Drinking in the Morning

by Jim Clarke
March 2009

Recommended Wines and Beers

Agrapart ‘Terroir’ Blanc de Blancs ($40)
Pierre Gimmonet 1er Cru Blanc de Blancs ($45)
Ruinart Blanc de Blancs NV ($58)

Bisol ‘Jeio’ Prosecco di Valdobbiadene NV ($20)
Riva di Rocca Prosecco NV ($16)

Sauvignon Blanc:
Seresin 2007, New Zealand ($17)
Kim Crawford 2008, New Zealand ($13)
Durbanville Hills 2007, South Africa ($10)
Lucien Crochet Sancerre 2006, France ($20)

Pinot Gris:
Lucien Albrecht ‘Cuvée Cecile’ 2005, Alsace ($20)
Zind-Humbrecht ‘Herrenweg’ 2005, Alsace ($40)
Willakenzie Late Harvest 2006, Oregon ($28/375ml)

Brown Ale:
Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale, England ($3.50/12oz.)
Brooklyn Brewery Brown Ale, New York ($1.50/12oz.)

Westmalle Dubbel, Belgium ($5/11.2oz.)
Grimbergen Dubbel, Belgium ($2.50/11.2oz.)

Hanssens Oudbeitje (Strawberry), Belgium ($8.50/12oz.)
Liefmans Kriek (Cherry), Belgium ($11/750ml)

Drink at breakfast, and your friends and family will say you’ve got a problem. But sleep in on the weekend, call it brunch, and a drink is practically obligatory; even more so at Easter, a holiday that lends itself to morning dining. We typically pay tribute to our breakfasty beverages by supercharging them—OJ becomes a mimosa; tomato juice, a bloody mary. Coffee remains unadulterated—the caffeinated counterbalance to your morning alcohol—but do we really need to cut our alcohol with fruit juice to make it socially acceptable?

Well, I don’t think straight vodka is ever going to become the go-to pairing for eggs benedict, but there’s no reason to dilute your Champagne with orange juice—assuming it’s decent; the lesser stuff will certainly profit from some OJ. Champagne and other sparkling wines are refreshing and high in acidity, which makes them great with all sorts of eggs, from omelettes and benedicts, to quiches and the rest. A Blanc de Blancs Champagne can be particularly good. Made from 100% Chardonnay, these bubblies are often lighter and more citrusy than their blended brethren, and cut right through the texture of the eggs and hollandaise sauce.

Still, these wines can be costly for a simple meal like breakf…excuse me, brunch. Northern Italian Prosecco, on the other hand, is often priced right to fill in. Made from a native grape of the same name, Proseccos are simpler wines than Champagne, made by a simpler method—hence the lower price. In a Champagne, the second fermentation, which creates those lovely bubbles, occurs inside the same bottle the wine is eventually sold in; in a Prosecco, that fizz-inducing fermentation occurs inside a tank, only afterward is the wine pumped into the bottles. Light, with a mix of citrus, peach, and mineral aromas, Proseccos have been moving up in quality and popularity for the past decade or so.

For some, I realize, “the bubbles tickle my nose” is a complaint rather than a coquettish gasp of delight. To them I say: Sauvignon Blanc, specifically New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. High in acid, crisp, and glorying in their tart aromas, it’d be a disservice to these wines to call them alcoholic grapefruit juice, but you get the idea. Grapefruit and passionfruit aromas dominate, plus some touches of grass and sometimes asparagus. Marlborough is ground zero for Kiwi Sauvignon, and the 2006 and 2007 wines on the market are showing well. Want even less fruitiness? Try a South African Sauvignon Blanc, or go to the grape’s homeland in the Loire Valley for a minerally Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé.

So, those are “egg” wines. But what if, like me, you prefer a carbohydrate brunch of French toast, waffles, or pancakes? I suppose “French” toast deserves French wine, preferably something on the rich side to balance the dense bread and toppings of fruit compotes, vanilla or cinnamon crème fraiche, or the classic maple syrup. I find big, spicy white wines are great in these conditions, and if you’re keeping it French, that means Alsace Pinot Gris. Technically the same grape responsible for light, refreshing, but innocuous Pinot Grigio in Northern Italy, Alsace’s Pinot Gris is entirely different: weighty and rich, like a Chardonnay but without the flavors or creaminess of oak-aging. Indulging your sweet tooth? Try a late harvest or VT (Vendange Tardive), a sweeter style that often bridges the gap between opulent dessert wines and drier table wines.

When it comes to pancakes and waffles, I have a confession. My first restaurant job was working the graveyard shift at a Denny’s in the Pacific Northwest. We’d get off from work, and, like many people, go out for a drink…at six in the morning. The only place open was a local sports bar. No wine there (just beer), and no late night snacks. They served pancakes at that hour. Fortunately, beer and pancakes is a match made in heaven. Nut brown ales, some ambers, softer pale ales—this is what malty, not-too-hoppy brews were made for.

Waffles bring us full circle. They’re basically pressed pancakes, right? They’re also, by-and-large, Belgian, and Belgium is home to the world’s best beers. Odds are good you’re brunching on a Sunday, so you can silence the critics calling by selecting a Trappist or Abbey beer—if it’s good enough for monks, surely they’re suited to Sundays. There are only a handful of Trappist breweries in the world, where monks still make the beer. Abbey ales work in the same tradition, but, somewhat confusingly, are not actually owned or operated by an abbey. Styles vary, but many have the right balance of sweetness and body for waffles and maple syrup. However, if you opt instead for gobs of fruit compote, Belgian lambics are the way to go. Gently sweetened and fruit flavored (cherry and raspberry are the most common), the best still have the beery body to balance things out. Finally, many Belgian brews come in 750ml bottles, sealed with a cork and a cage, just like Champagne—obviously they had breakfast in mind.