By Jamie Gabrini
Francois Labet, Crmant de Bourgogne, NV, or East Meets West
In my inaugural budget-wine column here, I mentioned the Mousse Monkey that rides my back relentlessly. Its a serious addiction: I love Champagnes and sparkling wines. And for a wine chick of, ahem, limited means, its tough to placate that damn primate. Im therefore always on the lookout for budget bubble that doesnt induce heartburn, nightmares, or migraines. Isnt it tragic to have such high standards?
As I personified the glamour of wine by dusting racks at work last week, I happened upon a bottle of Crmant de Bourgogne nestled in among still white Burgundies. The label was looking a little worse for wear, but after a hefty dusting off, my interest was piqued. Despite my dedication to Champagnes and similar such wines, Id never had a crmant de Bourgogne. I scurried off to dig around for more information and found out that, logically enough, Francois Labets sparkling is similar to most Champagnes in that its a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. So far, so good. I took the leap of faith and made the assumption that it would not have that toasted quality of California sparklers like Roederer Estate. Genius that I am, I also made the assumption that it wouldnt be too sweet since it still bore Brut on the label. Like Pavlovs dog, I began to mentally salivate as I pondered the flavor possibilities. I finally couldnt take it anymore and bought it, assuring myself that it would be worth every cent of its $16 shelf price.
As noted earlier with food and wine pairings, sparkling and sushi work well together. With that in mind, I set out on my next quest: unagi kabayaki. I adore Japanese grilled eel and couldnt wait to experience the melding of the sweet and fatty unagi with the acidity inherent in most good bubbly. I found a big, frozen filet of unagi at my local Asian market and baked it in the oven until the gloriously rich aroma filled my humble home and it was cooked through. In the meantime, I made some sushi rice (yes, in a rice cooker trust me, theyre worth the investment!) and let it sit in a shallow baking pan after tossing on a rice vinegar simmered with a bit of sugar and salt. I chopped a carrot and sliced an avocado, added minced pickled ginger, and folded it all carefully in to the rice. I served the warm unagi over the rice salad think of it as an open sushi roll, lessening the head- and heartache of a failed rice cohesion.
The crmant de Bourgogne worked beautifully it had just enough sweetness to work with the unagi and the pickled ginger. Normally, Id serve a very thin wasabi sauce with the unagi and rice dish, but it would certainly overpower the wine. The bubbly was everything Id hoped for and more full mouthfeel without being too heavy and rich, the acidity on the finish brightened it right up and made it the perfect mate for unagi. There was also just a touch of salinity that complimented both the unagi and the rice vinegar without any of it turning sour.
Its a shame that not all cross-cultural experiences work as well. If only our esteemed leaders focused on real issues like food and wine! Sigh- Until that glorious day, Ill hoard my newest favorite bubbly and guard it like Fort Knox.