WHAT ABOUT WINE: Champagne

The Champagne and sparkling wine business is in tatters, and that’s not good news as we approach the most bubbly time of year. Sales, thanks to the recession, are down, and it’s so bad for the French (who produce the only sparkling wine that is allowed to be called Champagne) that they’re drastically cutting production in an attempt to keep prices up.

Throw in the weak dollar, which has raised the cost of imported wine as much as 20 percent over the last year, and it’s difficult to find a bargain even among those sparkling wines that have always been a bargain. And it’s even more difficult to find interesting sparkling wines that are a bargain.

Nevertheless, there are still some out there, and these three are interesting and reasonably affordable:

• Armand Roux Carousel NV ($10). This French wine not made in the Champagne region is a nice alternative to inexpensive Spanish sparklers like Cristalino. It has lots of chardonnay fruit and good acidity.

• Jean-François Merieau Bulles Touraine NV ($24): This is another French wine, from the Loire, that offers value and something other than the ordinary sparkling wine. It’s made mostly of chenin blanc, as opposed to chardonnay, which means it’s dry and not quite as apple-y. This is one of the most interesting sparkling wines I tasted this year.

• Domaine Chandon Pinot Noir Reserve NV ($27): This California wine has a touch of caramel, good, dark pinot fruit and lively acid. I was a little surprised that I enjoyed it as much as I did. —Jeff  Siegel

Ask the Wine Guy

Q. Why do people talk about acidity in wine?
A. All wines have acidity, and is a crucial part of well-made wine. It’s there to balance the other components, like sweetness and fruitiness – like lemonade. It’s a crucial part of sparkling wine, in particular. – Jeff Siegel

WITH YOUR WINE: Chocolate yeast bread

I used to have a terrific recipe for chocolate bread, which has long since vanished. It wasn’t a cake or a short bread, but a real bread – yeasty and toastable and pretty amazing. The recipe here is a variation of one published by the Godiva chocolate people, which has been floating around for years. I’d upgrade the chocolate chips with best-quality baking chocolate and substitute 1 cup warm coffee for the water. Serve this as holiday treat with your favorite sparkling wine (or, toasted with peanut butter for your kids).

Serves four, about 15 minutes

1. In a large bowl, mix yeast, 1 1/4 cups flour, cocoa, sugar, salt and soda. Heat milk, water, semi-sweet chocolate chips and 2 tbsp. butter, stirring until chocolate is melted. Add to dry ingredients. Beat at medium speed of electric mixer for two minutes. Add 1/2 cup more flour. Beat at high speed for two minutes. Add egg. Stir in enough flour to make a firm dough.

2. Turn out on lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic. Put in oiled bowl, turning to oil top. Cover with a sheet of plastic wrap. Let rise in warm place for 1 hour or until doubled.

3. Punch dough down. Shape into two loaves. Put in greased 8×4 loaf pans. Let rise for 30 minutes. Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes or until loaf sounds hollow when tapped with finger. Remove to wire racks to cool.
 



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