Pairing Asparagus with Wine



Asparagus is the quintessential enemy of wine.

This vegetable is a member of the lily family and contains the sulfurous amino acid known as methionine.  This chemical compound is the culprit that causes the notorious "asparagus-pee" effect known to many who can smell it, not everyone can.  Lucky them.

When methionine is coupled with asparagus' already green and grassy flavors, it can make wine taste dank, metallic, thin and even bitter.  Overall, it's not good.
 
The only way to work against this collision of taste buds is to prepare the asparagus a certain way or drink the right wine varietal with this wonderful Spring vegetable.

As far as cooking goes, one way to thwart the asparagus-wine issue is to mask the vegetal asparagus flavors with a rich sauce; a Hollandaise or Bearnaise sauce are a good choice.  Even lots and lots of melted butter can work well.  Myself, I love to dip asparagus in mayonnaise, a habit my father taught me and one that dies hard, especially in a pinch.  Shame on me, but it's really good, try it.

Another cooking method that helps with the wine-asparagus debacle requires tossing the asparagus in olive oil and throwing it on the grill.  The grill-char magically balances the vegetal flavors of the asparagus, making it a more wine-friendly dish.

Now, if you're not interested in adding copious amounts of sauce to your asparagus and don't want to bother with the grill, you need to choose the perfect wine that creates a harmonious balance of  the so-called "light green flavors".

I do feel there are some definite wines to steer clear of with asparagus.  Wines such as highly tannic Cabernet Sauvignons or oaky Chardonnays are two that come to mind almost immediately as wine-asparagus no-no's.

If "naked asparagus" is more your style, then wines such as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio/Gris, Riesling even White Zinfandel (Gasp!) are decent choices.  If you are grilling the asparagus, try a Pinot Noir.  The earthy characters of the Pinot and the grill-char I spoke of earlier, would be a perfect match.

However, even though the wines mentioned are all great choices, I think I have found something even better.  Something more alternative and unheralded in the world of wine.




2006 Uvaggio Vermentino Lodi $11
2006 Argiolas Costamolino Di Sardegna Vermentino $13

Yes, Vermentino.

I know many of you might say Vermentino?  What's that?  I told you it was unheralded but not unheard of.

And no, not vermin, as in a pest or a nuisance, but VERMENTINO as in one of the main grape variety cultivated in the Western Mediterranean;  mostly the northern regions of Italy such as Tuscany and Liguria but also the Mediterranean Islands of Corsica and Sardinia. 

As of lately, Vermentino is also showing up in scattered vineyards around California.  The Lodi area, Tuolumne, Calaveras  and San Luis Obispo Counties are all sporting some newly emerging vineyard plots of this alternative white variety.

The above wines are two of my favorite Vermentino's.  And my favorite asparagus wines.

Vermentino has a classic tart citrus palate that screams not only to be paired with asparagus but with fish, light Asian food, sushi and grilled vegetables as well.  It is the perfect Spring and Summer wine offering. 

The 2006 Uvaggio Vermentino is slowly accomplishing a rise in this varietals profile.  Up until now, many Italian restaurants have strayed away from these Cal-Ital whites, however, winemaking for this varietal has improved so much in California, restaurateurs are taking another look. 

The Italian and California brands are mirroring each other greatly in aroma and flavor.  It is obvious to the consumer palate that nothing has been lost in translation by these wines, when made in the United States.

I am now seeing this wine poured at restaurants as a selection from their wine-by-the-glass programs, making it readily available for a broader clientèle to try.  

The Uvaggio Vermentino was fermented in its entirety in stainless steel tanks and did not undergo malolactic fermentation.

The wine boasts fresh fruity aromas followed by a crisp, refreshing nudge of citrus flavors on the palate.  A finish resembling the taste of a zesty green apple is there to round out the balance.

This wine also has a slight dose of carbon dioxide added to give it a vibrant edge that is stylistic for this type of wine.

The 2006 Argiolas Costamolino is another beautiful example of a Vermentino pairing well with asparagus.

Argiolas is located North of Cagliari, in Sardinia, and has long been a promoter of the island's indigenous varietals such as Vermentino.

This wine bleeds with aromas of lemon, honey, almonds and tropical fruit.  On the palate it is subtle, intense and delicate.

For a wine that underwent a partial malolactic fermentation I can not detect any of the buttery flavors commonly associated with that type of processing.  It is a refreshing wine and a great choice for the upcoming warm days.

Overall, the spike in the market for alternative white wines is rising.  Consumers who once closed the doors on these unfamiliar wines are now ready to explore what else is out there.  Vermentino is only one of the choices.  Varietals like Albarino, Viognier and Roussanne are also holding their own.

I hope you all give Vermentino a chance, I think you will be surprised at its vibrancy and versatility with food.

Has anyone out there tried any alternative white wines lately or are you stuck in a Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc rut?







 

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22 Comments

  1. Ah! Thanks for a great post. I was not aware that CA had any Vermentino going on. I will ask our distributor to find us some here in TN.

    I have really been loving Viognier, Albarino and Roussane (especially in the hot summer), but I’m always on the lookout for something new. I would love to taste across the Californian Vermentino and the Italian one at the same time.

