-forward wine, sometimes with just a touch of sweetness. That fruitiness and touch of residual sugar helps to tame the heat and bright acidity cuts through the richness.  Freixenet Cordon Negro Extra Dry pairs well at $13 a bottle, or choose a 2004 bottle of Veuve Clicquot Rose Grand Dame for $250.

Classic Holiday Snacks, like olives, almonds, cured meats: These ubiquitous salty snacks at holiday occasions call out for a fruit-forward sparkling wine. When it comes to nuts, olives and cured meats, I think the Italians really shine.  Prosecco, with its creamy mousse and delicate fruitiness, is an Italian classic with antipasti.  Try a $14 bottle of Mionetto Prosecco Brut, or a $40 bottle of Grave di Stecca Brut; their “Rustico” Prosecco is also a treat at $18 a bottle.