Snacks with Your Sparkler

I was invited to a tasting recently, at the offices of Charles Communications, near downtown San Francisco. They do publicity work for a lot of great wineries; this time, the event was a pairing of Domaine Carneros sparklers with snacks bought exclusively from Trader Joe’s. The idea was to break fine sparkling wine out of the fancy-event stigma and experience it as an everyday, goes-with-anything kind of beverage.

I’m always happy to get buzzed on a good sparkler, so I didn’t need convincing—I love the stuff, and I love starting a dinner party with it because it loosens everyone up so fast, and creates a festive feel. But I’m writing about the tasting event anyway because I was genuinely and pleasantly surprised: It’s really pretty amazing how well a good sparkling wine can pair with the kind of snacks that live in boxes and plastic bags in some people’s pantries.

Domaine Carneros winemaker Eileen Crane (shown) was on hand, and it was a funny scene: a bunch of us sitting around a long conference-room table, with plates in the middle, taking serious notes while we sipped and spit and paired the wines with packaged junk food.

Here are some of my pairing notes.

First, for pairings with the basic Domaine Carneros brut:

Original-flavor Kettle Chips: awfully good!
Yogurt & Green Onion Kettle Chips: pretty good
Cheddar puffs: flop
Vegetable Root Chips: fine
Marcona almonds: lame
Thai-lime-flavored cashews: absolutely outstanding. This one was a surprise because I don’t go in for flavor-dusted foods. I would never eat these cashews outside of that setting. But it was pretty astonishing how something in the wine sang with something in that flavor dusting.

With the Domaine Carneros rosé:

Microwave spanakopita: OK, but not great
Spicy microwave samosas: absolutely terrific, and producing this weird effect in which the spiciness seemed to emerge from within the wine, not the food
Macaroni and cheese: excellent
Dates with Roquefort and macadamias: also excellent

Chocolate-covered edamame (yes, it’s as weird as it sounds): fine

While I’m at it, I’ll pass along two other things I learned from Eileen Crane: First, that sparklers don’t go flat as quickly as people think. Apparently all you have to do is recork the bottle (there’s a purpose-built stopper you can buy that works well) and let the sparkler’s own CO2 fill up the empty space and serve as a preservative. According to Crane, the wine can last as long as 10 days this way—terrific news for those of us who occasionally resist opening our sparklers if we don’t have enough mouths to polish them off that very night. She also told me that CO2 opens the valve between the stomach and the small intestine, so the wine’s alcohol heads into the bloodstream faster, which is why sparklers are so good for getting a party started.