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“Spargel” & Wine: Asparagus Stars in the Palate’s Rite of Spring

The sun once again radiates more generous warmth, nourishing the sprouting harbingers of springtime... With these, a cornucopia of culinary pleasures once more pours out upon the land – and among them, asparagus constitutes the season’s highlight. Certainly the marquee player in many a plated performance, there is no better, more flavourful complement to be found for its many expressions than a fine Austrian wine.

A picture shows white asparagus, © Austrian Wine / Wirz, Möbius
White Asparagus, © Austrian Wine / Wirz, Möbius

Cuts a fine figure on the dance floor of flavours...

What’s good for you cannot taste good? Far off the mark! Asparagus handily combines complexity of flavour with healthy qualities in a distinctive fashion. Even the ancient Romans were aware of this when they brought the vegetable to middle Europe, in their baggage just like a bundle of grapevines... And today one cannot imagine the cuisine of springtime without “Asparagus officinalis”. It harmonises well on the culinary stage with a strikingly diverse array of Austrian wines, including spirited Sauvignon Blanc and members of the Pinot family that glide seductively across the palate – ranging all the way to impressive and aristocratic reserve wines grown from indigenous varieties.

A question of style

The basic recommendation suggests dry white wines with well-integrated acidity and a less dominant fruit profile. Before making a specific choice of the wine, however, there are a couple important questions to be answered: Green or white asparagus? And prepared in which style, using which ingredients? While the white asparagus steps gracefully forward to pair with more subtle wines, its heartier green cousins ask for more aromatic support, perhaps in the form of a crisp and garden-fresh Sauvignon Blanc or a seductive Muskateller. If the recipe involves starchy or oily ingredients, the partner wine needs to have even more substantial body and texture, in order for its voice not to become lost in the ensemble.

Which wine, then, shall it be?

Cream soup of asparagus has always been considered a true classic. Finely foaming on the palate, it makes a classic and fashionable couple with a middleweight, not-too-spicy Sauvignon Blanc. A fine and savoury Grüner Veltliner also complements the aromatic spectrum of an asparagus cream soup wonderfully, as would a fullbodied Roter Veltliner (and its elegant relatives Rotgipfler or Zierfandler). One particular tip: With a richer preparation, a touch more acidity in the wine can render the composite picture a bit more sleek and elegant. An asparagus risotto, with its buttery and creamy texture, can handle a more powerful or nicely matured partner wine, as can asparagus served with prosciutto di Parma. Reserve bottlings from the Pinot family cut a fine figure in this case, as would a fullbodied Riesling or a Wiener Gemischter Satz DAC.

The lure of the exotic

White wines with a gentle touch of oak join the ranks of ideal asparagus partners quite harmoniously as well. Above all, recipes with Sauce Hollandaise profit from being paired with wines showing refined caramel or nutty overtones, acquiring additional aromatic depth and dramatic tension. Particularly adventuresome cooks treat their guests to veal cutlet with asparagus, alongside it in the glass a juicy Pinot Noir or classic Sankt Laurent with fewer tannins served at cellar-temperature. The interplay between asparagus and wine is sure to please in boundless versions and variants. Many recipes and possible combinations can be found in the Austrian Wine Marketing Board’s brochure “Asparagus & Wine”.

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