by Sally Wilson; pictures: HS
The last time I celebrated was on Sunday night. There wasn’t a particular reason, but the day had been a good one and the fridge was full of near fluorescent vegetables calling out for roasting. I started by smothering pumpkin, sweet potato, garlic cloves and a quartered cauliflower with cumin, coriander, rock salt and olive oil, and slid the lot into the oven. As they cooked, I dressed baby spinach, chopped up parsley, poured in two tins of chickpeas and with the warm, smouldering vegetables made a salad around Friday night’s left over lamb. It was a simple dinner, thorough, satisfying and one I pulled together under the guidance of a glass or two of bubbles.
When I celebrate I like to steer close to tradition, but also loosen the rules. This means I celebrate birthdays, Christmas, New Year’s and anniversaries, but also Sundays, friendships and humble achievements. Most of us have an instinct to reach for bubbles to celebrate, but who says it needs to be with a certain brand? I like exploring, and when it comes to bubbles there is an infinite range of options from all over the world. Take prosecco from Italy, cava from Spain, sparkling whites from Australia... And for in-between moments, glorious, sparkling H2O.
Bubbles are the beating heart of celebrations for me. Maybe the wonderment starts when we’re young and chasing after streams of iridescent bubbles blown from plastic wands, intent on popping them? Maybe the same wonder matures later on into a fascination with the millions of bubbles within one champagne glass, held aloft when we turn 21. The fact is there’s something mesmerising and significant about the pop of a bottle, the rush of dissolved carbon dioxide as it bubbles up and winks at you in fine beads trailing towards the top of your glass.
The pop is the sound of celebration and the fizz is the exuberance within it. When we clink our glasses and look each other in the eye to say ‘cheers’, ‘salud’ or ‘cin cin’ we are reinforcing invisible connections, ones steeped in love, respect and friendship, which I think we should regularly and actively celebrate. The discarded corks, the wire muselets, the occasional spills onto tablecloths and down shirtfronts, they’re all part of the fun and spontaneity of celebrating this way.
Prosecco is one of my favourite bubbles for drinking on a Friday night, particularly when someone has a bottle ready to go at the magic hour that seems to strike around five in the evening. Imagine this: a table of friends, some glasses pulled from the kitchen, a bowl of hickory barbeque chips at the ready and the flow of good conversation. That’s my kind of twist on tradition. And for the record, potato chips taste mischievous and magnificent with a glass of fizz!
In the years before prosecco, I was actually a long distance runner. I trained each morning at dawn, pulling on wet weather gear in the winter and shorts in the summer to make a 10-kilometre pilgrimage around running tracks to the hum of Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones and Vivaldi. Training led to races and in 2009 I found myself on a starting line in southern Australia for a half-marathon. The night before I ate a bowl of pasta with asparagus and twenty minutes after crossing the finishing line I sat down at a local takeaway shop for battered scallops, minimum chips and bubbles I’d brought along in my backpack. I can tell you now with total confidence that a 23-kilometre run, deep-fried potatoes covered with chicken salt and a mini bottle of champagne make a nice, celebratory combo.
One of the surprising things about sparkling wines is how well they go with food. The high acidity that characterises good bubbles means you can start off dinner with a toast, but also continue on through your meal with them, right from apertif to digestif. Bubbles freshen the palate, enliven food and pair well with everything from lobster, to pad thai laden with small red chillies and basil, to cheese and crackers.
I came across cava this way, exploring the local cheeses made in and around Querétaro. Once a week I’d construct an epic cheese platter, using over-sized portions of blue cheese, goat’s cheese, cheeses cured with wine and spoonfuls of relish, cornichons and honey on the side, for spreading, crunching on and dipping. Then I’d add crackers, slices of fresh sour-dough and a glass of Spanish cava, produced according to the same méthode traditionnelle used in the making of champagne and aged underground in vast, watchful cellars.
One of my hobbies –if you can call it that– is spending time browsing in bottle shops, eyeing off the cocktail glasses, the sparkling wine flutes, the combinations of gins, bitters and bubbles that could become French 75’s, mimosas and sparkling punch bowls in the future. I love spending time in front of the vinos espumosos looking for and finding inspiration amongst their pomp and splendour. It’s hard to look at the lines of a bottle of bubbles and not think ‘celebration’.
There’s history inherent in these kinds of drops. Cava, champagne and sparkling brut all sparkle because of a double fermentation that happens first in the barrel and then again in the individual bottle. It’s in the bottle that the carbon dioxide produced by fermentation is trapped and dissolved under pressure into the liquid wine. When we pop open a bottle and charge our glasses, the gases bubble out and sparkle at us. Hover your nose over the top and all the history tingles upwards! The call to charge our glasses is a celebratory call. It is a playful, worthwhile tradition, which invites us to stop in our tracks to acknowledge big events and small victories. These days, when I hold onto the stem of a glass and lift it up, I begin to recall the sounds and emotions of celebrations from years before: a Christmas I spent alone in Melbourne, picnic-king on a sun-bleached lawn in the Royal Botanic Garden with a turkey sandwich, a bottle of Australian sparkling wine and a straw; the three-day wedding of friends held in a backyard garden in San Miguel Chapultepec with champagne, sincerity and good company; or one December, when I sipped bubbles from a plastic cup on New Year’s Eve in Troncones, while fireworks flared up and the ocean whispered away with each of the resolutions declared on the beach.
My philosophy is to loosen the rules around celebration, to enjoy the pop and thrill of opening a bottle of bubbles when tradition calls for it and when spontaneity affords it. You could say it’s about inviting a little more ‘salud’ into the everyday.