Thursday, January 29, 2015

Wines for Challenging Vegetables

By Liza B. Zimmerman

Asparagus and artichokes are among my favorite vegetables, but they certainly aren't easy to pair with wines. The grassy and acidic notes in both of them can make wines seem sweet or totally out of balance.

One of the best ways to change up the nature of the beast is to change how you prepare them. Grilling asparagus can take away some of the green notes that might otherwise be there if you steamed them. If you don't have a grill, sauté them up in a pan with a touch of olive oil and a little garlic.

Either of these feisty vegetables can also be fried (think tempura: lightly fried), which will open them open to slightly creamier wine pairings. Yes, that oaky Chardonnay will probably work fine. So might some slightly oxidized whites from the Rhône. They have a broad, unctuous flavor on the palate that will cut through any greasy tastes from the batter.

Simple white Côtes-du-Rhônes will work, as long as they have a touch of Marsanne, Roussanne or Viognier. Washington State also turns out some stellar examples of these wines.

Adding a touch of salty cheese, like feta or an Italian hard variety, might also help the pairing synergies. It will allow the wines to express their acidity and even let you step up to pairings with lighter reds.

Meet Green with Green
Sometimes serious vegetables just need a dose of their own medicine. Herbal and grassy wines (hello Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc!) can do the trick. Sauvignon Blanc from  almost anywhere, California included, and definitely the Loire Valley is almost the magic touch for these greens. Sancerre may well be the surest bet but other sub regions would work.

Herbaceousness, paired with acidity is often at its height with Grüner Veltliner. These tight northern beauties can match the intensity of almost any green vegetable: that includes the most bitter kale and even fennel. Berger is a nice example that work with a range of vegetables and ways to prepare them.

Go with a Hint of Sweetness
A touch of residual sugar will have the same affect on a pairing as well-balanced acidity in stepping up to the intensity of these greens. Rieslings on the drier side, particularly from Alsace, can make these vegetables shine. You might even think of closing a meal with an asparagus- or artichoke-based salad--go lightly on the vinegar--which is a fitting way to end a meal with an off-dry wine.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Liza Zimmerman has been writing and consulting about wine and food for two decades. She is principal of the San Francisco-based Liza the Wine Chick wine writing, education and consulting firm. She has worked on staff and freelance at national magazines such as Wine Enthusiast, The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana, Wine Spectator, Where SF and the Examiner. She currently contributes to Cheers, Wine Business Monthly and the Examiner, among others.

Zimmerman focuses on demystifying wine and transforming it into a tool for business and networking for companies all over the country. Past clients include Genentech, Roche and IBM.

She has visited all the world’s major wine regions and is one of select few in the U.S. to hold the Diploma of Wine & Spirits (D.W.S.), the three-year precursor to the Master of Wine.

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