Asparagus and Wine

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As the weather starts to get nicer and Spring begins to assert itself, the home chef starts to think about asparagus. Despite being available year round these days, it is at this time of year when you can find this magnificent vegetable as it was meant to be eaten. Those green spears and Spring are intertwined in our thoughts like Antony and Cleopatra, Astaire and Rogers, or Sid and Nancy.

asparagusActually, those last two might better describe how asparagus and wine go together. An amino acid called methionine is largely responsible for the clash, along with another substance called mercaptan and compounds known as thiols (that are also responsible for the wonder known as “asparagus pee”). Their sulfurous qualities combine with the natural grassy, vegetal qualities to create a flavor profile that is like kryptonite to most wines. Many wine-conscious restaurants flat-out ban the vegetable from their kitchens, which is probably a good idea, as it is not possible to ensure that the customer not order a fine bottle that will be decimated by all that chemistry.

However, it is possible to serve and pair it, especially at home. First, let us look at what to avoid. The worst clashes occur when a wine has a lot of tannins or is heavily oaked. So, we can effectively eliminate almost all reds and most Chardonnays. Big California Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays are possibly the worst wines to have with asparagus. The aforementioned dead punks got along better, even if they had a three day poke jones on. Avoid these at all costs, and with what they tend to cost, that could be very frugal advice.

If you, for whatever reason, simply must serve a red with asparagus, try and find a very fruit-forward Pinot Noir with mild tannins and very little oakiness. Some folks also recommend Beaujolais, but I’m not sold on that idea. In fact, I’m not sold on Beaujolais with anything, but I digress. Whites are a much better match for asparagus.

There are three whites that I find to be the most pleasant with asparagus, Reisling, Pinot Grigio, and Sauvignon Blanc. Of these Sauvignon Blanc is the most obvious and best choice as a direct pairing. The grassiness and citrusy acidity of the wine not only can withstand the powerful onslaught of unique tastes that asparagus brings to the palate, it is actually complimented by it. To me, Sauvignon Blanc is the only wine to reach for if the green spears of death are to be prepared simply, such as steamed or lightly sautéed.

To pair with the other wines mentioned there are a variety of strategies that can be employed. One is to grill or broil the vegetable. Getting a bit of char on the outside seems to let it play a lot more nicely with wine. If served with Pinot Noir I would recommend always using the grill or the broiler.

Another strategy is to use sauces to help marry the flavor. Hollandaise, lemon butter and various mayonaises can help bridge the flavor profiles. Both creamy and citrus seem to do the trick.

So, don’t believe the old canard that wine and asparagus don’t go well together, just take care when pairing them. I will post some recipes later.

  • Steve

    Funny I should read your blog today…we just bought some asparagus a few days ago and have been enjoying it since….although, maybe I need to qualify that…we bought ‘baby’ asparagus. Which, I have to say is easier going on the wine ‘pairing’ dilema…’cause all you have to do with those bad boys is a light steam, a quick saute with butter and salt and BAM…
    yer good to go. I had no problems with my cab sav with it either…but, as you have noted…my palette tends to be pretty WIDE…but, I think I would have detected anything offensive…maybe. I’m not exactly drinking the ‘good stuff’ these days..budgetary concerns….
    What about a chenin blanc with aforementioned greenery? I would think that maybe a nice…ummm, oh the regions escape me now…upper loire?…they do the chenin blanc right? Ah…I’m going to quit now before I embarrass myself.
    We’re planting an italian herb garden…I find you just can’t have enough fresh rosemary….
    Steve

  • Steve

    Funny I should read your blog today…we just bought some asparagus a few days ago and have been enjoying it since….although, maybe I need to qualify that…we bought ‘baby’ asparagus. Which, I have to say is easier going on the wine ‘pairing’ dilema…’cause all you have to do with those bad boys is a light steam, a quick saute with butter and salt and BAM…
    yer good to go. I had no problems with my cab sav with it either…but, as you have noted…my palette tends to be pretty WIDE…but, I think I would have detected anything offensive…maybe. I’m not exactly drinking the ‘good stuff’ these days..budgetary concerns….
    What about a chenin blanc with aforementioned greenery? I would think that maybe a nice…ummm, oh the regions escape me now…upper loire?…they do the chenin blanc right? Ah…I’m going to quit now before I embarrass myself.
    We’re planting an italian herb garden…I find you just can’t have enough fresh rosemary….
    Steve

