Last week I talked about the challenges of pairing artichokes and wine. Today I thought I would tackle another perplexing wine-pairing food: asparagus. What is the problem with asparagus and wine?
What Makes Asparagus and Wine So Challenging?
For artichokes, the problem is cynarin, the naturally occurring chemical in the vegetable that makes everything you taste with it seem sweet. Is that what’s happening with asparagus? No. According to Sunset, asparagus contains the sulfurous amino acid methionine. “This compound, together with the plant’s intense grassy flavor, can make many wines taste dank, vegetal, or just plain weird.” Sunset quotes Sid Goldstein, author of The Wine Lover’s Cookbook, who says, “Asparagus makes everything you drink with it taste green.” Epicurious.com makes it sound even worse: “Certain chemicals in asparagus can make your wine taste vegetal, grassy, or just plain rotten. No other ingredient, not even cheese or chocolate, is the target of such fear, disdain, and discussion. Asparagus has been likened to Kryptonite; it is the enemy, it ruins perfectly nice vino.”
What Rules Should We Follow?
For starters, you want to avoid oaky wines and wines with a lot of tannin. Oaky wines end up tasting too oaky, and high-tannin wines come close to tasting rotten. If you must have a red, go with a fruity, low tannin red. For whites, FoodAndWine.com recommends wines that are “citrusy, herbal and unoaked, for instance a Sancerre or Pouilly Fumé from France’s Loire Valley, Grüner Veltliner from Austria, Alsace Riesling, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, even unoaked Chardonnay, especially from a cooler region like Oregon’s Willamette Valley.” If you go with a Riesling, make sure it’s off dry, since sweet wines can be problematic. Sparkling Wine can work well too.
Any Other Tips We Should Know About?
Epicurious.com recommends using thin spears, which they say have “less of that darned chemical.”
Sid Goldstein says that grilling the asparagus to the point where you have a char “takes the bitter edge off of the greenness of the asparagus.” He recommends grilled asparagus with Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio.
MatchingFoodAndWine.com offers these wonderful recommendations for different asparagus recipes:
- With a vinaigrette – An earthy, dry, unoaked Italian white such as Verdicchio or dry Orvieto, or a light, dry rosé without too much upfront berry fruit
- With melted butter or mayo – An unoaked or lightly oaked Chardonnay
- With goat cheese and salad – Sauvignon Blanc
- With grilled salmon – Semillon-Sauvignon blends
- Asparagus risotto – A crisp, dry Pinot Grigio
- Asparagus quiche – French Pinot Blanc, Italian Pinot Bianco or a light, unoaked Chardonnay
- Asparagus stir fry – Off-dry Riesling
- White asparagus – A young Grüner Veltliner
I would love to hear about your adventures with artichokes and wine. Please share them here.
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