    Reply
  2. My gosh, I’m amazed at how much I learn just from reading your blog.

    You’re FABULOUS!!!!!

    Reply
  3. Well, I never….Thanks for the lesson! Two of my favorite things in life are asparagus and wine.

    Reply
  4. My husband also is a mayo guy…so our whole family does mayo with asparagus or broccoli. He makes a homemade mayo…
    I love asparagus on the bbq! I line them up and make a ‘raft’ with wooden kabob spears through them, put them on the top rack.. then squeeze lots of lemon on them after bbq’d. And brush them with olive oil before bbq…

    And, another fave is balsamic vinegar…on any cooked veggies… or tomatoes, motz and basil!
    (so glad summer veggie season is on it’s way!)…

    Reply
  5. Flea 5

    I learned to love asparagus as an adult, but I always serve it steamed with Hollandaise. My mother eats canned asparagus. Ew! It’s all I knew growing up. There is absolutely nothing more gross than slimy, squishy canned asparagus.

    Reply
  6. How very, very interesting. I’m not a huge asparagus eater, so I had no idea it did not go well with most wines. However, you have armed us with some very useful knowledge so that if I’m ever stuck with the wine/asparagus situation, I’ll know how to hadle it. :)

    Reply
  7. krysta 7

    The Asparagus Festival is going on right now in Stockton, CA. (home) which is 20 minutes away from Lodi. I had to chuckle that you are mentioning asparagus and Lodi wines right now.

    The islands in the Delta are the biggest producers of asparagus in the world if I’m not mistaken. So, it makes since that a wine producer in Lodi could make a wine compatible with it.

    Reply
  8. marye 8

    My husband will see this as another glorious excuse not to eat asparagus. :/

    Reply
  9. I enjoyed this post as I love wine and love asparagus (it’s probably one of my favorite vegetables and it’s just so darn versatile!)

    But as far as being stuck in a white wine rut, I’m happily stuck on Pinot Gris and Pinto Grigio. One brand I just recently tried was very good & extremely smooth–Kris Pinot Grigio from Italy. Delicious!

    Now that that’s gone, I have a bottle of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc on hand, as well as a bottle of Missouri-grown Seyval Blanc which is light and crisp, and pairs nicely with appetizers and seafood or chicken, and is perfect for sipping on the deck during warm, summer days.

    Reply
  10. Rachel 10

    I can smell it!!!

    Reply
  11. grace 11

    i had to idea asparagus was so evil! to interfere with the flavor of wine is completely unacceptable, even if there’s an interesting pee-smell as an end result. it’s just not worth it. :)

    Reply
  12. Liz C. 12

    Wow! What a wealth of information for those of us who adore asparagus and wine. Thank you for saving me the trouble of researching. You know, I always thought the asparagus tasted funny with certain wines. Now I know why.

    Reply
  13. ALF 13

    I don’t drink nearly enough wine.

    Reply
  14. oooohhhh your really smart! Broiling asparagus gives it the grilled taste too. Do you like balsalmic vinegar drizzled on it? I like it raw. I was wondering about the mixture too, guess this all started with April’s party.
    I like bread, cheeses, and fruit myself with wines. Just the basic simple good stuff. I’m still giggling over your boy, he’s so cute. Ya’ll will be talking about that “score,” at this wedding. He’ll never live that one down.

    Reply
  15. giz 15

    That was educational – I had no clue about asparagus and wine being unfriendly bedmates. I feel a little bit smarter. Unfortunately I’m very sad in the wine department.

    Reply
  16. Rita 16

    such an eye opening post…are coke and asparagus friends?

    Reply
  17. I need to just print out these pics every time you post them. I try to remember the names and such when I head out to find a good bottle, but I’m visual. Keep posting the pics, girl. You teach to my learning style :)

    Reply
  18. MsMVNJ 18

    I love this blog – observations, wine notes and recipes – it’s a joy to read. On the wine notes – in the summer I like Orvieto as an aperitif, I like white bordeaux and if I can find it without getting a second mortgage, white burgundy. When all else fails, a good Sauvignon Blanc will also do the trick.

    Reply
  19. I tend to have my asparagus grilled, so I’ve never noticed that taste. But I agree that sauvignon blanc and pinot grigio, with their grassy/citrus/gooseberry flavours will go very well with asparagus. Mmm I have asparagus waiting to be cooked. Need to go get some wine now!

    Reply
  20. MsMVNJ 20

    Oops, I forgot this part – grilled with garlic or roasted with garlic. Two constants – olive oil and garlic.

    Reply
  21. Deb 21

    Oh I am a Sauvignon Blanc snob. I adore them, especially from New Zealand. But finding new wines in Key West can be quite the trick. So I will jot this one down for when I make a trip to the mainland!

    Reply
  22. Vermentino has a classic tart citrus palate that screams not only to be paired with asparagus but with fish, light Asian food, sushi and grilled vegetables as well. It is the perfect Spring and Summer wine offering. The Italian and California brands are mirroring each other greatly in aroma and flavor. It is obvious to the consumer palate that nothing has been lost in translation by these wines, when made in the United States.

    Reply

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