  • http://www.anotherwineblog.com Joe Power

    I think a Chenin Blanc would work pretty well, too. Another reader emailed me that she thought a Muscadet would be a fine match, too, so apparently I missed the boat by not adding some Loire wines to the list.

    Are you planting the herbs outside? What considerations do you have to take given the climate extremes down here?

  • http://www.anotherwineblog.com Joe Power

    I think a Chenin Blanc would work pretty well, too. Another reader emailed me that she thought a Muscadet would be a fine match, too, so apparently I missed the boat by not adding some Loire wines to the list.

    Are you planting the herbs outside? What considerations do you have to take given the climate extremes down here?

  • Steve

    What extremes? There’s hot, and there’s humid. :)
    We’ve basically put an entire Italian herb garden in a location that doesn’t get a ton of sun…there’s a coupld of trees shading it…and we just need to stay on top of making sure they don’t dry out…we’ve got tomatoes, eggplant, squash, rosemary, oregano, thyme….they’re doing really well right now….I don’t knows if I’ll be able to say that come June….
    Also, we basically built this little area up with about a foot and 1/2 of potting soil…so the plants aren’t actually in the ‘gumbo’ that primarily makes up the houston soil. Hopefully, the extra drainage will help.

  • Steve

    What extremes? There’s hot, and there’s humid. :)
    We’ve basically put an entire Italian herb garden in a location that doesn’t get a ton of sun…there’s a coupld of trees shading it…and we just need to stay on top of making sure they don’t dry out…we’ve got tomatoes, eggplant, squash, rosemary, oregano, thyme….they’re doing really well right now….I don’t knows if I’ll be able to say that come June….
    Also, we basically built this little area up with about a foot and 1/2 of potting soil…so the plants aren’t actually in the ‘gumbo’ that primarily makes up the houston soil. Hopefully, the extra drainage will help.

  • http://www.anotherwineblog.com Joe Power

    Good luck and when is dinner?

  • http://www.anotherwineblog.com Joe Power

    Good luck and when is dinner?

  • http://www.westwindtours.us Diane O’Neil

    I just came over from MustLoveWine to check out your site. Asparagus is one of my favorite veggies, but it won’t be ready in my garden here in Montana for a few weeks. We like to grill it with a bit of Italian salad dressing, or a little olive oil, then sprinkle with fresh parmesan or other Italian cheese.
    The French seem to prefertheir asparagus white, as that’s all we see in the markets there.
    I’ll try some of your suggestions for wine pairing, but I’m a serious “red wino”, the stronger the better.

  • http://www.westwindtours.us Diane O’Neil

    I just came over from MustLoveWine to check out your site. Asparagus is one of my favorite veggies, but it won’t be ready in my garden here in Montana for a few weeks. We like to grill it with a bit of Italian salad dressing, or a little olive oil, then sprinkle with fresh parmesan or other Italian cheese.
    The French seem to prefertheir asparagus white, as that’s all we see in the markets there.
    I’ll try some of your suggestions for wine pairing, but I’m a serious “red wino”, the stronger the better.

  • http://www.anotherwineblog.com Joe Power

    Welcome Diane!

  • http://www.anotherwineblog.com Joe Power

    Welcome Diane!

  • http://www.outdoor-gas-grill-reviews.com/ Outdoor Gas Grills

    I love asparagus. I'd like to try the white asparagus. Any one tried that?

  • http://www.outdoor-gas-grill-reviews.com/ Outdoor Gas Grills

    I love asparagus. I'd like to try the white asparagus. Any one tried that?