A Classic Pairing: Sauvignon Blanc and Asparagus

A Classic Pairing: Sauvignon Blanc and Asparagus

Explore five different styles of Sauvignon Blanc from Canada, Austria, France and Argentina with its unusual partner—asparagus—prepared five different ways.

by Mary Bailey

wine and asparagus

Five wines with five easy asparagus recipes—now, that’s how to celebrate spring.

Asparagus is not wine friendly. It’s all because of asparagusic acid, an organosulfur-carboxylic acid (wow, don’t get to throw words like that that around every day) which can make wine taste metallic or just plain awful. The worst? Wines with tannin, wine with overt oak, most reds.

Riesling and other whites can pull it off, but nothing shines with asparagus like Sauvignon Blanc. The acidity and herbaceousness (the green, herby aromas that Sauvignon Blanc has in spades) works with the sulphury bitter notes of the asparagus, highlighting the energetic fresh, green flavours of the vegetable.

This month Edgar Farms asparagus will start showing up at the markets, sometimes, only a few hours old. How best to enjoy that bounty? Here’s five recipes chosen to pair with a different style of Sauvignon Blanc.

Cedar Creek Sauvignon Blanc

Shaved Asparagus Salad with Cedar Creek Estate Sauvignon Blanc (Okanagan Valley, Canada)

This is why we love the asparagus from down the road—it’s so fresh and good you can eat it raw. Feel free to add a poached egg and chunky croutons to make it a meal.
Cedar Creek’s Estate saavy is delicious—hints of lime and grapefruit in the aromas and flavours, with lovely acidity, a gentle spirit and lots of fresh green herbaceousness to go head to head with the raw asparagus.

12 thin asparagus spears, cleaned and trimmed
squeeze fresh lemon juice (or orange if you don’t have lemon)
a long drizzle extra-virgin olive oil (about ¼ c)
sea or kosher salt and freshly-cracked black pepper
3-4 radishes sliced thin (if you have)
shaved or grated Parmigiano or goat cheese

Make the vinaigrette. Squeeze lemon juice into a mixing bowl, add oil, salt and pepper and whisk to emulsify. Taste, it may need more oil or more juice, but it should be citrusy. Use a vegetable peeler to shave the spears into long strips but leave the tips whole. Toss shavings and asparagus tips in the dressing. Add radishes if using and turn on to two plates. Grate Parm over or add a dollop of soft goat cheese.

Serves 2.

Greywacke Wild Ferment Sauvignon Blan

Pasta Primavera with Greywacke Wild Ferment Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand)

This simple pasta dish uses a combination of the earliest vegetables available in spring—asparagus, peas and spring onions—making it a true celebration of the season. If you can’t find good fresh English peas, you can substitute frozen peas, but don’t add them until the last minute or so. This dish is best made with fresh egg pasta. If you don’t want to make your own, the Italian Centre sells fresh tagliatelle. Don’t overcook! Better under than overdone—you need the chewy bite to stand up to the gently cooked vegetables. It’s important to have everything ready to go as the dish comes together quickly.

The intense greenness of this dish along with the creamy sauce needs a wine that stands up to both and complements the flavours. The Greywacke does this in style. Elegant, complex, and flavourful, with stony minerality, full body and a distinct texture, along with a good amount of acidity, cuts through the creaminess to make this wine a perfect match.

1 sm bunch asparagus, ends snapped
¼ lb sugar snap peas, stems trimmed
¾ c fresh peas (or frozen small peas)
¼ c spring onion, white part only, thinly sliced
2 T unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
fine sea salt and cracked black pepper
12 oz fettuccine or tagliatelle, preferably fresh*
¼ c grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
½ c crème fraîche or whole milk yogurt, at room temperature
3 T parsley chopped fine
3 T finely chopped tarragon chopped fine

Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. While the water is coming to a boil, slice snap peas and asparagus stems into ¼-inch-thick pieces; leave asparagus tips whole. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add snap peas, asparagus, peas and onion. Cook until vegetables are barely tender, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook about 1 minute more. Season and set aside. Drop pasta into boiling water and cook until al dente (1-3 minutes for fresh pasta (more for dried pasta, according to pasta directions). Drain (leaving a bit of cooking water clinging to the pasta) and transfer pasta back to the pot. Over heat, toss lightly with the crème fraiche or yogurt, cheese, herbs and the cooked vegetables. Another crack of pepper, check if it needs more salt and serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Emiliana Sauvignon Blanc

Grilled Asparagus with Parmesan Shavings with Emiliana Sauvignon Blanc (Chile)

This is a relatively simple dish (roast in the oven if you don’t want to grill) that highlights the freshness of local asparagus. You don’t want a wine to overwhelm that, which makes the Emiliana a good choice. It’s bright and lively with excellent acidity. It’s also made from organic grapes and has spent four months on lees to create some nice texture and finish. The aggressive herbaceousness of the spears is toned down with grilling but there is still plenty there to make a match. This saavy is also a fantastic buy, way under $20 in most shops.

