The Best Wines for Warming Weather
The days are finally feeling longer and flowers are beginning to bloom. Spring harvest invokes images of morel mushrooms, asparagus, spring peas, leeks, crispy green lettuces, spring onions, beets, fava beans and mint.
Traditionally, green things are the enemy of wine. The bitterness and sulfur-like flavors in some lettuces and asparagus are often considered the antithesis of a wine food. Not to worry, there are a few great tips to get you drinking wine with the spring bounty. Rule number one: steer clear of bitter wines.
Asparagus is a notoriously impossible vegetable to pair; if its bitterness doesn’t wash out the flavor of many wines, it makes them taste flat or tinny. However, a tart, crisp New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with a high acidity can counter the aggressive taste of asparagus. Enjoyable grapefruit and passion fruit aromas are a perfect counterbalance for the wily vegetable. If you serve asparagus with butter or hollandaise, an unoaked California Chardonnay or a mineral-driven French Chablis will work wonders. Side note: the thinner, fingerlike asparagus goes better with wine than the thicker variety. It doesn’t have the chemical component that clashes so wildly with wine.
Morel mushrooms are an exquisite wonder. In Indiana, the season is fleeting, and morel hunters protect their hunting grounds with intense fervor. You may go to Fox Island a day late and find the remnants of what you missed–perfectly cut mushroom stalks mocking your every turn. Sometimes go in search of the elusive morel and find one or two and are absolutely thrilled by this paltry take. If you can get them from Oregon, like a few restaurants in town, you can savor them through July and sometimes-even August. Morels, unlike asparagus or bitter lettuce like arugula, are very easy to pair with wine. They tend to be meaty and marry well with a spicy, medium-intensity Oregon Pinot Noir or a light Beaujolais with a high acidity, low tannins and flavors of tart cherry, raspberry and cranberry. A Spanish Rioja (Tempranillo) is also a lovely match, with no or low oak and fruit forward flavors.
Spring peas with mint is a delicate and classic dish; the simplicity that makes it stunning. Some recipes call for onions and red wine vinegar, but I prefer just the peas with olive oil and mint. Again, Sauvignon Blanc is a great match (and it will be for all things spring), but so are the lesser known varietals Viognier and Chenin Blanc. A French Viognier from the Rhone Valley is typically fermented in stainless steel tanks, with essences of lime, flowers and minerals. You can find Chenin Clanc from California, France, Argentina and South Africa. It’s a high acid, versatile wine that tastes of apples, pears and peaches.