What goes with a sparkler like our Wine of the Week, Roederer Estate Anderson Valley Brut ($20)?
It is tempting to say anything and everything. A dry sparkling wine, including this one, is one of the most food-friendly beverages in the world. Its effervescence cleanses the palate with each sip, slicing through flavor, fat and texture to refresh us in the most delightful manner. If this wine took human form, it would be Reese Witherspoon singing "Jackson" with Joaquin Phoenix in "Walk the Line," which is to say that it is absolutely irresistible.
Year after year, this non-vintage brut shows a finesse and sophistication far beyond what its price would suggest. Individual flavors are distinct but beautifully integrated, with no single taste battling for center stage. If you pay attention, you'll notice lemon, lemon zest and a hint of lime, the quietest whisper of strawberry and Rainier cherry, apple blossom and a swirl of spices, including cinnamon, allspice and hints of star anise and vanilla.
In this country, we tend to reserve sparkling wines for the holidays and other special occasions. This is a mistake. Enjoy it now but remember it in March, June and September, all year long. The sun coming up is reason enough to open a bottle, though you might want to wait until it is setting again to do so.
For the best matches, look to the foods you most love at this time of year. Is it Dungeness crab? The wine is a gorgeous companion. Oysters? A perfect match. French fries with aioli? You bet. Cinnamon toast late at night by a warm fire? Sign me up. Scrambled eggs and coffee cake on Christmas morning? Thank you, Santa!
You can serve it with green olives, Marcona almonds and charcuterie for a wonderful start to any evening, or offer it alongside cheese fondue for a delicious feast with friends. It is one of my favorite quaffers with soup, especially crab vichyssoise and cioppino. For today's recipe, I've taken inspiration from chef Gary Danko's Oyster Bisque, which appeared in my book "San Francisco Seafood" (Ten Speed Press, 2000). I have changed it just a bit to engage perfectly with this specific wine.
Oyster Bisque with Armagnac
Makes 4 to 6 servings
6 tablespoons butter
2 large shallots, minced
1 small fennel bulb, minced
1 small carrot, preferably white or pale yellow, peeled and minced
-- Kosher salt
-- Zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
? cup dry sparkling wine or other white wine
6 cups fish fumet (concentrated fish stock)
1 bay leaf
1 fresh thyme sprig
3 cups small oysters, shucked, liquor reserved and strained
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup creme fraiche
2 to 3 tablespoons Armagnac or brandy
-- Black pepper in a mill
2 tablespoons freshly snipped chives
Melt the butter in a heavy soup pot set over medium-low heat. Add the shallots, fennel and carrots and saute, stirring occasionally, until soft and fragrant, about 12 minutes.
Season with salt, stir in the lemon zest and increase the heat to medium. Add the white wine, fish fumet, bay leaf, thyme sprig and strained oyster liquor. Simmer for about 10 to 12 minutes, until the liquid is reduced by half.
Add the cream, simmer for about 4 minutes, stir in the creme fraiche, heat through, taste and correct for salt. Cover and set aside to steep for about 15 minutes.