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
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?