As temperatures start to rise in spring, rhubarb plants wake up from their winter dormancy and their delicious pink stalks start to appear, ready for harvesting from March and April onwards. Spring is the best time of year for rhubarb; in hot summers growth will slow down and can even stop.
From February onwards you can also find ‘forced’ rhubarb – when growers cover the rhubarb crowns in winter to produce early growth of sweet pale pink stems. Note that rhubarb leaves are poisonous; they should never be eaten and always be thrown away or composted.
When it comes to wine pairing, it’s the sour tang of rhubarb – caused by oxalic acid – that needs to be tamed and can make many dry wines taste harsh. The key is to go for a wine with some sweetness, as the residual sugar will balance that acidity.
As with any ingredient, it’s also important to take into account how your rhubarb is prepared and served, which will alter its taste and texture. Read on to find helpful hints for perfect pairings with rhubarb.
Simply cooked with sugar and water, until it is soft but retains its shape, poached rhubarb is delicious served with vanilla ice cream, vanilla yogurt or a dollop of crème fraiche. Late harvest wines – from classic styles such as Sauternes to New World styles like Late Harvest Torrontes from Argentina – have tropical honeyed notes that will complement both the rhubarb fruit and vanilla flavours.
With longer cooking time, rhubarb will break down into a thick, fruity sauce that can be served on porridge or added to breakfast smoothies. If you’re having stewed rhubarb as a dessert, try it with a light, sweet, aromatic Muscat from France; which is also found in Spain as Moscatel.
It takes 15-20 minutes to roast rhubarb batons in the oven with fresh orange juice and sugar. Rhubarb can also be roasted with wine – a fruity Grenache would be a good choice – alongside spices such as star anise. Roasted rhubarb can be added to pastries, cakes and crumbles (see below). But it also makes a simple pudding served with cream or custard. Try pairing roast rhubarb with an Italian Vin Santo. Light-coloured, amber styles made from white grapes will work well thanks to their nutty, caramel notes; but the rarer red Vin Santo, made from Sangiovese, would be a good choice if you’ve roasted your rhubarb in red wine.
Made from rhubarb purée and gelatine, rhubarb jelly is a delicate pink dessert that can be enjoyed on its own, or served as a fruity layer in trifles or with pannacotta. Pair it with sweet sparkling Italian wine Moscato d’Asti, which is made from the Muscat grape and has notes of peach and rose to complement the lighter rhubarb flavours.
When tangy rhubarb is topped with buttery crumble pastry, you need a wine to cut through the richness of the pastry – especially if there’s a jug of cream or custard on the table too. Try a sweet peachy German Riesling Auslese, which will have enough acidity to cope with this indulgent pudding. A luxury option would be demi-sec Champagne a semi-sweet style with honeyed stone fruit flavours, backed by good acidity and a sparkling texture
Rhubarb and custard tart
As with rhubarb crumble, tarts and other types of rhubarb pastries work well with the bubbly texture of sparkling wines, which help to cleanse the palate after a bite of buttery, fruity pastry. Prosecco is a great match here, its delicate orchard fruit notes complementing the fruity rhubarb, while its gentle sparkle provides a palate-cleansing lift.