The first time I got shitfaced-drunk, I was nine years old and at a wedding.
This explains a lot, I know. The sprawling Northern California house where it was held had four different bars set up, with stoned teen bartenders endlessly filling flutes of champagne, the pale liquid slowly heating in the summer sun. They didn't give a shit about me, and I didn't give a shit about them, and in their stoned daze I'm not sure that they really put together that a kid of roughly nine shouldn't be walking away with three glasses at a time. Needless to say I don't remember much of that day or night, except for projectile-vomiting in a cramped bathroom sometime after dark. Due to this incident—and the generally liberal attitude towards libations in California in the '80s—I don't recall much of my youth, and there is something calming about that truth.
So champagne, and all sparkly wines, have held a special place in my heart since that first experience of mind alteration. I love the bubbles; I love the slightly bitter pucker that gives way to a round sweetness that tickles your throat when you take too big of a gulp. Wine is awesome, and so are bubbles, so how can you go wrong? And other sparkling wines, cav, prosecco, even Sodastream-ed Chardonnay have a special place in the cheese world as well.
Traditionally, sparklies love a good, rich, buttery, triple crème. Thus, the French classic of champagne and Pierre Robert (a triple crème cheese, discussed in this very column a few back, that has the randy addition of crème fraiche to the ultra butter) is like the perfect marriage: you have the richness of the fat and the lightness of the spark, and—unlike most marriages—this one goes down super easy.
But tradition, and marriage for that matter, are boring and overrated. Sparkling wines scream out to be paired with so much more than just indulgent gooey, buttery, cheeses. Even when you're married to some hot sexpot, you might still wanna try a little somethin' else on the side. (Am I right, Jeff Koons?) So when thinking of pairing cheese, think outside the gilded box.
A drier, more minerally wine loves a floral, sheepy tome from the Pyrenees (think Ossau-Iraty or Abbaye de Belloc). A more fruit-forward variety goes great with a richer blue (Gorgonzola, perhaps, or the famed Roquefort). The balance of the slightly sweet wine brings out all the nuanced candy flavors of the cheese.
Cheese pairing is fun, sparkling wines are fun, and so are eating and getting drunk. Try all of this and more this holiday season, and you too might find yourself in a cramped dark bathroom watching the evening emptied out into the porcelain buckets of the gods, but hopefully you'll have some good memories that you actually remember.