Creating sparkling duos with champagne

Lobster, chocolates and even Fritos can be paired with the right champagne.

The Liberace of holidays, New Year's Eve is all about sparkle. From fireworks to sequins to sparklers to wine, everybody is looking for a little more razzle and a lot more dazzle. And if your drink can erase Ryan Seacrest's spray-tanned face in a haze of bubbles by the time the ball drops, so much the better. So thank god for champagne.

Sparkling wine is always a treat, but hoping to help you play out a Robin Leach-style fantasy by finding the appropriate wishes to go with your caviar dreams, Hannah Stuart, at Bishop's Cellar, and Dan Tanner, sommelier at White Point Beach Resort, are helping me help you make some selections and pairings for the big night.

A champagne enthusiast, Stuart says, "Our mentality at Bishop's is that bubbles should not just be for special occasions---they are tasty and fun and can be enjoyed throughout the year. I'm a huge bubbles fan and drink them with anything from eggs Benny brunch to oysters and sushi."

"Champagne in general is a very versatile wine for food pairing. The good weight of the wine and great acidity level pairs with a wide range of foods from fish to beef," Tanner assures me. So once you nail the basics of sugar content, the world is your oyster. (Which you can then pair with champagne!)

Here are the sugary basics: A brut is a dry, unsweetened sparkling wine, basically the standard, with less than one to one-and-a-half percent sugar. Extra brut and brut natural have even less sugar content, while extra sec, sec, demi-sec and doux incrementally have more sugar content, with demi-sec and doux falling into the dessert wine category.

Demi-sec and doux are the only wines that you would want to pair with sweet desserts like chocolates, puddings or cakes. Drier champagnes pair well with bittersweet dark chocolate, but not against cloying sweets.

If you like to party like P. Diddy, you can pick up some Louis Roederer Cristal Brut ($261.80) at the NSLC, but Bishop's Cellar has the equally glam Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 1998 ($225) available.

"This is by far the best vintage champagne available in the province," says Stuart. "The perfect pairing for this is the most traditional---oysters on the half shell, either with just a squeeze of citrus or with shallots and a splash of bubbly."

She also suggests Louis Barthelemy Brut Saphir 2002 ($68.50). Buying a vintage from a smaller champagne house means getting a great wine at a more affordable price. "This champagne is perfect for rich foods," says Stuart. "Pate or stuffed mushrooms would compliment this wine nicely."

As for non-vintage champagnes, Stuart recommends Champagne Montaudon Brut NV ($53). "The lively acidity in this wine lends itself well to seafood in particular, she says. "Try it with a smoked salmon dip garnished with salty capers."

If you're looking for a Nova Scotian sparkler, both Tanner and Stuart have been impressed by the output of L'Acadie Vineyards. Their Brut ($39.80) and Sparkling Rose ($29.49) are both nice choices, the latter pairing with anything from a turkey dinner to Asian take-out.

"The quality of the wine is amazing," says Tanner. "A good sparkling wine will have a bit of a bread yeast character that doesn't overpower the subtle fruit flavour. Bruce Ewert of L'Acadie Vineyards definitely shows his skill in this sparkling wine. L'Acadie blanc is a grape variety that I'm not that fond of in most cases, but Bruce definitely works his magic."

Seafood, cheese, sushi and tart fruits and berries are all easy pairings for dinners and desserts, but you can have fun with champagnes and other sparkling wines as well. Forget the fois gras and find some Frito-Lays! Salty chips, French fries and crunchy mixed nuts all taste pretty amazing when paired with a sparkling wine, as do buttery popcorn and rich shortbread cookies. Don't let any preconceived notions about champagne stop you from toasting the New Year in style. Potato chip dreams can come true, too.

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