By Jennifer Burns Bright
Most of us associate sparkling wines with chic celebrations, but weekday dinners? Turns out they bring the party to any meal, especially in the dark days of winter. Sparklers keep the table warm and welcoming at Larks Home Kitchen Cuisine in Ashland. Executive chef Francesco Console explains why pairing Rogue Valley fizz with their farm-to-table cuisine works so beautifully.
First, it’s the area. The Rogue Valley, he says, is “epic” for not only orchard fruit and dairy but wine grapes as well, with its mantle of forested hills crossed by rivers and winds that keep the valley fertile. He likens it to a more affordable and accessible version of Napa Valley’s wine region. If it grows together, as the old cook saying goes, it goes together.
Regardless of the bottle that tickles your fancy, Rogue Valley bright and zippy sparklers pair especially well with hearty comfort foods. The high acidity and low tannins create a perfect tipple for food pairings, especially those with higher fat content. “They really help cut the richness in winter menus, like creamy cheese courses or a braised pork shank,” advises Console.
Less sweet styles (look for extra brut or brut) complement fried foods, like a hush puppy served with a dollop of aioli. Those with a bit more residual sugars (dry or demi-sec) complement creamier and sweeter flavors like strawberry ice cream, or even an excellent cheeseburger with bacon jam.
Larks’ signature crab fondue, overflowing with cheeses, may be the best winter pairing of all. Enjoy it at home, with the recipe adapted for home cooks below, or when available for dining in at the restaurant, where the friendly sommeliers can help pair it with the perfect bubbles for any budget.
Most Oregon winemakers are small producers, especially with labor-intensive sparkling wine. There may only exist a few hundred cases of any vintage, so it’s a special treat when you come across it at a tasting room or online marketplace. Naumes Suncrest Winery in Talent, for example, offers sparkling wines of pinot noir and chardonnay, exploding with vivid carbonation. Quady North takes advantage of the relatively dry and warm climate in Southern Oregon to grow Cabernet Franc, which makes its way into their herbal 2018 and 2017 traditional method sparkling Q-Vee rosés. Their earthy, light-bodied 2018 sparkling Vermentino Pét-Nat — made in an ancient “natural” style that bottles juice still fermenting with wild yeasts — is a local favorite.
And don’t miss Troon Vineyard’s buzzworthy, biodynamic sparklers. A bone-dry 2019 Pét tanNat is made from their Applegate Valley estate tannat grapes. Their “frugal farmer fizz,” the 2019 Piquette!, utilizes grape-skin pomace already pressed once from several vintages to create a fun, fizzy blend.
Larks Home Kitchen Cuisine Crab and Five-Cheese Fondue
1/2 small white onion, diced
2 teaspoons neutral oil
1/4 cup dry white wine, like a Rogue Valley Pinot Grigio
1 quart heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup each grated white cheddar, yellow cheddar, Swiss cheese and crumbled feta
1 cup grated pecorino romano
1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 1/4 cup water
12 oz. Dungeness crab, picked over for shells
In a medium saucepan on medium-low heat, sauté diced onions in oil until toasty brown. Deglaze pan by adding white wine and scraping up any bits with a wooden spoon.
Add heavy cream and heat to a simmer, watching so it doesn’t boil. Add cheeses and stir until melted, then add salt and pepper to taste. Thicken fondue with the cornstarch slurry, stirring in half at first then adding more if necessary. Gently fold in crab.
Pour mixture into fondue pot, and serve immediately with cubed bread.