Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Asparagus and Wine: the Spring Dilemma

Asparagus is synonymous with spring. Stores have appealing bundles of the stalks in the produce section this time of year, tightly banded together with their purplish-green tops curving slightly this way and that like they are bending in the breeze. (picture from

Asparagus is also synonymous with "I'll have water, please" because the vegetable's bitter, vegetal qualities can make it a wine pairing nightmare. It doesn't go with oaked whites, nor does it go with tannic reds. Some people swear by Sauvignon Blanc, but if you get one that's too grassy or tart it can be unpleasant.

I was looking through some traditional recipes from Molise, my destination for Italian wines this month, and saw one for an asparagus pasta and wondered if this wasn't a case where "drink local, eat local" might not prove a winning combination. First, I found a slightly easier version of the recipe from Faith Willinger's great book about Italian vegetables Red, White, and Greens, pasta with lemon asparagus sauce. Then I popped open a bottle of Malvasia Bianca from Molise. This solved my annual spring problem of what wine to drink with one of my favorite vegetables.

The 2004 Borgo di Colloredo Malvasia Bianca was bright gold in color, and at first I was slightly worried that it had oxidized since it was so much darker than most white wines. I checked some reference books, however, and it turns out that this true gold hue is a characteristic of the variety. I could smell beeswax--like expensive candles, or the waxy aroma of a honeycomb--along with apple and lemon. When I sipped the wine, it felt on the heavy side, and was a nice counterpoint to the toothiness of the al dente pasta. Flavors of apples and lemon dominated, and the finish turned a bit waxy, reminding me once again of honeycomb especially as I swallowed the last bit and the wine left a slightly honeyed aftertaste. I also noted that as the wine warmed up in the glass, the wine became more floral, but in no way sweet.

This was interesting wine--more heavy and golden than most whites, yet still dry. I purchased my bottle at Chronicle Wine Cellar for a mere $8.95; if you're not in the LA area, you can find this wine online for about $17. At $8.95, this represented very good QPR, but if you spent $17 you may feel that you paid to much for this unusual, but relatively straightforward and simple, white wine.

Once again I'm astonished by the range of Italian whites, and so far haven't had a single one that I wouldn't buy again. Thank you, Molise, for preserving this perfect track record.


winedeb said...

Yep, I agree, this is the trickiest veggie to pair wine. I too ususally drink a Sauvignon Blanc with mine, but am always on the lookout for another white to serve with this great veggie!

Anonymous said...

Hi Deb,

You can mitigate against many of asparagus's anti-wine tendencies by grilling it rather than boiling or steaming. The smokiness seems to prevent it from making wines taste bitter. And I agree with your thought to look to Italy... the best match for asparagus that I know is Vermentino. The citrusy bite that it has is reminiscent of Sauvignon Blanc but it doesn't have SB's grassiness.