Bring out the best in these wine-challenged foods….
The arrival of spring offers an opportunity to feast upon traditional springtime fare, but trying to decide which vino to pour with these wine-challenged foods can be a bit daunting. With a few tips and suggestions, however, spring wine pairing can be a breeze.
For starters, remember that heavy foods call for heavy wines: steak and potato pair best with a full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah. Conversely, lighter foods call for lighter wines: grilled fish goes nicely with a crisp Riesling or Pinot Gris. The intensity of flavor is another consideration: rich, fatty foods require a light, crisp wine for balance. Match the sweetness levels of the food and wine, and keep acid levels equal.
When pairing wine with veggies, white wines pair better than reds, although certain lighter, fruitier red wines can be excellent choices. Bottom line: stay away from anything oaked, as these wines are too substantial for a good wine-veggie match.
A springtime favorite, asparagus has been called the “world’s healthiest food.” Both green and white asparagus come from the same plant and can grow up to seven inches in a single day. Its vegetal flavor creates quite the wine-pairing challenge, usually resulting in an overall metallic taste. However, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Riesling are all light-flavored wines with hints of citrus and grass that meld well with the vegetable.
Another difficult pairing is the artichoke, one of the oldest cultivated vegetables in the world. Artichokes can make anything taste sweeter, thanks to cynarine, an acid which stimulates the taste bud receptors. To counter this effect, serve something salty, such as capers, olives or bacon, and choose a dry white wine that’s high in acid, yet light and fruity. Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and unoaked Chardonnay blend nicely with the nutty flavors of artichoke… or go all-out and pour a Fino sherry.
Nothing says “spring” like a bowl of fresh-picked berries. With strawberries, blueberries, raspberries or any combination thereof, the first wine to reach for is Demi-sec champagne. There’s something magical about those full berry flavors intermingling with the bubbles that makes this pairing sublime. A sweet Moscato or Beaujolais brings a refreshing, fruit-forward punch to berries as well.
Eggs are called the “perfect food” because they contain among the highest forms of protein available and go well with everything, including wine. Eggs and bubbly are a match made in heaven, be it Champagne, Cava or a sparkling wine, while Pinot Gris brings out the citrusy flavors of a dish. Beaujolais is an excellent red wine to serve with eggs when accompanied by bacon, sausage or ham.
For more than 10,000 years, sheep have provided man with food and milk, clothing and parchment. Lamb is one of the most wine-friendly meats around; you can’t go wrong serving Bordeaux with any lamb dish. The fat content of the lamb combines with the wine’s tannins to create a flavorful meal. Merlot, Malbec and Spanish Rioja also play well on the palate, offering full, fruitier flavors and a hint of spice.
The ancient Egyptians believed that mushrooms provided immortality. Louis XIV (1638-1715) was among the first to have cultivated mushrooms in special caves near Paris. Today, mushrooms are commercially grown in every state in the country, with Pennsylvania as the top producer. Although a fungi, mushrooms are considered “meaty” and can be the main staple of any meal. Regardless of variety—morel, shitake, porcini, portobello or button—a robust Pinot Noir, Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon will make those earthy mushroom flavors flourish.
The pea was one of the first vegetables cultivated by man. Throughout the Middle Ages, peas were served freshly picked during the Lenten season. In the U.S., Thomas Jefferson grew more than 30 varieties at Monticello. Match that sweet pea flavor with a Sauvignon Blanc, semi-dry Riesling or dry rosé. All three wines enhance delicately flavored foods and will bring out the pea’s “fresh-from-the-garden” flavor while adding a clean, crisp finish.
Rhubarb has been cultivated for thousands of years. According to legend, a Maine gardener carried the rootstock to the U.S. in the early 1800s, but New England housewives did not accept the plant until it proved to make a good pie filling, hence its nickname: “pie plant.” Because of the high acid level in rhubarb, an acidic wine is necessary to balance out the flavors. Generally, white wines have more acidity, so a Riesling, Moscato or Traminette will capitalize on the rhubarb flavor. Ramps and Scallions Ramps, also known as wild leeks, are native to the U.S.; their high vitamin and mineral content make them extremely healthy foods. Though pungent, ramps are prized for their flavor, a combination of onion and garlic. Scallions, called spring or green onions, are a milder version of the full-grown onion. They, too, pack a powerful punch of vitamins and minerals in those tiny shoots. A rustic Pinot Noir is delightful when paired with the ramp’s garlicky flavor, while a full-bodied Syrah can stand up to that powerful ramp essence. For fresh-pulled spring onions, try Sauvignon Blanc and experience a fantastic blending of herbaceous flavors. Pinot Gris’ citrusy notes play well with the mild onion flavors.
Popeye was right—spinach is a powerhouse of health, chock-full of nutrients. Thought to have originated in the ancient Arab world, spinach became a gift given to royalty. In the 16th century, Catherine de Medici left Italy and took all of her cooks with her since she required spinach served “Florentine” at every meal. To pair a wine with spinach, keep the high acid levels in mind. Most dry white wines like Riesling, Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc are unsurpassed with salad-type meals. For a red wine with salad, select a young Chianti.
When in doubt, a food is best paired with a wine it grew up with—from the same country or region. Enjoy!a&s
Joy Neighbors is a writer and performer with more than a dozen years of experience as a winery owner. Visit joysjoyofwine.blogspot.com for more tips on wine and culture.