A Toast to a ‘Sparkling Season’

With the drop in temperatures, the shorter days and the recent snowfall, I am reminded that we are headed into the holiday season. Few places give me more of that happy feeling, of the anticipation of Winter Solstice, Chanukah, Christmas, Boxing Day, New Years … the whole stretch of holiday celebrations and events, than the Yukon.

There is something about gathering with family and friends, stoking the fire, cooking special foods and, for me, opening special wines.

When I think of the holidays here, I think of a particular warm, golden light that seems to fill my pine-walled cabin when the candles are lit, the fire in the stove is burning, my friends are with me and the music and scent of holiday treats are steaming on the table and the clink of glasses all meld together.

And the beverages I love to break out at this time of year are champagne-styled sparkling wines. There is something about the crisp, cold, sparkling, golden taste experience that seems to match the holiday season up here so perfectly.

In a warm cabin, the dry, fizzy, cold taste is cooling and refreshing. Outside, the whole Yukon is one big opportunity to chill these wines, whether it’s just outside your cabin door, in a snowdrift by a winter campfire or sitting on the ice of a frozen lake, chilling while you skate. Just don’t leave them out too long!

Several Saturday evenings ago, some good friends invited me down to their family cabin in Tagish. They were celebrating the visit of a sister who had grown up here, but now lives in Alberta.

The two sisters planned a dinner of different seafood dishes and were kind enough to include me in their wonderful evening. I offered to bring along some wine and, knowing roughly what would be served, began to think about appropriate white wines.

I had planned to bring an Italian Prosecco wine from the region outside of Venice, and as I walked the aisles of the Liquor Corporation store, it occurred to me that a very fun and festive evening meal might be further added to by serving sparkling wines throughout. So I resolved to bring a total of three sparkling wines to serve with the various courses.

Now, Champagne is the best known of the sparkling wines, but hardly the only one. By law, only sparkling wines made in the Champagne region of France may be called “Champagne”, but there are many excellent champagne-styled bubblies that are very tasty treats that should be considered as worthy and are usually less expensive alternatives to traditional French Champagne.

I chose an Italian, an Argentinean and an Australian sparkling wine to bring to dinner, and we served them in that order.

First up as was an excellent Prosecco brought in for the wine show, Il Vino dei Poeti Prosecco (about $20). If you can’t find this, both the top-rated Mionetto Il Prosecco Frizzante ($18.95) or the excellent Villa Teresa Organic Prosecco ($17.40) are very, very good as well.

Incidentally, I’ve never had a bad Prosecco, so you can buy any one you find with a high level of confidence. Our Prosecco, that evening, whose name translates as the “wine of the poets”, was crisp and dry – a little lighter tasting than traditional Champagne and a delightful accompaniment with lime, cilantro, scallop and halibut ceviche, which was served as a starter.

For those unfamiliar with the dish, ceviche originates in Peru and involves soaking fresh, raw seafood in a solution of lime juice and cilantro for five or 10 minutes. The raw seafood is “cooked” by the soaking process, which is akin to pickling, and you end up with lovely citrus-flavoured fresh seafood with the texture of lightly seared fish, lots of citrus flavour, but served cold.

The lighter taste of the Prosecco, with complementary citrus notes and bubbles to bathe our palates after each bite of ceviche, was wonderful. An excellent match of food and wine.

Next came moose Carpaccio with raw spinach and grated, aged Parmesan cheese. I broke open the Argentinean Toso Brut sparkling, made, in the Mendoza Valley wine region, from 100 per cent Chardonnay grapes (about $19.00).

More robust than the Prosecco and with a bit of a musky aftertaste, this sparkling was perhaps not quite up to the quality of the other two that we drank that night, but was still very pleasant and worked well with the stronger taste of the thinly sliced and lightly seared moose meat accompanied by the wonderful raw spinach and nutty saltiness of the aged Parmesan.

Finally, we moved on to salmon, scallop and shrimp shish kabobs accompanied by an Australian Jacob’s Creek Chardonnay Pinot Noir Brute Cuvée (around $20.00). Full bodied and most like a classic French Champagne with a heady bouquet and toasty, full taste notes and a noticeable finish, this was the perfect complement to the different flavours of seafood and had rich, full taste that worked well with this most-substantial part of the meal.

A dessert of baked pears accompanied by some Madeira- and Port-fortified wines rounded out a delicious evening with friends.

Tasting the range of sparkling wines, from three different continents with very different courses, was an education as to how well these Champagne-styled wines go with a wide variety of different foods. We could have just as easily moved on to a fourth sparkling to match with the baked pears, but alas, our bottles were depleted.

Thanks to my fiends in Tagish for a memorable evening and a place in their cabin loft to lay out my sleeping bag. And, keep sparkling wines in mind over this holiday season!


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