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The Art of the Champagne Barbecue

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Daffodils and tulips have been heralding the arrival of spring for some time now. April brings with it a smattering of sunny afternoons and longer, lighter days. It’s time to shake off the lethargy that accompanies the changing of the seasons, get off the couch, and squeeze your feet into last summer’s sandals.

The smell of burning charcoal is the first sign of springtime optimism. It’s also the perfect solution to not-quite warm weather. When you’re huddled around a raging barbecue no skirt is too short or neckline too low.  Sweaters and jackets find their way to the backs of chairs and no one seems to mind the pin-sized droplets of sweat that form along collarbones and above brows.

The Champagne barbecue differs little from the classic. The difference is in the bubbles.  A sparkling introduction in the form of Champagne, Cava, or Prosecco—in place of Bud or Stella –and followed by a slightly more sophisticated menu explicitly paired with wine.

Whether you’re hosting, bringing a date, or hoping to plant the seeds of a new spring fling, a Champagne barbecue is a great way to bring people together and experiment with food and wine.  The fickle weather this time of year and the meat-centric menu also mean that you can drink red wine along with white.  I attended a Champagne barbecue this past weekend and by the end of the afternoon, we’d emptied bottles of Prosecco, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and a rich Cabernet Sauvignon-based blend from the Loire Valley.

Impress your host, your guests, your date, or your potential mate with the following selections.

Sparkling

Sparkling wine sets the pace for an elegant affair. Incidentally, the effervescence and acidity pair extraordinarily with rich and kettle-cooked potato chips. Prosecco is no substitute for Champagne, but its light and quenching qualities are completely appropriate in this scenario. One of the higher quality sub-regions of the Prosecco denomination is Cartizze. Le Colture produces a lovely bottle, with long-lasting fizz and full floral and pear notes. Spanish Cava is another alternative to Champagne. DIBON Cava Brut Reserve NV, a blend of Macabeo, Xarel-lo and  Parellada grapes from the area of Vilafranca del Penedes in the Penedès region, has delicate apple and pear aromas and a light toasty finish. Louis Roederer Brut Premiere will always be my choice for reliable and sophisticated Champagne at a reasonable price. Georges Gardet Cuvée Saint Flavy” Brut – NV is a slightly fruitier choice, not as mineral rich as the Roederer, but every bit as clean. Make a splash with a sparkling rosé like all American J. Schram Brut Rosé, an elegant example of Schramsberg’signature blending style – this time a coupling of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from small plots, aged for seven years. Try it with Mesquite BBQ chips.

White

When it comes to the main course you can grill just about anything. Thai style chicken satay with its creamy peanut sauce is gorgeous with the sparkling you started with. Seafood kebabs are a crowd-pleasing invitation to summer. Combine bell peppers, onions, fresh basil and pineapple for tropical feel, and accompany with a bright Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. For a richer, more complex flavor, marinate with curry and serve with a creamy Chardonnay or Ligurian Pigato like Spigau Crociata “Terredamare,” 2006 Le Rocche del Gatto.

Red

For classic barbecued chicken, beef, or pork, try a juicy red blend. California actually produces some perfect companions. Rochioli Ranch Red combines ripe red Zinfandel and peppery Syrah. Atrea Old Soul Red is a blend of Zinfandel, Syrah, Petit Syrah, and Malbec with aromas of blueberry pie and chalky tannins. For exotic lamb-based kebabs there’s nothing nicer than a smooth and medium-bodied Côtes du Rhône or Languedoc – Roussillon. These wines are typically blends comprising Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache (or Garnacha in Spain), Carignan, and Cinsault. Côtes-du-Rhône, Dom. le Garrigon – 2009 is a juicy and floral combo. Minervois Rouge “Marielle et Fréderique”, La Tour Boisée – 2009 is spicier with a really southern, coastal feel.

Annie Shapero is the Founder/CEO of DiVino wine events planning and wine consulting, currently operating in New York City.
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