Magazine article Sunset

Asparagus-Wine Enemy Number 1?

Magazine article Sunset

Asparagus-Wine Enemy Number 1?

Article excerpt

* Standing in the supermarket the other day, I was about to add a bundle of asparagus from the towering green stacks to my cart for dinner, when I remembered that many people consider the vegetable wine's worst enemy.

To tell you the truth, I've never paid much attention to that old notion. It's a fact that asparagus, a member of the lily family contains the sulfurous amino acid methionine, This compound, together with the plant's intense grassy flavor, can make many wines taste dank, vegetal, or just plain weird. But I love asparagus, and I love wine. In my dining room, the two do get served together. That day I realized that whenever asparagus is in the picture, I instinctively gravitate to Sauvignon Blanc, and I wondered what the experts in matching food and wine do. I decided to call a few of them.

"Asparagus makes everything you drink with it taste green," said Sid Goldstein, author of The Wine Lover's Cookbook. "The worst white wine with asparagus is Chardonnay, which not only tastes vegetal, but also exaggeratedly oaky." However, like me, Goldstein loves both asparagus and wine. His solution? "Steam or microwave the asparagus until almost done, then grill it and serve it with Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio. The grilling process--maybe it's the flavor of the char--takes the bitter edge off the greenness of the asparagus. Then you can create a harmonious balance by serving it with a wine that also has light green flavors."

Jerry Comfort, culinary director of Beringer Wine Estates in St. Helena, California, called asparagus a "wine-challenged" food. There are two solutions, he said. First, "use seasonings and sauces to bridge the flavors of the asparagus and the wine." Second, "stay away from wines that have a lot of oak and a lot of tannin." As for those flavor bridges, Comfort suggests hollandaise or even mayonnaise. Wines to avoid include oaky Chardonnays and highly tannic Cabernet Sauvignons. The wines Comfort likes with asparagus include Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Beaujolais, Dolcetto, and white Zinfandel.

Finally, I called Philippe Jeanty, chef-owner of Bistro Jeanty in Yountville, California. "The best thing to do is grill the asparagus and serve it with a creamy dressing," he said. And having done that, what wine would he drink? …

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