Thursday, April 8, 2010

Champagne and Hot Dogs

For a couple years now, the Cognac people have been flying American mixologists and liquor pros out to France for "Cognac summits," trying to turn them onto the idea of using more brandy in their cocktail creations. Whenever I encounter one of the veterans of these trips, I ask them if they were converted to the cause, and they all take on the same resigned expression and wearily say "no." The reason? Cognac is just too damn expressive to make economic sense as a cocktail component. To use it will drive up the cost of the drink.

I thought about this recently as I sat down to a long meal of Champagne and hot dogs. That's right, Champagne and hot dogs. The event took place at Bark, the great dog joint in Park Slope. So the food was tasty. As was the wine. Dom Pérignon, Veuve Cliquot, Moet & Chandon, even Krug were being poured. The idea behind the peculiar repast, as with the Cognac meetings, was to get liquor pros and writers to think differently about Champagne. The worldwide recession has not been good to Champagne. People are drinking and demanding cheaper wines, and Champagne ain't that. Even in good times, Americans think of bubbly as a special-occasion bottle, for New Year's Eve and anniversaries and births. And though wine writers continually (and correctly) preach that sparkling wine goes beautifully with most food, folks are slow to learn, and loathe to pay for a bottle that costs so much more than the meal they're eating.

Even before the economic downturn, houses like Krug were trying to get consumers to think of Champagne as something you could drink everyday—a priceless pitch given the price of a bottle of Krug. This hot dog event was part of that push. And I was willing to listen to the argument, if only for its originality.

The feast was not for the weak of heart. We tried eight different hot dogs, paired with eight different bottles. Recognizing that we were not in training for the annual Coney Island hot dog-eating contest, the host served the weiners in halves. Still, that's four loaded hot dogs. And eight glasses of Champagne. (We were not compelled to finish each glass, but most did anyway. Imagine.)

I looked hard to find merits in the pairings, things that married the dogs and bubbly taste-wise. And I succeeded once. Bark's NYC Dog with Cucumber Relish found something of a kindred spirit in the Moet & Chandon Grand Vintage 2003. I puzzled over this, until Josh Sharkey, the owner of Bark, told me there was lime zest in the cucumber relish. There was the link: citrus!

Otherwise, though, my efforts were thwarted. The juicy acidity of the hot dogs warred with the zippy acidity of the wine. It was an acid fest. And, quite frankly, as good as Sharkey's frankfurters were, I was always thinking how much they were being outclassed by the Champagne. Few foods are as good as a glass of Krug. And the dog didn't even come close.

But even if the Krug emerged as a improbably perfect pairing for a red hot, the disparity in cost between the two items negates the pairing as a serious possibility. As I tasted the dogs next to the wines, I kept thinking I was playing a game only a rich man could indulge in, like putting shaved truffles on my egg sandwich. The Krug rep there told a glass of the stuff would run me about $40 in New York. Who else but a wealthy (and decadent) person could, or would, order a $40 beverage to go with a $5 dog?

I do think pairing Champagne with comfort food could work, but on a much more modest level, involving value Champagnes and other economical sparkling wines, like Cava or Prosecco. I'd break out an $11 half-bottle of Gruet from New Mexico with a bratwurst. Bark has one sparkling wine on its menu. Next time I'm in, I'm going to give it a try with my dog.

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