With Christmas around the corner and New Year’s Eve on the horizon, we’re in prime bottle popping season. But while sparkling wine (Remember: Champagne can only be called that if it’s made in the Champagne region of France) may be on your party list, knowing what to buy and what to pair it with might prove more challenging.
We chatted with Jesse Eslin, wine director at The Table at Season to Taste in Cambridge, about the best way to go about enjoying your next bottle of bubbly. Eslin has presided over a well-curated list of wines at the French restaurant since it opened in 2016, swapping out wine selections as the prix-fixe menu changes every six weeks — and almost always starting wine pairings with a glass of bubbly. Here are his tips on buying and enjoying sparkling wine, plus a few bottles that he’s into right now.
Tap into experts
When shopping at a wine store, Eslin advised leaning into the staff’s knowledge as much as possible.
“If you have a dedicated wine shop, it’s always best to use the people there as resources,” he said. “Interact with the staff. Be very upfront about your budget and what you want.”
Experts can help you venture outside of your comfort zone, steering you toward sparkling wines that may, at first glance, seem a little funky — and, in turn, might be more affordable than more popular bottles.
“Have them take you off the beaten path,” Eslin said. “You hear that people don’t like [a type of wine], and then they try it — like we had a sparkling Gamay [at The Table at Season to Taste] that’s really light and sweet, and everyone really loved it.”
Pair soup and bubbly (Who knew?)
You may have heard that sparkling wine goes well with fried foods: fried chicken, fried clams, potato chips. Eslin advocated for another, more unexpected pairing: soup and bubbly.
“You’ve got this really nice contrast in temperature,” he said. “Hot soup, cold wine, the bubbles and effervescence — it makes everything spritz and pop a little more. On the menu now we’re serving this warm carrot soup with Indian spices, and we’re pouring this light rosé Gamay [with it]. …You get the two together, and it’s awesome.”
Don’t be so serious about drinking wine
When asked about the best way to try a glass of something new, Eslin recommended following your nose.
“I like to see how far away the glass can be from my nose the first second I can notice [its smell],” he said. “If it’s that aromatic, it’s pretty awesome.”
But he also said there’s no reason to take wine tasting so seriously. Talk to friends around you who are drinking it, and discuss what your nose picks up on. Make a game out of it.
“Compare [the wine] to Hollywood stars, songs, books,” Eslin said. “That takes the stuffy aspect out of it.”
Use closure caps, not corks
Before popping open a bottle that’s been in the fridge, let it sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.
“That’s when the nose opens up,” Eslin said. “The cold mutes the aromas. If you can get it closer to 40 or 45 degrees, the smells are going to be flying out of the glass that weren’t there before.”
And if there’s still some bubbly left in the bottle at the end of the night, don’t send it back to the fridge with its original cork. Eslin suggested investing in sparkling wine closure caps, which you can buy on Amazon or at Williams Sonoma, because you can stretch a bottle for a day or two if you have it under a pressure cap.
Eslin’s sparkling wine recommendations:
Jean-Paul Brun FVR100 Sparkling Rosé
“It’s a sparkling Gamay that’s the color of cranberry sauce. It’s got that deep hue to it. A little herby, really low in alcohol. The bottle is designed for fun. The label is fun. I see people drink it and they’re like, ‘What did I just drink?’ They try it and are like, ‘I guess I don’t like s***** sweet things, I like sweet things that are really well made.'”
Jo Landron Atmospheres
“Another fun one is from the Loire Valley in France, from Jo Landron. He’s one of the rare growers who does everything naturally. It’s dry, it has all that seaside influence you want from a Muscadet — dry, salty, bready things going on. [Landron] also has the best mustache in the world of wine.”
Hild Elbling Sekt
“We pour this by the glass at [The Table at Season to Taste]. Apparently Elbling is one of the older grapes in Europe. Matthias Hild is the grower, and he’s keeping [the grape] alive out of preservation more than cost. It’s dry but has this crazy elderflower nose to it. The second you take a sip of it, it just goes back so easily. It’s impossible to take a long time with this glass.”
Domaine Belluard Les Perles du Mont Blanc
“This is from the Savoie, a mountain area on the border [between] France and Switzerland. The Les Perles du Mont Blanc is sparkling Gringet. It’s floral, nutty, dry, got a lot of spice to it, but it’s always morphing, so you can never quite throw a dart and hit it. The second you think you have it lined up, it’s doing something else.”
Bereche et Fils Les Beaux Regards
“One of my favorite Champagne producers is Bereche et Fils. They make wine that makes you stop and appreciate life no matter what’s going on. I got a bottle of Les Beaux Regards, which is 100-percent Chardonnay, and you crack it open, and there are certain wines that are like, ‘Oh wow.’ Time stops and nothing really matters. It’s $50 in stores, and it’s the best $50 you can spend on wine.”