Asparagus, sometimes called sparrow grass, is a member of the lily family, and depending on latitude is harvested from March through May. Asparagus comes from “Asparag”, an ancient Persian word meaning, “Hoo-wee, that smells bad.” No, actually it means “sprout,” possibly because it’s one of the first edible plants that sprouts in the spring. Asparagus shoots can grow up to 7 inches in one day, which may be why in some cultures it is thought to have aphrodisiacal properties!
Asparagus is also thought to have medicinal virtues, perhaps due to its harmless, but readily recognizable odor imparted into the consumer’s urine. I’m not sure I see the connection, but I, myself, am not a medical man. I also never thought I’d type the word “urine” in a wine blog.
And by now you’re wondering, “What does any of this have to do with wine?” I never thought you’d ask.
Because it’s asparagus season I’ve been pondering lately why that versatile veg has always had a reputation as one of those foods that’s nearly impossible to pair with wine. (Artichokes are another, but it’s not yet artichoke season, and those giant thistles don’t make your pee smell funny, so where’s the fun in that?) The reason that Asparagus’ chlorophyll-rich flavor clashes with wine is because its acidity (derived from organosulfiur carboxylic acid, if you must know) can make a lot of wines taste metallic and harsh.
In my wine tasting classes that I give to the cadets at West Point, I always tell them, “You should drink what you like,” and the same goes for you. I would never advocate the pairing of wine with food just because the conventional wisdom dictates it. Pinot Noir with lamb, for instance. Pinot Noir is not one of my favorite grapes, and I think there are many more interesting wines for lamb dishes, but we’ll leave that for another day. The bottom line is you have to trust your own senses. No less a literary giant than Marcel Proust said, “Asparagus transforms my chamber pot into a flask of perfume.” This only confirms my conviction that everyone’s sense of smell is different.
Asparagus is an extraordinary vegetable. Great steamed, sautéed, stir-fried or tossed on the grill with a little salt and olive oil. Its very grassiness is something that makes those spring spears such a delight, particularly after the winter we’ve had. So, what to drink?
It’s probably best to steer clear of both rich, bold reds and oaky chardonnays when thinking about wines to go with asparagus, but when I think of its grassiness the first thing that sprouts in my mind is Sauvignon Blanc, especially those big, aromatic wines blowing in from “the land of the long white cloud” (that’s the rough translation of “Aotearoe,” the Maori word for New Zealand).
Here are some wonderful wines that will pair beautifully with those fresh-picked asparagus:
Fernlands 2014 Sauvignon Blanc: From Marlborough, the premier wine region of New Zealand, this wine is from all estate-grown fruit. Flavors of honeydew, white peach, green figs and a hint of freshly mown lawn. What says spring more that that?
Gobelsburg Kamptal 2014 Grüner Veltliner: Lush as an apple tart or lemon meringue pie, this awesome Austrian has hints of honeydew melon with just a touch of grass. Full-bodied and delish!
Mesta 2013 Verdejo: This lovely organic white from Spain is clean and crisp, scented with peach and honeydew (are you seeing a pattern?) with a mouth-watering finish. Olé!
Brotherhood 2013 Dry Riesling: From the local winery in Washingtonville this surprisingly crisp Riesling has flavors of lime, grapefruit and pear with just a hint of old world minerality.
‘Til next week!