Monday, May 18, 2009

Pairing Wine with Asparagus

First of all, I think this whole asparagus are impossible to pair with wine thing is exaggerated. They require a bit more consideration than say, roast chicken, but they're just asparagus, and they're so delicious this time of year. But asparagus have developed this reputation as impossible to enjoy with wine, and I think it's not so.
The biggest mistake is to pair asparagus with a fruit-driven wine, which means avoiding most American wine, and most new world wine in general. Asparagus are the anti-fruit, and they don't work well with fruity wine. Please, whatever you do, be very careful mixing asparagus with rosé wine. Honestly, you can hurt yourself and your guests with this pairing. It's not just that asparagus are not fruity - roast chicken is not fruity either, and yet a roast chicken pairs beautifully with Beaujolais and other fruit-driven wines. We're talking about the anti-fruit, here. When serving asparagus, I try to go with wines that somehow echo their chlorophyll, grassy, slightly cheesy essence.

For me, the classic pairing is Sauvignon Blanc. I'm talking about wines from Sancerre or Touraine, for example. Not from Cheverny, though, as those wines, while tasty, can be more akin to the New Zealand pungent style of Sauvignon Blanc, which I think when combined with asparagus is simply too much cat pee and grass for any household to deal with in one evening. I'm thinking Clos Roche Blanche Touraine Sauvignon Blanc, or a good Sancerre.

But this spring I've tried to branch out a bit, to varying degrees of success. I pictured a dry Alsace Gewurtztraminer and imagined it would be great, its pungency somehow working with asparagus. The jury is still out on that one. The Qupé Marsanne from the previous post was served with fish but also with asparagus, and it worked - the wine is mineral-driven and didn't conflict at all with asparagus. But tonight, my friends, I think I hit on something really good.

First, I should tell you that although I used to do things like parboil or saute, season with sesame oil, bonito shavings, or parmesan cheese, or otherwise get fancy with asparagus, now it's all about simplicity. BrooklynLady turned me on to roasting asparagus, and I'm hooked. Just don't over cook them and they're great with only a pinch of salt, maybe a dab of butter. If they're in season and farmer's market fresh (the only time we eat them), roast them with nothing at all. Naked asparagus, if you will. 15-20 minutes at 400 degrees for asparagus of medium circumference, and they're slightly firm and totally toothsome.
Last night for our pan-fried Porgy and roast asparagus I had already settled on Sauvignon Blanc, when it hit me. Sparkling wine. Not Pinot Noir based, but a Blanc de Blancs. But not Chenin Blanc either - too much fruit. I opened what is still my favorite under $20 sparkling wine, the NV Domaine de Montbourgeau Crémant du Jura, and it was delicious, a great pairing. Although I've heard talk about Savagnin in this wine, I think it is all Chardonnay. It is a soil-driven wine from a great producer in L'Étoile, one of the four Jura appellations. The nose is earthy but fresh and pure, and the palate is snappy with acidity and bright with chalk-infused citrus fruit. Nothing here to offend the anti-fruit. And there is something about the texture of the sparkle that just worked perfectly with roast asparagus. But maybe that's because sparkling wine works with anything. To be tried again, if there is still asparagus at the farmer's market next week, and there should be.


Florida Jim said...

I'm told Gruner is good with asparagus but I have not tried it. Seems to me, that some of the higher acid Italian whites might work.
Never thought of bubbles . . .
Best, Jim

Anonymous said...

Looking for bubbles and no fruit. Sounds like a beer pairing to me.

Cliff said...

Great thoughts. I've heard the GruVe thought as well, though I haven't been terribly impressed the few times I've tried.

If you're going with the anti-fruit concept, which makes sense to me, I'd run straight for Pépière: the vinous anti-fruit. Though any excuse for Montbourgeau is good in my book.

SteveG said...

I have also enjoyed any dry sherry beyond fino (amontillado, palo cortado, oloroso, as well as dry px from montilla-moriles). Also these work well with artichokes, another fruity-wine killer.

Edward said...

The Aussie option of course would be a straight Semillon - from either the Hunter, Barossa or Margaret River, or a blended white of Semillon and the aforementioned sauvignon blanc.

Tenbrooks said...

An Alsatian Grand Cru Muscat w/o a great deal of residual sugar works nicely. I've been enjoying the 2004 Dirler Muscat Grand Cru Spiegel of late. Also a very dry Tokaji sec, such as the Kakas bottling from Zoltan Demeter pairs admirably. The latter wine has been available by the glass at Terroir recently.


elwood said...

I'd also suggest Gruner veltliner. But with a caveat - good Gruner is pretty good, but cheap Gruner might as well be cheap pinot grigio. Your mileage may vary.

Last night we opened up an i clivi, "Brazan" Collio 2003. It was a touch heavy for the halibut, but matched the asparagus just fine. It had some fruit, but a lot of floral qualities that seemed to meet the iron-rich earthiness of the asparagus.

Cliff said...

In general, I agree about cheap GruVe. But I love Hofer.

Vinogirl said...

Avoiding most American wine!!! You really should try a Farella-Park Sauvignon blanc with that asparagus.

Wicker Parker said...

I think you're right about the fruit, Neil. I've been going nuts on the asparagus lately and find it's pretty easy to pair with wine, even reds, so long as they're not about big fruit.

I threw some spears on the barbecue this weekend and found they went well with a Crozes-Hermitage from Domaine Belle. Tonight I stir fried asparagus with leek and onion, tossed it in soy-peanut sauce, and it was brilliant with the '99 Renaissance Cabernet Sauvignon. Neither of these wines are fruit driven.

I've heard that very dry Alsatian muscat is great with asparagus. Certainly the GV pairing makes a hell of a lot of sense.

Brooklynguy said...

Okay...Gruner it is next time. Thanks for the comments.

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Box Wines said...

Hmmm, one way to pair asparagus and wine is to make the wine from fermented, mashed asparagus:
Asparagus Wine.

Doesn't sound all that yummy to me, but I haven't actually tasted it.

fabian said...

agree with elwood -- try a good one, for instance, for instance a FX Pichler. If you don't wanna pay 60$ per bottle for the Smaragd, try his cheaper Federspiel, which is also amazing.

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking Muscadet with asparagus. Waddayathink?