First things first. You may or may not already know that Champagne is like the Band-Aid or Kleenex of sparkling wine. Technically, only bubbly made in the Champagne region of France using the traditional méthode champenoise can be called "Champagne." There's also Cava from Spain and Prosecco from Italy, as well as many types of American bubbly, which are great Champagne alternatives.
I would stick to the brut and extra-dry varieties of sparkling wines, which are the driest ones. Even so, most of them have an ever-so-slight bit of sweetness that contrasts nicely with salty foods, making the wine very refreshing. You can also consider this rule of thumb: If it goes well with beer, it will go well with Champagne. That includes things like pizza, sausage, burgers and spicy foods.
Thanks to Pinterest, here are some suggestions for party pairings. Warning: I'm not responsible if you become a Pinterest addict like me. You should seek a 12-step program for that!
Since cheese is always the perfect companion to wine, why not enjoy it with Champagne? I found this nifty cheese and wine wheel that recommends pairing Camembert, Beaufort, Brie, cheddar, colby and Edam with your bubby. Gouda would go nicely as well. And if you want to get fancy, here are five steps for creating the perfect cheese platter.
Mac and cheese
If cheese works so well with sparkling wine, homemade mac and cheese is the next logical step. Make it the traditional way, or doll it up like this smoked Gouda macaroni and cheese. Feel free to mix in additional cheeses and bits of prosciutto or bacon. Bake it in a mini muffin tin and you'll have appetizer-ready mac and cheese bites.
No matter if it's plain cheese pizza or a more exotic Vietnamese lemongrass chicken pizza with cashew butter sauce, Champagne bubbles will cut through any rich, zesty, spicy, meaty or greasy pizza. Just pick an exciting combination of toppings and run with it.
If you can swing oysters and caviar, go for it. But they are definitely not the only options that will pair beautifully with Champagne. Shrimp, crab, lobster and shellfish are all winners, such as these cilantro lime shrimp soft tacos. Smoked salmon is also nice and very versatile, like with smoked salmon, cucumber and red onion on rye toasts. And the big surprise is that sushi and Champagne are like a match made in heaven.
Pick any appetizer with mushrooms, poultry (including foie gras) or sausage, and I promise it will make a great pairing for Champagne. Go earthy yet casual with Portobello sliders or spinach-stuffed mushrooms. I find that grilled chicken satay with peanut dipping sauce are always a crowd pleaser, while shrimp and Spanish chorizo bites are just plain cute and irresistible.
Believe it or not, Champagne is an excellent contrast to salty and greasy snack food, including potato chips and popcorn. Your guests will be even more impressed if these snacks don't come straight out of the bag. Try your hand at these baked salt and vinegar chips, sea salt honey butter popcorn or truffled popcorn.
This is one area where you should opt for a somewhat sweet sparkling wine, such as a demi-sec Champagne, Asti Spumante or Moscato d'Asti. Otherwise, a dry wine with a sweet dessert will result in bitterness. Champagne and strawberries is a classic combination, and you may want to try making cheesecake-stuffed strawberries. Light and fresh fruit desserts will be a great match for Champagne, especially a French apple tart, as will traditional shortbread and almond cookies or cake.
What will you be pairing with bubbly on Dec. 31? You can find my suggestions and others on my New Year's Eve Pinterest board. Cheers!
Erica Streisfeld is the editor for custom publishing at Journal Multimedia, parent company of the Central Penn Business Journal, but she moonlights as a foodie and wino. Many people also know her as founder of the Harrisburg Cupcake Cup, a community cupcake competition that benefits the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, and owner of Little Ditty Pops. Follow her at @HbgFoodandWine.