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Many years ago, I was given a bottle of wine purchased in Germany by someone who wrongly believed it was produced from asparagus. The sign in the wine shop’s window advertised: Spargelweine (asparagus wine).
While there are rare examples of wines produced from the vegetable, the liquid in this bottle was made from silvaner grapes grown in the Franken region of Germany. The wine’s subtle flavour and refreshing character made it a terrific complement to the sweet and pleasantly bitter taste of asparagus.
But make no mistake, asparagus is often identified as an enemy of wine. The intense acidic and pyrazine – the same chemical component that produces the green character in bell peppers or peas – components of those innocent looking spears can make wines taste bitter or metallic. Like artichokes, asparagus is disparaged in wine circles for turning pleasantly fruity white wines into something downright nasty.
That said, I’m not sure many of us eat raw asparagus while drinking wine. There’s always cooking preparations and other ingredients on the plate to consider.
If you’re the sort who routinely drenches those slender green, white or purple spears with a luxurious cheese or hollandaise sauce, you’ve never experienced this jarring sensation. That cheesy or buttery goodness provides a wine-friendly flavour bridge that neutralizes any harsh interactions.
The same goes if you’re disposed to wrapping asparagus spears with thinly sliced serrano ham or serving it alongside, say, grilled salmon or chicken. In such instances, your wine selection will take its cue from the protein on your plate. You’re on safe ground with pinot, gamay or chardonnay with salmon or chicken dish. Meanwhile, serrano ham seems like a good excuse to sample a young and vibrant Spanish white from Rioja or Rueda – these delightful, and typically inexpensive, wines are so often overshadowed by Spain’s bounty of great reds.
If you opt for more plain and healthy preparations, such as steaming or boiling your asparagus and serving it in a salad, your wine choices will be more limited. Oaky styles of white wine or tannic red wines will be less successful. This is the time to look toward refreshingly dry wines, such as that silvaner, sauvignon blanc or any number of crisp Italian whites like soave, gavi or verdicchio. A fresh and lively albarino, gruner veltliner or riesling would also fine choices. Of course, should you actually have a bottle of asparagus wine on hand, this could be an ideal moment to drink deep its unique charms.