Nothing signals the start of spring vegetable season quite like perky stems of fresh green asparagus. In season from April to June, asparagus not only looks good on a plate, it’s also packed with health-giving benefits. A great source of vitamins C, K and E, asparagus also contains folic acid and plenty of antioxidants.
For wine lovers, of course, the most important factor is how asparagus tastes and what wines to pair with it. Like artichokes, asparagus is notoriously seen as difficult to match. A high level of chlorophyll gives asparagus its fresh green flavour but, working alongside other acidic compounds, it can make wines taste metallic or harsh.
However, there are plenty of wines that do work well with asparagus – particularly when you take into account how it’s cooked and what other ingredients are served with it. Whether it’s steamed, boiled, roasted or grilled, this guide will give you helpful hints for perfect pairings with asparagus.
Steamed & boiled asparagus
While asparagus is also grown as purple and white varieties (see below), green is the most common type – and one of the easiest ways to prepare it is by steaming or boiling. Whether you steam for two to five minutes or boil for three to four minutes, cooking asparagus with water preserves the purity of its fresh, green flavours. Sauvignon Blanc, which often counts ‘asparagus’ among its tasting notes, is a great go-to choice for pairing here. Fresh New Zealand Sauvignons, especially young unoaked styles from regions such as Marlborough or Awatere Valley, are a safe bet. Grassy English Bacchus also works, thanks to its complimentary green flavours.
Chargrilled & barbecued asparagus
If you prefer asparagus spears grilled or cooked on the barbecue (which takes around six to eight minutes), you’ll need a wine that can cope with the charred flavours. Try a lightly oaked Italian Pinot Bianco or dry Spanish rosé, which makes a versatile pairing for a whole range of barbecued food.
It takes around 10 minutes to roast asparagus, giving the vegetable a more intense flavour, maybe with some caramelisation. A dry Spanish rosé would work well again here, but you can also try a light, unoaked red – a fresh New World Pinot Noir from New Zealand or Chile; or a Loire Valley red, such as Saumur-Champigny, which can be served chilled.
Asparagus with hollandaise sauce
Like most vegetables, asparagus usually appears on a plate alongside other ingredients. Made from egg yolks, butter and lemon juice, hollandaise is a traditional accompaniment and you’ll need to find a wine that both cuts through the creaminess of this sauce and stands up to its buttery richness. A crisp, lightly oaked Chardonnay works well – Chablis premier cru or grand cru for example. Chablis would also be a good match if your asparagus is dipped in mayonnaise or slathered in melted butter, again helping to deflect the richness of the sauce.
Asparagus & eggs
Asparagus with poached eggs is a classic brunch combo, but this duo also works well in omelettes, quiches and frittatas, as well as with pasta and in salads (see below). When it comes to wine matches you’re looking for a style that’s going to parry the richness of the egg as well as highlight the flavour of the asparagus. For a decadent brunch pairing – especially if your asparagus and eggs are topped with hollandaise (see above) – try a non-vintage Champagne with crisp citrus acidity and toasty notes. Sparkling New World Chardonnays will do the same job; seek out examples from cool climate regions such as Tasmania.
Asparagus & salmon
Any number of fresh whites will pair with both asparagus and fish. Albariño from Rías Baixas on Spain’s Atlantic coast shows grassy, herbaceous notes to match the asparagus, but usually with riper citrus and stone fruit to complement the salmon. Meanwhile Austrian Grüner Veltliner is a good choice if there’s also a creamy sauce on the plate.
Again, it’s the texture of this asparagus dish that needs to be your focus for wine matching. Rich and creamy risottos demand a wine with good, cleansing acidity to refresh the mouth after each bite. If you prefer Italian wine with Italian dishes, opt for a Vermentino, Verdicchio or Pinot Grigio. Or think outside the box by choosing a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc with green pea-pod notes – even better if there are peas in the risotto too.
Asparagus & goats’ cheese
Asparagus flavours tend to be dialled up when you partner it with goats’ cheese, calling for some punchy pairing. Herbaceous and mineral Sauvignon Blancs from the Loire Valley really come into their own here – not surprising as the region is also known for its exceptional goats’ cheeses, such as Sainte-Maure-de-Touraine. Try Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé.
Asparagus in salads
Asparagus adds fresh crunch to spring salads. The other ingredients obviously factor in finding a perfect wine pairing with salads, but as a general rule think about the dressing, or vinaigrette, as this combination of oil and vinegar or lemon juice can be tricky to match. For light salads with a lemony dressing, try a Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc blend such as Bordeaux Blanc or Australian Sem-Sav. Punchier dressings made with wine vinegars, balsamic or cider vinegar need a more robust wine: dry rosé works well.
Unlike its green cousin, white asparagus is grown underground and doesn’t contain the chlorophyll that gives green asparagus its distinctive flavour. Instead it tastes earthier and nuttier, with a more rounded, softer flavour profile. It’s popular in Central Europe – particularly Germany, where it’s served with ham and butter, and celebrated with a series of regional festivals during ‘Spargelzeit season’ from April to June.
Dry German Riesling or Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) both make a great pairing, their freshness contrasting the mellower white asparagus notes. Alternatively choose an aged Semillon from Australia’s Hunter Valley, for its complementary mellow buttered toast character.