30 Second Wine Advisor: Bubbly and ... steak?

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Treat yourself for the New Year!

Bubbly and ... steak?

Happy New Year! With New Year's Eve coming up tomorrow night, it's fair to assume that many of us plan to greet 2011 with something fizzy to drink.

Chances are we'll enjoy a splendid dinner, too.

Which raises a question: Does sparkling wine go with ... steak?

As we see the old year out in this combined 30 Second Wine Advisor issue for the last two holiday weeks of 2010, I thought it might be fun to test the conventional wisdom by serving a good sparkling wine alongside a juicy, rare steak. It's a festive pairing, one that likely happens often, even if it's not a match that most sommeliers might recommend.

Trying it in advance of the event, I chose a more recent vintage of the same non-Champagne French sparkler I had enjoyed last New Year's Eve, a fine quality-and-value item: Gérard Bertrand 2008 Cremant de Limoux Brut Rosé ($14.99)

While it was chilling, I prepped a grass-fed locavore strip steak from Triple J Farm in Georgetown, Ky., with a standard method: Coat with cracked black pepper, then pan-sear it over high heat in a black iron skillet with smashed garlic cloves and fresh rosemary sprigs just long enough to brown it well on both sides; then slam it into a hot (450F) oven for 5 or 6 minutes until the steak is medium-rare hot pink all the way through. Rest for a couple of minutes and serve ... steak doesn't get much better than this.

Now, how about the wine? The Cremant is a blend of 70 percent Chardonnay and 10 percent Pinot Noir, with 20 percent Chenin Blanc added to give an offbeat spin to the usual Champagne-style mix. I popped the cork and found it pleasing, a pretty pale salmon color with a creamy mousse; dry and tart, with subtle fresh-fruit flavors of apples and cranberries and a whiff of fresh herbs.

Now let's bring the bubbly to the dinner table. Its prickly carbonation and fresh acidity leave you fresh and ready for another taste of steak. So far, so good. It works, it washes your palate clean, it quenches.

But how does it compare to a dry red in the pairing game? Well. I poured a little leftover "Uno" Mendoza Malbec, a drinkable if uninspiring Argentine red. The red wine and the red meat danced in tune, almost as if we had poured a magical sauce on the steaks.

The sparkling wine came in a distant second place as a food match, lacking the 2-plus-2-equals-6 synergy that occurs with rare steak and dry red wine.

Still, it's a fresh, cleansing dinner beverage, and that's not bad. But I suggest you enjoy a red wine with your steak and save the bubbly to toast your sweetie at midnight.

Champagne tastes but no Champagne budget?

Fine bubbly is made around the world, and many would argue that Champagne remains the best. It's also the most pricey, though, prompting many of us to seek alternatives. Here's a quick shopping list of more affordable sparklers.

REST OF FRANCE: French producers outside Champagne mustn't use the name "Champagne." Look for "Cremant," instead, as I did in today's bubbly-and-steak tasting, for a delicious and affordable alternative.

ITALY: Look for the popular, ubiquitous Prosecco for an affordable New Year's toast; or go for Asti (the wine formerly known as Asti Spumante) if you like it sweet.

SPAIN: Cava, the Spanish name for "bubbly," is easy to find, affordable and comes from many producers.

UNITED STATES: Want to buy American? We make it all, from high-end bubblies to horrifying industrial swill. Many top French champagne producers make California sparklers, too. Give them a look, but pass on any domestic sparkler that's big enough to advertise on TV.

REST OF THE WORLD: I've had credible sparklers from Australia, South America, South Africa, Germany, and even Bulgaria. Seek advice from the knowledgeable folks at local wine-specialty stores, and you can't go wrong.

Whatever you choose to open on Friday night, my best New Year's wishes to all. May 2011 be a year of peace, prosperity and joy.

Find today's wine online

Locate vendors and compare prices for Gérard Bertrand Cremant de Limoux on Wine-Searcher.com.

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