The Global Chef: Bubbling Leftovers is a Festive Kitchen Companion | News

Nancy Krcek Allen

Drive past our vineyards in northern Michigan’s Peninsula in December and you’ll see skinny brown sticks twist and flutter along acres of rows of trellises. A tattered blanket of rain-soaked mud or snow covers their feet; the sky is a pale patch of charcoal.

The threadbare vines seem so sad at the end of December that who would guess during the summer that these vines metamorphose into a bountiful life? In autumn, their fruits lavish high sparkling flutes on the world that evoke spirited dances until dawn, black silk and sequins, stiletto heels, tuxedos and Cary Grant.

From its humble birth in a Benedictine abbey in Reims, France, champagne has had a sometimes scandalous, but always divine, history. Champagne’s midwife was Dom Pérignon, the abbey’s blind cellar master until 1715. Pérignon discovered that if it hermetically sealed the wine that had not completed fermentation, the inconstant carbon dioxide could not escape.

French champagne is a magical mistress but requires a lot of maintenance. It demands more attention and care than any other wine. The champagne is made from a traditional blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grape varieties, all indigenous to the Champagne region. Workers hand-pick the bunches of grapes, sorting them to remove any that are moldy, broken or unripe. Unlike all other wines, these grapes are immediately pressed (but not crushed) before their skins break and lose their juice. The workers pour this first press, called cuvée, into thermoregulated vats. A few weeks later, when natural fermentation has taken hold, the tasters assemble the wines from the different vintages.

After assembly, the young cru wine lives in curvaceous bottles and receives a “dosage” of rock sugar and yeast. This dosage creates a second fermentation in the bottle. The wine stays in the cellar for one to four years. As the wine matures, it creates enormous pressure equal to that of a bus tire and releases sediment.

Historically the “stirrer”, a skilled worker, would gently turn and tip the bottles always downward until after a month or two, sediment collected on the cork. When the sediment had fallen there, the more the plug came out. This process once required skilled laborers who dipped the neck of each bottle in an ice-cold brine bath, cut the thread that held the cork, and let it fly along with its chunk of ice and sediment. From now on, the machines carry out the “riddling” or riddling and disgorging.

A machine fills the space with another dosage of still wine and sugar and a new cork. The amount of sugar in this second dosage determines whether the champagne will be Brut (no more than 1.5 percent sugar), Extra Dry (1.2 to 2 percent), Dry (1.7 to 3.5 percent ) and Demi Sec (3.5 to 5 percent). The cheaper the champagne, the sweeter it will be.

Although France is the birthplace of champagne (sparkling wine produced by second fermentation in the bottle), we have one of the best sparkling wine producers in the country here in County Leelanau. Larry Mawby of L. Mawby Vineyards near Suttons Bay produces bottles of champagne using the traditional French method known as the Champagne method. Although Americans may call the sparkling wine they produce “American champagne,” Mawby prefers to call his creations sparkling wines.

Everywhere else in the world, “champagne” applies only to French sparkling wines traditionally produced in Champagne. French sparkling wines from other regions are called “crémant”.

“Each country has a different name for its sparkling wines,” Mawby said. “In Spain they are known as cava, in Italy as spumante and in Germany as sekt.”

Mawby advises you not to spend your hard earned money on a big name to impress. Instead, look for small houses and amaze your guests with taste. Whatever the pedigree of your sparkler, he wants a slow tasting. Take a tip from Lily Bollinger:

“I only drink champagne when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I play with it if I’m not hungry, and drink it when I have it. Otherwise I never touch it. Unless I’m thirsty.

How to process sparkling wine

Cool, but don’t freeze your bubble. To open, tilt the bottle 45 degrees and loosen the thread around the cap. Drape a towel over the cork and slowly gently twist the bottle away from the cork. A good pop informs you of the vitality and the richness of the spirit of the sparkling wine. The towel will protect your guests from a faster than light stopper. Enjoy the nutty and yeasty aroma of a good sparkling wine. Pour your bubbly into chilled, half-full, tulip-shaped glasses and serve with crackers, nuts, caviar or buttery strudels.

Holiday Salad with Champagne Vinaigrette

Prepare this salad with blood oranges for a festive look.

For four persons

1 rounded T. Dijon mustard

1 tsp of champagne vinegar

2 T. of champagne

6 tablespoons of canola oil

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, as needed

1 pomegranate, peeled

1 large juicy pink grapefruit

1 bunch of watercress, large stems discarded, washed and dried

1 head of Bibb or butter lettuce, cleaned and the leaves gently torn

3 T. toasted walnuts, lightly crushed

In a small bowl, whisk together mustard, vinegar and champagne. Slowly incorporate the oils. Season with salt and pepper. Set the dressing aside.

Break the pomegranate into its jewelry seeds and place them in a bowl. (You can do this in a bowl filled with cold water.) With a sharp chef’s knife, cut off the top and bottom of the grapefruit skin. Place it on one of the flat sides. Slice from the top around the curve of the fruit down, cutting off the skin and white pith. When you have removed all the skin and marrow, divide the fruit over a bowl. Tilt your knife and make V-notches between the membranes to free the grapefruit wedges. Set them aside with the juice. Stir 1 tablespoon of grapefruit juice to taste, into the dressing – add a pinch of sugar if desired.

Combine watercress and lettuce in a bowl; keep cool until ready to prepare dinner. Toss the greens with a little dressing. Arrange the greens on four plates. Distribute evenly and arrange the grapefruit quarters on each plate. Sprinkle each salad with pomegranate seeds and nuts. To serve. Pass the additional dressing to each guest.

Orange Champagne Granita

It’s a kind of raw sorbet, crunchy but so refreshing.

For 4 to 6 people

1/2 cup of sugar

2 1/2 C. fresh orange juice

1 1/2 C. dry champagne

Place a 9-inch by 13-inch metal baking dish in the freezer for 30 minutes. Combine the sugar and 1 cup of orange juice in a saucepan. Heat gently until the sugar melts. Remove it from the heat and let it cool. Mix the cooled sugar syrup with the remaining orange juice and champagne. Pour into the mold you placed in the freezer. Refrigerate until ice forms around edges of pan, about 30 minutes. Remove the pan and whip the ice cream with a fork to break it up. Put it back in the freezer for another 30 minutes and repeat every 30 minutes until completely frozen, a total of about 2 hours. You can do this a day in advance.

Larry Mawby Steamed Sparkling Potatoes

Larry suggests that you try steaming any vegetable this way. He likes to use his rice cooker to steam the potatoes.

For 4 people

1 C. or more of leftover sparkling wine or good quality champagne

2 lbs red skinned potatoes, washed and diced

Pour the sparkling wine into a saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Place in a steamer basket. Bring the liquid to a boil. Add potatoes. Steam until fork tender, about 10 minutes.

Arrange the potatoes on a plate and season with salt and pepper. A slice of butter would be nice on top. Or a teaspoonful of caviar if you have some around.

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