I see Sunday brunch as one those slothful, decadent meals reserved for hangovers or when someone else is paying. Especially cool are the restaurants that keep the sparkling wine flowing, which cures the hangover and magnifies the excess. Most of the time, you're pushing back from the table 10 pounds heavier, with eggs, pancakes, and those fantastic butt-burgeoning breakfast meats all gurgling in your tummy.
But what most folks don't know is that wine at lunchtime can not only soothe an aching head but improve the flavor of the food. You might call it the Breakfast of Champions or maybe the Hair of the Dog -- breakfast and wine can and do go well together. But maybe not the wines you think.
Our test meal was elaborate, covering the major food groups -- protein, fat, carbs, and sugar: scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and cream cheese; Jimmy Dean original sausage and eggs; homemade pancakes slathered with syrup by Aunt Jemima; buttery croissants; mayo-laden, relish-free deviled eggs; gooey ham and cheddar-cheese omelets; and fantastic sweet-sour blueberry muffins. The wine lineup: dry California sparkling wine, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, dry Pinot Gris, sweet Italian Moscato d'Asti, French Vouvray, German Spatlese Riesling, an earthy California Pinot Noir, fruity California Merlot, and a dry California Zinfandel.
The common match with brunch grub is sparkling wine, but at this tasting, it fell flat on its face like a freshman at his first kegger. The wine alone tasted great, but the salmon tried to make friends and pretty much rejected it. Only the blueberry muffin, which turned out to be the cool kid that fits in with every other wine, tolerated its sparkling companion.
All the red wines were completely disgusting with breakfast as well. The savory, marbled sausage improved the rather bland, cheap Merlot, but that's about all the reds accomplished. The muffin couldn't even rise to the occasion. The dry whites, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris, found decent homes with the sausage and croissant, cutting through the acidity with the butter and fat. But I wouldn't call them great breakfast wines.
The sweet spot was the sweet wines. Normally, sugars in food and the sugars in wine neutralize one another. As such, a dessert can transform a rich, sweet wine into a nearly dry and fruity experience. The pancakes and blueberry muffin found a home with the Moscato. Similarly, opposites can attract. Vouvray, a sweeter Chenin Blanc from France, transformed into a crisp creature with the smoky fat and salt in the pork products.
The overall winner came in the form of German Riesling, the king of all food wines. No matter what the dish -- well, the deviled eggs just never found a mate anywhere -- the Riesling pulled it out. With its low acidity, relatively low alcohol content, and high fruit factor, the king created a fan club much like the King himself.
Other options at brunchtime: Asti Spumante, extra dry (slightly sweeter than brut) sparkling wine, and any other German Riesling style. Don't be afraid of the slightly sweet stuff ... it loves brunch.
Schloss Vollrads 2003 Spatlese Riesling Rheingau (Germany) -- Absolutely deliciously ripe with peaches, nectarines, red apples, and a minerally, slate flavor on the finish. Lightly sweet alone but pair it with food and that sugar melts into a rich, crisp wine. $19
Domaine Carneros by Taittinger 2001 Brut Cuvée (California) -- Crisp lemon, fragrant honeydew melon, toasted pine nuts, and creamy vanilla come together in a sparkling wine worth your taste buds. Try it without eggs. $25