How to Pick the Perfect Champagne

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How to Pick the Perfect Champagne
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How to Pick the Perfect Champagne

For many, Champagne and other sparkling wines are the drinks of choice on New Year's Eve. Wine expert Erich Lasher of Cleveland’s La Cave Du Vin recommends pairing these bubbly imbibes with seafood, Mediterranean food, Northern Italian cuisine, and rich desserts. Click through to discover dishes that will pair perfectly with a flute of crisp bubbly for a New Year's Eve meal.

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Oysters on the Half Shell with Hog Wash

According to Lasher, sushi and other raw delights from the sea are hard to match with ordinary wines but pair beautifully with sparkling varieties. For a special dinner to celebrate the New Year, try oysters with your glass of bubbly. It may seem a little intimidating to open an oyster, but after a little practice it gets easier. In this recipe, the oysters are served with a spiced-up, California-style version of mignonette sauce inspired by the folks at Hog Island Oyster Company on Tomales Bay in Northern California.

Get the Recipe: Oysters on the Half Shell with Hog Wash

Lemon-Stuffed Grilled Branzino

The Good News Branzino, a European sea bass, is low in fat but has a wonderful richness when cooked on the bone -- a sign that it will pair easily with an acidic sparkling wine. In this recipe, Boston chef Barbara Lynch stuffs the fish with lemons and herbs, then grills it until the skin is browned and crispy to add even more flavor.

Get the Recipe: Lemon-Stuffed Grilled Branzino

Mediterranean Couscous Cabbage Rolls

We love the subtle flavor of cinnamon with fresh mint in these vegetarian cabbage rolls stuffed with couscous, olives, and feta cheese. Serve them with roasted butternut squash tossed with olive oil, cinnamon, and garlic and with a flute of Champagne to bring out the dish's essence.

Get the Recipe: Mediterranean Couscous Cabbage Rolls

Warm Chocolate Cakes with Mascarpone Cream

In his riff on Black Forest cake, Colorado-based chef Hosea Rosenberg tops individual cakes with mascarpone cream instead of whipped cream and luscious brandied cherries instead of jarred. Sip a sparkling wine with the decadent dessert for a memorable finale as the acidic wine "can cut through a lot of deep, rich foods," explains Lasher.

Get the Recipe: Warm Chocolate Cakes with Mascarpone Cream

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Choosing a New Year's Champagne can seem like a daunting task but with a few tricks from wine aficionado Erich Lasher of Cleveland's La Cave Du Vin and an open mind, finding a great bottle is within reach.

Shop Locally
Lasher recommends shopping at a local wine shop as opposed to a big box store. "[At a big box store,] their goal is to sell you whatever they have a lot of," explains Lasher. "Chances are your local guy has probably tasted the wine they are recommending and liked it. If they own the store, they aren't going to sell you anything they don't stand behind." Ask the agent questions and help them understand your flavor preferences and your price range. Most people choose Brut which is dry, clean, refreshing, and drinkable.

Avoid the Price Game... Usually
Sparkling wines and, more commonly, Champagnes can be overpriced so a higher dollar value does not always promise a stronger blend. There are many great bottles out there for $15 or $20. However, for enthusiasts, "you really don't start getting into something more complex until the $40 range," says Lasher. Once you hit $200 or $300, "some of those sparkling wines can be a revelation."

Try Something New
No two bottles, even from the same winery, ever taste exactly the same, so rather than form habits, spend your time exploring. Explore different flavors and sparkling wines from different countries. Lasher recommends trying Cava, a sparkling wine from Spain. "Different parts of France, Italy, Austria, Germany, Spain, and New Mexico make some great sparkling wines," he says.

Say Yes to Rosé
While rosé Champagnes often get a bad rap, "don't overlook a good rosé," says Lasher. "A good rosé can really blow your mind. It has such a different flavor profile with leathery raspberry, strawberry, and spice undertones."

Pair with Food
Champagne and other sparkling wines are most commonly served at the beginning and the end of meals, but the wines also pair wonderfully with many of courses in between. "If its bright, lively, and acidic, it could go with just about everything," Lasher explains. "Those bubbles can be a wonder - they liven up your palette and make you taste things in your food that you hadn't tasted before."

Explore the slideshow above for great New Year's dishes that pair perfectly with Champagnes and sparkling wines.

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