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Entertaining, Party Recipes and Pairings

A Quick Primer on Bubbly and Holiday Entertaining the Bubbly Girl Way

December 27, 2012
maria_holiday_Framboise_punch

Maria with sparkling Framboise Apricot Punch from The Bubbly Bar.

I know entertaining can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be. All you need, really, are a few fool-proof recipes, a relatively clean house and an outfit that makes you feel stunning.

My first rule of entertaining is to plan on opening a bottle of bubbly — either Champagne or sparkling wine — as soon as guests arrive. People get excited when they see that curvy bottle and hear the pop as it opens. It reminds them of good times and it will put them in the party mood. You can serve it straight, pour it into a punch or a sparkling cocktail.

The great thing is that these days there are so many choices when it comes to sparkling wine and Champagne. So why not try something new? You could choose a champagne from a family who grows their own grapes and then makes it into a distinctive champagne that carries the unique taste of their vineyard. These grower champagnes — like the Champagne Saint-Chamant Blanc de Blancs NV — are bursting with flavor and personality. This one is made by Christian Coquillette, a charming 80+ year old man with a proper French mustache, who enjoys aging his wines a looong time. He has a mile’s worth of caves under his house, so why not? This 100% chardonnay wine is aged for seven years, giving it the rich flavors of a much more expensive cuvée, yet it sells for just $48 because Msr. Coquillette isn’t a household name.

Or perhaps you’d like to get even more adventurous and try a bottle of fine sparkling wine from somewhere else? There’s a growing number of producers around the world who use the  “Champagne method” to craft delicious sparkling wines that offer an amazing value. One of my favorite international producers is Graham Beck in South Africa, who makes wonderful cap classique — the South African term for méthode Champenoise wine. Beck’s wines, which use chardonnay and pinot noir, have crisp and clean flavors and usually sell for around $20 a bottle. And according to the Graham Beck website, Presidents Barack Obama and Nelson Mandela as well as super-spy James Bond like his wine, too.

Italy is a fabulous source of sparkling wine, as every prosecco lover knows. My greatest discovery from Italy this past year was Ferrari Metodo Classico. Since 1902, they’ve quietly been making fine bubbly that drinks like Champagne high in the hills near Trento not far from the Alps.

Sweet sparkling wines are always crowd-pleasers, whether it’s popular classic Moscato d’Asti or one of the crop of new pink Moscatos and other sweet pink sparkling wines that are winning fans because of their cotton-candy hue and easy to love flavors of peach and melon. Last year I was surprised by a well-balanced pink Moscato from Moldova; this year I succumbed and bought some of Torti’s Hello Kitty Sweet Pink. Though few are interested on what’s inside the cute bottle, it’s made with pinot noir from the Oltrepo Pavese region of Lombardy.

Don’t worry about pairing foods with sparkling wine; it’s surprisingly versatile. Anything salty, crispy, fatty or fried will be perfect. That list includes: popcorn, French fries, potato chips, prosciutto ham, Parmesan cheese, fried chicken and shrimp tempura. The Bubbly Girl recipe section has some good party appetizers like Posh Popcorn and Tartelette Flambée, an easy bacon and onion pizza you make with purchased puff pastry.

Shellfish of all sorts is delicious with sparkling wine because the wine’s acidity is like adding a squeeze of lemon to a shrimp or some cracked crab. A tray of nigiri and maki rolls from your favorite sushi spot is perfect with bubbly.

See how easy that is?

© 2012 Maria Hunt aka The Bubbly Girl.

 

Travel

Travel Savvy in Barcelona: 5 Things to Know

August 24, 2011
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Many popular tourist attractions like Parque Guell shown here are very crowded, so it’s smart to be aware of who’s nearby and where your valuables are.

1. Welcome to Catalonia. Geographically, Barcelona is in Spain, but culturally the people there think of themselves as living in Catalonia. It’s a cultural identity shared by people in the Balearic Islands, Valencia as well as parts of France and Sardinia. Catalan is a Romance language, so many of the words are the same or similar in Catalan and Spanish. Hello in Catalan is bon dia instead of buenos dias; good-bye is adeu instead of adios.

2.  Wear comfortable shoes and a shoulder bag. Ladies, this is not the place to be teetering around in platform stilettos with a clutch purse under your arm. Not to alarm anyone, but purses do get snatched here. Nearly every local woman I saw carrying a purse had a shoulder bag with a thick strap that could be worn slung across the body. And parts of Barcelona are very hilly and streets in some older areas are paved in  cobblestones.

3. Research addresses carefully before getting into a taxi. Barcelona is a very dense city and addresses are arranged off central boulevards, some of which run on a diagonal. Be sure to ask which boulevard your destination is near before leaving the hotel.

4. Read reviews thoroughly before booking a hotel; not all three stars are created equal.  I suffered at one three-star with a hip-looking lobby with no air conditioning even though it was quite hot. The staff’s service was very off-hand. Just a half a block away was another more traditional three-star with full amenities and expert service to match.

5. Be aware of your surroundings. Most tourist attractions like the Parque Guell (shown above), Las Ramblas and the Boqueria Market are very crowded. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of taking in an attraction, and thieves know this. Be sure to keep wallets in your front pocket, purses closed and valuables nearby.

Got any more tips on how to make your trip to Barcelona safe and stress-free? Please share them with us.