Spring is in full swing, and that means foodies everywhere will be grabbing those fresh bunches of asparagus to celebrate the season. But there’s a good chance you’ve heard or experienced the challenges of pairing wine with asparagus. So today I bring you this post on how to pair wine with asparagus, and offer 5 simple tips that have helped me to enjoy my favorite spring vegetable along with wine.
So what’s the big deal with pairing wine with asparagus? The chemical composition of asparagus can create a tendency to clash with the wine. That chlorophyll that gives asparagus its dark green color that says “Spring!” is not an easy partner with wine. But fear not! There are ways to pair wine with asparagus that can help you celebrate the season while enjoying a good glass of vino.
1) Pick the right white. Have a nice bunch of fresh asparagus? White wine is the typical choice, but this is not the time to break out that California Chardonnay. The best options to pair with white tend to have a soft, floral character (Muscat is a good example) or a crisp, citrusy element. Many Italian whites fit the bill nicely, especially if you are going with strategy #2 and adding cheese. Gruner Veltliner is another classic choice for asparagus and other tricky green vegetables. You may have noticed the picture at the top of the post has red wine with asparagus; that is possible, we’ll get to the details shortly.
2) Add cheese to bridge to the wine. Asparagus on its own is tough to partner with wine. A few wines, along the lines mentioned above, can work pretty well with simple steamed asparagus. But adding a wine-friendly food to an asparagus dish opens up the possibilities. And cheese is a great place to start!
I’ve had good luck making pasta dishes that have asparagus along with cheese. Most recently, I made Linguine with Cod and Asparagus. This dish paired nicely with a crisp Sicilian white wine made from Grillo grapes. My favorite example of of cheese bridging to the wine is this Shaved Raw Asparagus Salad with Parmesan Dressing from Food & Wine. This is a go to recipe for spring dinner parties. I’ve successfully paired it with Alsatian Muscat as well as a number of crisp Italian whites such as Grilled and Verdicchio.
3) Roast or grill the asparagus and serve a red. Another trick to making asparagus work with wine is to roast the asparagus or grill it. Cooking the asparagus likes this changes the character of the vegetable as it gets caramelized in the process. The caramelized asparagus can actually work quite nicely with a red wine, provided that it’s not overly tannic. For instance, I served grilled asparagus and onions along with a nice fruity Zinfandel, which worked well for the asparagus as well as our steak kebabs.
4) Add other-wine friendly food to the dish. Cheese is a natural partner for asparagus and wine. But consider what other wine-friendly foods you can add to your asparagus. I add mushrooms to a lot of things, as the earthiness of mushrooms tends to go well with the style of red wines I like–a good Pinot, or a rustic red blend from Southern France. This simple Roasted Asparagus and Mushrooms dish worked out very nicely with a blend of Cabernet Franc and Malbec from Sonoma County. Bacon or ham would be another example of things that you could add to asparagus to make it more wine-friendly.
5) Plan your menu with these tips in mind. I typically focus the wine pairing on the entree as opposed to the side dish, but the calculation changes a bit when asparagus is on the plate. This veggie needs to accounted for in your wine pairing considerations! If you are serving a meat that calls for a red wine, definitely plan to roast or grill the asparagus to make it work with a red. As noted above, choose a more fruit forward wine as opposed to a more tannic one. In other words, stay a way from things like an oaky Cabernet Sauvignon with asparagus. I’ve been at restaurants where they serve steamed asparagus alongside a steak. I wouldn’t do that at home, but forced to eat that combo with red wine, I’d be sure to have a bit of steak before taking another sip of the wine.
If you have a fresh bunch of asparagus you want to simply steam or sauté, start from the premise that you will want to serve a white wine. Plan an entree that goes nicely with a white. A lighter fish or chicken dish with a side of asparagus is one good option. You can also incorporate the asparagus into the main course. I often do that by featuring the asparagus in a pasta dish, and it’s also great in this Early Spring Risotto. Stir-fry can also work. Keep in mind that a fresh bunch of asparagus really deserves to shine on your plate, and don’t overwhelm it with too many other ingredients.
So, there you have it, 5 tips for pairing wine with asparagus. Do you have a great asparagus and wine pairing idea or recipe? Please share!