Asparagus is best enjoyed as fresh as possible and, although you can buy asparagus all year round from other origins, I firmly believe that nothing beats British asparagus to really appreciate this extraordinary vegetable. Finding a complementary wine to go with it, though a little challenging, is the icing on the cake.
The British asparagus season has got off to a bumpy start. A warm spell in late March encouraged the young shoots to bask in the sunshine and for a while things were looking good. But the more recent cooler temperatures and heavy rain have played havoc in some regions and nowhere more so that the Vale of Evesham in Worcestershire where most British asparagus is produced in a more favourable year.
We can cross our fingers and hope that warmer, sunny weather encourages the ‘dormant’ crop to spring back to life. Meanwhile many larger retailers do have home-grown asparagus on their shelves – I’ve been buying asparagus from Kent and Suffolk to see how it works with different wines.
Cooking asparagus: Wash the spears and snap off the ends where they naturally break. I’ve found that asparagus keeps its flavour and crunch well if you barely cover the stems with water and boil for a few minutes until tender. Warm a serving dish before placing the spears into it and toss them and toss in good quality olive oil or melted butter, just enough to coat the asparagus. Sprinkle parmesan over the top and season. Some other asparagus dishes are mentioned below.
Extra tip: Before use, keep asparagus in the fridge and preferably in a jar of water.
Wine matches: Youthful, aromatic whites with enough character and structure to stand up to the intense flavour of asparagus work best. I think that whites with oak should be avoided and I haven’t found a rosé that works well with asparagus – the merest hint of red fruit seems to result in a clash.
Here are my recent discoveries and there are more to come:
1. Muscat Tradition, Domaine Albert Mann, 2011, 12.5%, £13.99, Alsace. Available from: Les Caves de Pyrene, www.lescaves.co.uk
The best match I’ve found so far. This dry Muscat has wonderful persistence and the classic elegance of this French region. A thoroughly enjoyable wine with asparagus, a touch of olive oil and topped with crispy bacon.
2. La Croix Belle, Caringole Blanc, 2011, Côtes de Thongue, France, 13%, £7.95. Available online at : www.stonevine.co.uk
This generously fruity Chardonnay/Sauvignon blend from the Languedoc region is ideal for a simple asparagus starter as described above.
3. La Croix Belle, Le Champ des Lys, Côtes de Thongue, 2010, 13.5%, £8.95. Available online at : www.stonevine.co.uk
A more structured white compared to its younger sibling with Grenache Blanc and Viognier giving it delicious apricot and peach fruit. Try it with an asparagus risotto.
4. Evolution 15, Sokol Blosser, Oregon (USA), 12.5%, £11.99. Available from: Les Caves de Pyrene, www.lescaves.co.uk
Talented winemaker Alex Sokol blends nine undisclosed grapes to make this excellent non-vintage white which is bursting with tropical fruit yet delightfully fresh and food friendly. Pair it with a warm chicken and asparagus salad.
5. La Báscula Catalan Eagle, 2011, Terra Alta, Spain, 13.5%, £9.99. Available from: Noel Young Wines; Highbury Vintners, D. Byrne & Co; Woodwinters Wines and Whiskies
A rich blend of Garnacha Blanca (Grenache Blanc), Viognier and Roussanne, this wine is made from organic grapes by South African winemaker Bruce Jack. A stunning modern Spanish white, the wine is a fine match for an asparagus starter and fuller flavoured fish dishes – try it with José Pizarro’s sea bass baked over anchovy potatoes which can be found in the Spanish chef’s latest recipe book ‘Spanish Flavours’.
6. Yealands Estate ‘S1’ Sauvignon Blanc, 2011, Awatere Valley, Marlborough, New Zealand, 13.5%. Available from: M&S stores for £12.99 and online at: www.marksandspencer.com for £11.95.
A sophisticated Kiwi Sauvignon with intense herbaceous fruit and racy acidity – a classy food wine and excellent with asparagus.
7. Errazuriz Aconcagua Costa Sauvignon Blanc, 2011, Chile, 13.5%, £11.75
From vineyards close to the Pacific Ocean, there is lovely freshness here and delightful lime and green apple fruit. Ideal for asparagus, chicken, fish or simply just enjoying a glass outside on a warm summer evening. Available from: Berry Bros & Rudd: www.bbr.com (The same merchant also offers some excellent food-friendly New Zealand Sauvignons including Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2011, £14.95, and Isabel Estate, £13.95).
8. Australian Chardonnay, 2011, 13%, £7.49
The generous fruit character of this Chardonnay and a slight buttery richness makes this wine another good candidate for asparagus and it offers great value for the price. Winemaker Brian Walsh has used fruit from the warmer Riverland and Barossa Valley regions and the cooler Adelaide Plains and, very discreetly, aged a small amount of the wine in oak. It works a treat. Available from M&S stores and online at www.marksandspencer.com
To find out more about British asparagus, where to find it and how to enjoy it go to: www.british-asparagus.co.uk