by Tim Riley, Bagby Group Sommelier & Beverage Director
Like the transition between fall and winter, the turn from winter to spring is a dramatic one on the seasonal table. At our own farm – and the many farms of our friends and neighbors – winter is a time of minimal harvesting; the products we get during the colder months are either coming from greenhouses, or, in the case of root vegetables, root cellars filled with items harvested weeks or months before.
Spring changes everything. Suddenly the kitchens of our restaurants are flooded with piles of fava beans, green peas, fiddleheads, nettles, ramps, asparagus and spring onions. Despite their varying uses, all of these ingredients share an intense “green,” herbaceous profile.
When considering wine pairings with dishes that feature these items, some thought must be given, as that “greeness” can clash with many fruit-driven wines, both red and white. What is desirable is a wine that shows a similar herbaceousness, one that can serve as a mirror to the flavors found in the dish.
White wines tend to work better than reds, and perhaps the very best of all is Grüner Veltliner. This Austrian white is a dream to work with this year, as even when fully ripe it retains a, well, “green” celery and white pepper-like flavor that matches perfectly with even the most intense spring flavors. Other white grapes that come to mind are Sauvignon Blanc (lean towards those from France or South Africa here. The Sincerely from Neil Ellis at Cunningham’s is a perfect example), Vermentino and Verdicchio.
For reds, as mentioned above, the options are more limited. My go-to here is Loire Valley Cabernet Franc. Like Grüner, it retains a certain herbaceousness – one often redolent of basil, rosemary or thyme – alongside its rather intense minerality. It is also extraordinarily undervalued: top-shelf examples can be found on our wine lists for well under $50.
All this said, perhaps my favorite match is neither white nor red but in fact rosé. Again, one needs to choose carefully here as lighter, drier, cripser rosés are going to make for far better pairings than their richer, fruitier cousins, but the category works quite well, in general. Champange tends to be too rich for most springtime cuisine, but lighter, more linear Blanc de Blancs can be nice, as can other sparklers from Loire or the Jura.
If all else fails, don’t forget about beer: Saison, either Belgian or American makes for some unexpectedly great pairings!
Of course, if you’d like to learn more about spring wine pairings, join us for our upcoming seasonal wine dinner at Fleet Street Kitchen. Chef Correll will be preparing some delicious dishes with some of the ingredients mentioned above and we will be pouring several of the varietals mentioned as well. For tickets, click the image above or call 410-244-5830.