Thick spears are best for grilling. Cut off woody ends if necessary. If you don’t have a cheese knife that can shave, a vegetable peeler will work. The idea is long thin strips rather than grated cheese.

12-16 spears asparagus
extra virgin olive oil
4-6 shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano

Place spears in a shallow bowl and pour over 1-2 teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil. Toss gently with tongs (or your hands) to coat each spear. Place on a medium-hot grill crosswise and grill for about 10 minutes (depending on the size and thickness of the stalks) turning occasionally. The skin will blister slightly and turn brown in spots, which is good, but watch the tips for charring. Place on a platter, finish with Maldon salt and fresh-cracked black pepper and place shavings on top of the spears. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 4-6.

Chateau Guiraud G Bordeaux Blanc

Asparagus with Hollandaise Sauce with Chateau Guiraud G Bordeaux Blanc (France)

The most classic way to eat asparagus is with hollandaise sauce, considered one of the French mother sauces—automatically scary for most home cooks. It’s actually really easy to make, but you must pay attention and have a good whisking arm. Have all the ingredients and equipment ready to go. Make it ahead to ease anxiety or make a blender version, but never, ever make from a mix. That would be a disservice to your asparagus.

White Bordeaux differ from their cousins in that they usually have a good portion of Semillon in the wine and also spend some time in wood. G is barrel fermented and aged in oak, not to add wood flavours, but to create layers of complexity, flavour and texture. It’s a lovely example of the style, still crisp and fresh, with some gravitas and depth compared to some new world saavy.

To blanch asparagus:

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add asparagus and cook until tender-crisp and bright green, 1½-2 minutes. Do not overcook. Drain, then immediately plunge into a large bowl of ice water; set aside to cool, 2-3 minutes.

Drain again, transfer to a clean dishtowel, pat dry. Set aside.

Hollandaise Sauce

3 lge egg yolks, room temperature
4½ t fresh lemon juice
12 T unsalted butter, melted and cooled
sea or kosher salt and white pepper
warm water

Place a pan filled with water on the stove and heat until barely simmering. Pour yolks into a large glass bowl. Whisk until they turn pale, about 1 minute. Whisk in 4½ teaspoon warm water.

Set bowl over the pan filled with barely simmering water and heat the yolk mixture over low heat, whisking vigorously, until thickened, about 2-3 minutes (do not overcook). Remove bowl from heat and whisk in the lemon juice.

Whisk in melted butter, one drop at a time, leaving milky solids behind.

Pour the hollandaise sauce over the blanched asparagus and serve. If making ahead, set the bowl over warm water, and keep sauce warm, whisking occasionally, up to 30 minutes. If the sauce becomes too thick, whisk in 1 teaspoon of warm water at a time to thin.

Note: you could also serve hollandaise on roasted or grilled asparagus.

Sattlerhof Sudsteiermark Sauvignon Blanc

La Vignerola (Vegetable Stew) with Sattlerhof Sudsteiermark Sauvignon Blanc (Austria)

Austrian Sauvignon Blanc is known for high quality and the impressive elegance of the wines from south Styria—especially from a producer like Sattlerhof. Handmade, incredible balance, just riveting. Its balance and complexity is perfection with this celebration of spring. If you can’t find it in a shop, it’s on the list at Wilfred’s.

This a take-off on a classic Roman dish which is all about spring veg. You can usually find small spring artichokes and fresh broad beans at the Italian Centre. There is a bit of prep, but you could blanch the vegetables in the morning and put together right before serving. Leave out the ham and use vegetable stock if you prefer a vegan dish. You could also add fresh fiddleheads.

1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and halved
8 globe artichokes, stalks trimmed
1 kg (approx.) broad beans (to make about two c podded)
same amount of fresh peas, podded, or use frozen small peas
1½ T extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra to serve
4 spring onions, thickly sliced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
6 slices prosciutto, coarsely torn
2 c chicken or vegetable stock
2 c mint, coarsely chopped (loosely packed)
¾ c flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped (firmly packed)
finely grated rind and juice of ½ lemon
crusty white bread

Blanch artichokes, in batches, until just tender (8-10 minutes). Cool slightly, peel away outer green leaves and trim tops by 2 cm, then remove the hairy choke with a teaspoon. Set aside.

Blanch peas and broad beans separately until just tender (2-4 minutes), refresh in iced water, drain. Peel the broad beans and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and prosciutto, and sauté until tender (5-10 minutes). Add the artichoke, asparagus and stock, cover and simmer over low heat until the artichoke is tender (about 5-10 minutes). Add peas and beans, cover and simmer until tender (about 3-5 minutes). Add mint, parsley, lemon rind and juice and cook until herbs wilt (about 1 minute). Drizzle with extra olive oil.

Serve warm with crusty bread and a glass of the Sattlerhof.

Serves 4-6.

Mary Bailey (DipWSET) likes her asparagus grilled.