Island spirits: Seize the sparkle!

Ms. Dempsey explores sparkling wines of the North Fork.

When traveling with my gallant groom, we enjoy sampling the local cuisine, but we also make a point of asking the natives where they like to eat. So it was that we found ourselves, while in Dublin last week, visiting a wine bar called “The French Paradox.”

The name refers to the concept that the French seem able to enjoy a diet rich in cheeses and foie gras, supposedly offset by the healthy effect of wine.

We enjoyed a sampling of meats, cheeses, olive tapenade and anchovies, with a menu of French wines that we studied with care. After mulling over the proper white wine for this array, I decided to trust my heart rather than my head and opted for a glass of delicious French champagne. Perfect!

It was inevitable, being from an Irish Catholic family of 14 children who were always celebrating christenings, weddings and more christenings, that I would develop a taste for the bubbly. When my sisters and I were children, we fell in love with the movie “Gigi.” The five of us girls would sing “The Night They Invented Champagne” and my father would serenade us with “Thank Heaven for Little Girls.” 

The best of times deserve the healthy pop of a cork and a celebratory taste of the effervescence that Dom Perignon himself reportedly described as “drinking stars.” The term “champagne” is reserved for those wines produced in that specific region of France, but there is an entire galaxy of sparkling wines from elsewhere that rise to the occasion.

We are fortunate here on the East End to have a winery completely dedicated to sparkling wines. Southold’s Sparkling Pointe has taken a serious approach to cultivating the same grapes used in France’s Champagne region — Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay. Cynthia and Tom Rosicki, the owners, along with winemaker Gilles Martin, are producing their wines in the traditional “Methode Champenoise,” turning out sparkling wines that deserve respect.

A recent taste of their 2016 Brut was light and classic, with soft fruit notes. The winery offers pairings in its tasting room; the local Catapano Goat Farms fresh chevre is especially recommended with the Brut. The sales manager, Melissa Rockwell, also recommends any salty snacks like popcorn or say, North Fork potato chips with it -— and of course, always oysters.

The winery also features an aged 2008 sparkling wine called Brut Seduction, unique to this region. Its fragrance and flavor call up notes of caramel and butterscotch. The 2010 Seduction will be released soon. These fine wines are priced accordingly. The Brut 2016 is $30 per bottle while the Seduction 2008 sells for $68. For serious wine tasters, or for a special gift, they merit consideration.

To find other East End sparkling wines within your budget, I find our local merchants always helpful in navigating the multitude of choices. The growing popularity of Prosecco, the Italian sparkling wine, has also opened up lots of possibilities. In the Reporter’s Island Bookshelf column of September 15, 2018, I discussed local author Amy Zavatto’s book, “Prosecco Made Me Do It.” She writes, “Affordable Prosecco…elevates flavors and aromatics with its freshness and zippy bubbles.”

One of her cocktail recipes, Grand Avenue Frolic, was named in honor of partying summer nights away at the Island’s old Chequit Bar. It takes a basic Madras, with vodka, orange and cranberry juices and soups it up with a dash of Cointreau and a generous helping of Prosecco. It may bring back memories, or help you create new ones.

While I would not add fruity ingredients to a serious sparkling wine or champagne, Prosecco welcomes them. From a cranberry-splashed Poinsettia at Christmas to orange juice-flavored Mimosas for Easter brunch, these combinations capture the flavor of the holiday. Last Christmas, I gave my sisters syrups from the New York Botanical Garden flavored with their favorite color flowers, to personalize each one’s glass of bubbly. Here on the Island, we have a favorite summer sparkler: we make our own version of the classic peach-flavored Bellini as soon as fresh peach juice appears at Briermere Farms in Riverhead. Combined with Prosecco, it’s truly a taste that celebrates summertime. Try adding other fruits as befits special occasions — blueberries to celebrate the christening of a baby boy, or strawberries when a little girl joins the family. (“Thank Heaven!”)

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