by Viviane Bauquet Farre
When a dish is paired with the right wine, the experience of eating and drinking is enhanced – the wine and the food elevated to a different realm, one that tantalizes the taste buds and makes you pause. But pairing wine with food can be intimidating… where do you begin? Especially when it comes to pairing wines with the rather mild-mannered, and sometimes finicky, spring vegetables and fruits.
So here’s a simple guide to choosing the right wine for your spring menus... You’ll never worry again about what to serve with asparagus!
Artichokes | Blanc de Blancs & Chardonnay
Artichokes look so prickly that you wonder how anyone could eat them. But beneath the armor-like, spiky leaves hides a delicious tender heart. And that tender heart needs care when pairing it with wine, or it can easily be overwhelmed. Therefore, the most important thing to consider is how the artichoke is prepared.
For artichokes that are served simply, either marinated or with a vinaigrette, a sparkling wine – especially a Blanc de Blanc – is your go-to pairing.
For richer dishes where artichokes are either braised, stuffed, served with a creamy sauce or tossed in pasta or risotto, a Chardonnay fits the bill. If the dish is light, like braised artichokes on their own, then serve an unoaked Chardonnay. If the artichokes are cooked in a richer, creamy sauce or in a savory risotto, then a fuller-bodied, slightly buttery Chardonnay is more fitting.
Asparagus | Grüner Veltliner
This spring vegetable is notoriously challenging to pair with wine, and for good reason. Its green, vegetal tones make many wines taste a bit off. But if paired with wines that have good acidity and grassy/herbal notes, asparagus can make a good companion to wine.
Grüner Veltliner (also known as “gru-vee”) is always a great choice with asparagus. The wine’s juicy acidity, mineral tones and herbal notes are a good match to the elusive veggie. But other wines with similar profiles are worthy candidates, too. A Sauvignon Blanc from cool regions like Sancerre in the Loire Valley, Marlborough in New Zealand or the North Coast in California; or a Vermentino from Sardinia… both pair wonderfully with asparagus.
Fennel | Pinot Gris & Pinot Blanc
With its distinct anise flavor, fennel is most certainly a white wine veggie! But as with artichokes, you need to pay attention to how the fennel is prepared – raw fennel and cooked fennel should be matched to very different wines.
For raw fennel (think shaved fennel in a salad), a medium-bodied, crisp white with citrus and herbal notes is ideal. And a Pinot Gris works very well. Although there’s a multitude of styles (and qualities!) of this very popular varietal, it is possible to find well crafted Pinot Gris from just about any corner of the world. For raw fennel, though, a lighter style is preferable. Alternatively, pour a Sauvignon Blanc (from cool regions), a Verdicchio from Central Italy or a Friuli from Northeast Italy.
For cooked fennel, whether it be roasted, braised or puréed, you’ll need a wine that’s less racy – one with mellow acidity and a rounder mouthfeel. A full-bodied, luscious Pinot Blanc or Chasselas from Alsace works marvelously. Of course, a Chardonnay wouldn’t be out of place here either!
Leafy greens | Sauvignon Blanc
(Arugula, Spinach, Watercress and Baby lettuces)
Young, tender spring lettuces are mostly consumed raw in palate-cleansing salads, and they scream for a crisp Sauvignon Blanc! This is perhaps the simplest spring pairing you’ll ever have to make. Just make sure to think cool-weather Sauvignon Blanc, the kind that’s lean and makes your mouth tingle.
Of course, other wines fit the bill here too, especially when you consider how those tender greens are dressed. With lemony vinaigrettes, Albariños from Rías Baixas in Northern Spain, Assyrtikos from Santorini (which are wonderfully briny!) or Greco di Tufos from Campania are just marvelous.
Citrus | Albariño & Riesling
Citrus fruits are superb in desserts, but they’re just as adaptable to savory dishes. And in the spring, they bring their much needed vibrant flavors to many a dish.
In savory dishes, Albariño is a most suitable partner to lemons and limes, as the citrus notes and enchanting crispness of the wine abound. With oranges and tangerines, which are less bracing and more aromatic than lemons and limes, a dry Riesling is a perfect match – although a Gewürztraminer also makes a pretty spectacular pairing!
A late harvest to sweet Riesling is simply mouthwatering with citrusy desserts! Other delectable pairings include late harvest Gewürztraminer, Ice Wine, Sauternes and Muscat. (There are some excellent Orange Muscats from California that are superb with orange desserts.)
Strawberries | Rosé Champagne & Sauternes
Strawberry and Champagne is probably the most cliché pairing… and it works! But let’s make that a rosé sparkler or a Demi-Sec. And it goes without saying that these spring strawberries are juicy, sweet and utterly ambrosial – the kind you find at your farmers market or pick yourself from a local farm. Whether served raw or in a light dessert like a mousse, a parfait or a sorbet, these jewel-like berries are sublime with a rosé or Demi-Sec bubbly.
For richer strawberry desserts, either baked or creamy, you’ll need to serve a sweeter wine. And a Sauternes is just the thing! Close seconds are Moscato d’Asti, Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise and off-dry to sweet Riesling.
Here’s to a delicious spring… in your glass and on your plate!
About the Author
Viviane Bauquet Farre is a chef, food and wine writer, and photographer. Her food e-magazine, Food & Style showcases exuberant, seasonal recipes and cocktails. She has won plaudits from home chefs the world over, and been heralded both in print and across the Web, in forums as diverse as Bon Appetit, Vegetarian Times, and Saveur (which also crowned Food & Style one of the “Best of the Web”). Viviane is also the publisher of Food & Style Club – an interactive, “living cookbook,” with built-in cooking classes, access to the chef and more.