Pairing (not Paring) Spring Vegetables

fiddlehead fernsSpring and summer usher in a new batch of colorful vegetables, some of which throw a curve ball when pairing with wine. Now is the time to flex your creative muscles! It’s notoriously challenging to find proper wine matches for artichokes and asparagus; however, roasted root vegetables, stewed beans and earthy mushroom dishes lend themselves quite well to wine. From my experience, when in doubt pull out the bubbles, orange wine, sake or sherry.

I’m taking myself back to my days in culinary school, to offer these basic principles for creating great pairings:

Powerful flavors in food and richness call for powerful wines. Lighter food flavors require lighter wines. Spicy, salty, or smoky flavors in food welcome lighter, fruity reds, and off-dry to semi-sweet whites. You can pair food with wine by creating complementary pairings, where the food tastes like the wine (tomatoes with fresh herbs, olive oil, and olives paired with fresh, bright herbaceous Sauvignon Blanc). Or you can go the opposite direction with contrasting pairing where the food and the wine have opposite flavors and textures (for example, roasted asparagus with hollandaise paired with a vibrant sparkling wine).

Another consideration is how the dish is cooked. Roasting and caramelizing brings out the richer, sweeter flavors in vegetables. Steaming or sautéing can keep the flavors light and bright. Braising will bring out some of the deeper, more brooding and complex aspects of a vegetable or legume. Other components in a dish, from fresh herbs to spices, can also affect what you might pair with your vegetable of choice, so consider options at both ends of the light white to dark red wine spectrum.

Ok time to jump right in! Here are some tricky veggies with wine pairings that will almost always work together:

Artichokes: Artichokes are challenging because they contain a chemical acid called ‘cynarin’, which makes everything taste sweeter — especially the wine. To counter this I recommend serving a dry Fino sherry, smooth Soave from Italy, or a vibrant Txakoli from Spain.

Asparagus: A rustic vegetable that contains compounds like asparagusic acid, which, in case you were wondering, is an organosulfur carboxylic acid. Go for something citrusy, herbal and unoaked. For instance, you might choose a Sancerre or Pouilly Fumé from France’s Loire Valley; Grüner Veltliner from Austria; Alsace Riesling; Italian Sauvignon Blanc; or even unoaked Chardonnay, especially from a cooler region like Oregon’s Willamette Valley or Chablis from France.

Avocados: They are rich and sexy, and they work beautifully with voluptuously herbaceous, grassy and fruity whites, such as Torrontes from Argentina, Chardonnay from France or Italy, Albarino from Spain, or Moschofilero from Greece.

Mushrooms: Sure, there are a number of pairings here, but as far as a standouts go, you only need to remember two words and one wine: Pinot Noir. The earthy mushrooms and the fruit of the Pinot make for the “divine” contrast.

Nettles and Fiddlehead Ferns: These are some of the most highly sought after spring vegetables! These special veggies pair well with a soft, slightly fruity white like Pinot Gris from Oregon, Viognier from southern France, or Pinot Blanc from northern Italy.

Ramps: Make sure to avoid wines with a lot of oak/vanilla notes and wines that are super floral. You want a bright wine with green apple acidity and a hint of grassiness, arugula, or pepper to go with the bright, green, funk flavors in ramps. My picks are Friulano or Pinot Grigio from Friuli, Italy.

Olives: Because of the saltiness and briny flavors, Sake, Fino or Manzanilla Sherry, dry rosé from France, Italy or Spain and/or bubbles are the way to go.

The enjoyment of thoughtful wine and food pairing comes into play when you have special fresh market products on hand whose virtues you want to showcase and savor. That is the essence of the garden cook’s mission—to capture flavor at its peak. Why stop short of the beverage? By its very nature, no other liquid flatters the earth’s bounty better than vino, so cheers!

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