Sparkling Wines and Food Pairings

Ingredients and Styles

As alluded to at the outset of this chapter, sparkling wine has a bigger role to play at table than simply being sipped for a toast. Its brilliant combination of effervescence, ample acidity (tartness), and lighter weight (low alcohol) make for beautiful pairings. Add the dimension of the dosage, and bubbly can offer a range of pairing options. 

Fundamentally, sparkling wines are all about the fizz. The bubbles can contrast beautifully with the textures of deep-fried foods, puff pastry, or phyllo dough. The tactile play of the food's crackle and the wine's effervescence is satisfying in the mouth. And many pastry items incorporate plenty of butter, an ingredient that works well with sparkling wines. Additionally, the bubbles can counterbalance spicy heat (peppers). 

Next, the sharpness (acidity) is a perfect foil for preparations that are salty, thick or rich (such as cream sauces and many soft cheeses), or a little oily (fish, caviar, and fried foods). The nutty and toasty aromas that predominate in more developed or aged examples are excellent with sautéed dishes and those with “toasty” elements, such as grains, nuts, and especially corn. 

Sparkling wines that are more fruit-driven are very compatible with Asian cuisines such as Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, and Singaporean. Finally, if you are serving a dish that is relatively spicy, off-dry bubblies can be very enjoyable and help tame the heat.  The fact that virtually all sparkling wines are produced without any oak makes for tremendous all-around flexibility, and the lighter weight and lower alcohol content also allow for a wide range of matching options.

Wine Style Ingredients Cuisines + Cooking methods
More acid-driven style
(sharp and fresh)
Raw fish, including shellfish
Hard cheese such as Parmesan or Gruyere
Ceviche, sashimi
Add a spritz of lemon to the dish to act as a bridge
Fruit-forward, dry style Pomegranate
Softer cheese (mozzarella, fontina)s
Crab salad
Fish cakes
Cream sauces
Cheese flan
Simple fried foods, such as fried haddock
Fruit-forward, off-dry style Asian spices
Coconut milk
Exotic and Asian cuisines, e.g.
Asian-inspired shrimp salad
Chinese deep-fried dishes, Thai crepes, some coconut-milk based curries, Indian samosas
Empanadas, mole
Nutty, toasty, more aged style (“Champagne” style) Butter
Phyllo dough
Puff pastry
Hard cheeses (Parmesan)
Dishes with toasty element
Caviar and cream cheese rolls
Sauteed dishes in butter
Toasted canapés, puff pastry dishes

Pairing Pointers

Sparkling wine works well: 

  • To counterbalance salt, moderate heat, richness and cream, and oily, buttery, and deep-fried foods. To replace any other highlighting acid (citrus) with fish or shellfish. 
  • To accompany raw fish-sushi, sashimi, oysters, ceviche, and some caviars. 
  • To match tart foods: citrus and other tart fruits, vinegars, pomegranate, dill, capers, tomatoes, leeks, and zucchini. 
  • To match many Latin dishes, such as empanadas, ceviche, and mole, and the tropical cuisines of the Caribbean, and Hawaii. Especially successful are the fruit-forward styles.  
  • To match many Asian cuisines, for example Japanese sushi, tempura, and gyoza; Chinese deep-fried dishes, seafood dishes, and some poultry; Thai crepes, fish cakes, and some coconut milk-based curries; Indian samosas and papadams. Again, fruit-driven styles pair best here.
  • To accompany many cheeses, especially hard cheeses like Parmesan, really rich cheeses, like triple-cream St. André, and salty cheeses, such as Greek or Bulgarian feta.
  • To match dishes with crunchy texture -- phyllo pastry and deep-fried foods such as fried chicken, tempura, and fritto misto. 
  • To harmonize with dishes that have an inherent toasty character, like the bubbly itself: toasted canapés or puff pastry dishes.
  • To accompany dishes that imply sweetness or have lightly sweet condiments or treatments. Here, younger and more fruit-forward styles work best. 
  • To accompany foods difficult to match with other wines, such as egg dishes and soups. 
  • To pair with rustic or coarsely textured foods: polenta, pesto, hummus, and baba ghanoush. Sparkling wine goes well with Middle Eastern foods in general.

Sparkling wine does not work well with: 

  • Extremes! Dishes that are too rich, or delicately flavored squash its subtlety. Dishes that are too spicy overwhelm the wine.
  • Dishes that are too sweet -- unless they are paired with sweeter styles of sparkling wine.
  • Some strong-tasting fish, other strong flavors, and certain vegetables, especially bitter vegetables (broccoli, escarole, and radicchio), which can make the wines taste metallic. 
  • With rich red meats. Many chefs pair rosé styles with these foods, but they are not always complementary.