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champagnechickenChampagne and caviar. Champagne and oysters. Champagne and whatever’s on that little silver tray they’re passing around. Dude, that’s SO Downton Abbey! How about taking off the tux and pairing your bubbly with a bucket of popcorn instead, or maybe some deep-fried morsel of heaven or a big, steaming slab of meat?

We did some investigating about unusual yet rewarding ways to match up your uncorked New Year’s Eve libation with food. Turns out the monocled world of Champagne is crawling with cheeky iconoclasts who are pairing it with everything except road kill. Who knew?

Wine Folly suggests that a nice Blanc de Noir would go with deep-fried mushrooms: “The earthiness in the mushrooms is complemented by the more rich fruity/earthy notes that you’ll find common in a Blanc de Noir.” Some good bang-for-the-buck American examples are easy to find: Chandon, J and Gloria Ferrer, for example.

Another curveball pairing recommended by Wine Folly is Champagne with mac and cheese, which is catching on at gastropubs in O.C.. “But consider a softer creamery cheese with flavor such as smoked gouda,” Wine Folly advises. “The Champagne needs to be acidic enough to cut through the cheese without being so strong as to ‘turn’ the cheese.”

The great thing about Champagne from a foodie’s perspective is that it contains high levels of acid and very little sugar. Those qualities help bring out a wealth of flavors so they can match up with a huge variety of foods, from mild meats such as poached sole and baked chicken to highly spiced Indian and Thai cuisine. (That’s where the bubbles help – they bring down the heat.)

Elise Losfelt, a young winemaker with Moët & Chandon, toured America last summer promoting her classier-than-thou product. Usually the august French house presents its bubbly like it’s the latest Louboutin, but this year the message was more proletarian: Champagne, the people’s drink!

One of the themes Losfelt hammered on was pairing bubbly with heavier meats.

“(Our champagne) has the presence and maturity that goes with meat or fish – veal, for example; or lamb could be nice.”

Losfelt thinks her label’s assertive and well-respected 2006 vintage can stand up to hefty sauces, too. “You don’t want just a light seasoning with this Champagne, but rather something creamy to counterbalance the acidity. I think I would love to have a risotto, maybe with a hint of lemon or some mushrooms. You could also go with roasted root vegetables.” You’re a wild woman, Elise!

Trend-savvy California mixologist Jenny Buchhagen senses a sea change in the way people are pairing Champagne: “I’ve noticed that younger people are drinking Champagne at the beginning of their meal and to start the night off.”

There’s been a down-home twist to the trend, too, Buchhagen says. “Our sommelier thinks that the best pairing with Champagne is potato chips. People are trying that quite a bit.”

Speaking of somms, a good one should be able to artfully match up bubbly with food throughout a meal.

Why not start with a prosecco to go with your light appetizer, then opt for something heavy for the entrée – some Australian sparkling Shiraz such as Mollydooker’s Goosebumps to go with that pork belly – and a Ruinart Brut Rosé to wash down your strawberries and ice cream? I can’t think of a better way to mark the calendar’s passing than ending your New Year’s Eve meal with this stunner from France’s oldest Champagne house.

Oh yeah, about that popcorn you’re thinking of having with your bubbly – slather it with truffle butter. It’s the perfect blend of crass and class.