The bounty of fresh asparagus in the spring signals the end of a dark, dreary winter and the beginning of a bright and hopefully prosperous growing season for our local farmers. Asparagus is one of my favourite vegetables and I always look forward to freshly picked asparagus and try to incorporate it as much as possible into my meals during the spring. For more information on Ontario asparagus and some tasty recipes go to http://www.asparagus.on.ca.
Asparagus is a notoriously difficult vegetable to pair with wine. Certain compounds found in asparagus are responsible for its grassy, sometimes sulphurous aromas and flavours (and the mysterious asparagus pee), which along with its natural vegetal character can clash with wine, turning it metallic and bitter.
Make Asparagus More Wine Friendly
There are a couple of ways to cook and serve asparagus to help make it more wine friendly:
* Grill it so it has a degree of char to help soften and round out some of its grassy, vegetal qualities.
* Serve it with a creamy sauce or dressing – cheese, hollandaise, etc.
* Combine it with other, more wine friendly ingredients – Proscuitto, mushrooms, cheese, etc.
Wines to Pair with Asparagus
While it is possible to find wine to pair with asparagus, there are some wines that should definitely be avoided. Big, oaky Chardonnays and tannic reds are not good partners with asparagus. I recommend serving a light, crisp white wine, but if you must serve a red, it’s best to choose one that is relatively light in body and very low in tannins. Pinot Noir or Gamay would probably be your best bets, especially with grilled asparagus.
Here are my favourites:
Sauvignon Blanc: This is my favourite pairing with asparagus. This grape typically produces crisp, refreshing and mouthwatering wines full of aromas and flavours including gooseberry, grapefruit, fresh green grass, and minerals. The wine’s green fruit flavours and grassiness make it match and not clash with the dish. There are a few different styles of Sauvignon Blanc (oaked versions should be avoided with asparagus). Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre or Pouilly Fume from the Loire Valley in France have slightly more subtle aromas and flavours than the pungent Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand. I like both versions with Sauvignon Blanc, but some people feel New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc combined with asparagus gives a bit too much of that green grassy flavour. Crumble a little goat’s cheese over the asparagus to really make this pairing work.
Pinot Gris/Grigio: Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are the same grape but called different things depending on where it was produced. This grape made in Alsace, France is called Pinot Gris and is generally a more full and aromatic version. In Italy, it is called Pinot Grigio, and is typically lighter with more delicate flavours. When produced in other wine regions, it can be known by either name.
Grüner Veltliner: This is the most widely planted grape in Austria. The wines are dry, medium-bodied, and have crisp acidity with aromas and flavours that include mineral, herbal, floral, white pepper and spice. Grüner Veltliner is very versatile with food and not only pairs well with asparagus, but another notoriously difficult vegetable – the artichoke.
Riesling: Another crisp, zippy wine that is very food friendly, especially lighter fare like fish, pork, chicken, duck, and yes…veggies. I prefer the dry or slightly off-dry versions to pair with asparagus. Great examples of Riesling are made in Ontario, Australia, Alsace, and of course, Germany.
A few other wines that were recommended in my survey were:
Semillon: Good examples are made in Australia and a small amount in Ontario.
Chenin Blanc: Good examples come from the Loire Valley in France and some from South Africa.