This week, we return to Dana Farner, the beverage director and sommelier at CUT, who explains why Dom Pérignon doesn't belong in a Mimosa, what to serve at your pancake brunch and why those bottles of bad champagne given to you by a well-meaning friend have a purpose, afterall. (Wine Guy Lou Amdur, returns next week.)
I've always been told that using the expensive stuff for a Mimosa is a waste of good champagne. Sometimes, though, a frosty glass of orange juice spiked with a glug of Dom is sort of delicious. What's your take on this?
I believe that if it tastes better to you than that is totally what you should do.
Something in your voice tells me that you do not approve. Let's put that on hold. So everyone who entertains has one or two bottles of gift champagne in their refrigerator that range from special occasion champagne to supermarket junk, right? What do you do with the good bottles?
I'd save a good bottle of champagne for a special occasion, something huge like a graduation or something little like, “It's the weekend!” But I would drink the good champagne with something salty. With brunch, a lot of times people will be disappointed with champagne because they're having something sweet like pancakes or French toast. Normal champagnes tastes like lemon juice then because the sugar makes the champagne taste more acidic.
Okay, so what might one expect to drink at a Dana Farner brunch?
I have a favorite sparkling wine called Buguey-Cerdon. The one I use is by a producer named Patrick Bottex. It's sparkling wine from the savoy of France. It's a rose and it's not made like champagne, it's made methode rural. It's a little bit sweet, it tastes like strawberry juice. It's super-bubbly, really yummy. So I like to have the Buguey for those situations. Or if you want champagne with dessert, the Buguey has a little sweetness so it pairs nicely with something sweet.
So now we return to the sad crap champagne sitting on the refrigerator, all cold and lonely and of indeterminate use. What do we do with that?
Mimosas maybe? What I have determined for Mimosas or any champagne cocktail is that the dominant flavor is whatever juice you mix it with. So the higher quality the juice, the better it's going to taste. Like, fresh-squeeze the orange juice! Or make a Bellini! You can use peach puree that's unsweetened and then add a little syrup. A lot of times I'll just buy cans of Kern peach nectar and mix that with cheap champagne and it's super yummy. I'm kind of no-holds-barred when I mix sparkling wine with juice.
Anything that you like juice-wise can be delicious. Mango juice and champagne is great. Here's how you think of it: If there's a soda [pop] that is flavored like it, it will probably be good. You're creating a slightly alcoholic soda.
As long as we're on the subject – and because I once read about this in TIME magazine — what's a GROWER champagne?
There's this whole movement in France where … the way that it has worked in champagne for a long, long time is that there are guys that grow the grapes and then they sell the grapes to the big houses. And the big houses, who are anybody that you've ever seen advertised in the centerfold of a magazine, buy the grapes from these guys. Traditionally, these guys would save a little bit of their own grapes and make a little champagne maybe for their own home use. But I believe it was in the '70s that they started producing their own wine on a larger scale. Then a couple of importers, most particularly Terry Theise and Becky Wasserman, started finding these little guys and started importing their grower champagnes into America.
So I get why grower champagnes might be delicious, but what makes them so affordable?
They provide great value because the people who are making the wine are putting their resources into the grapes and into the producing the wine, not into hiring supermodels to promote the product, you know?