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Asparagus to Fiddleheads: Wine pairings for spring ingredients

It’s time to swap out root vegetables and braised dishes for fresher ingredients. Yup, spring is here, and wine directors are just as giddy at the thought of pairing them as chefs are at using them in seasonal dishes. A few can prove to be a little bit tricky, but Vinoteca wine director Kate Chrisman breaks it down for us. “Fresh, young, bright, green ingredients pair beautifully with wines that have the same characteristics, [like] rieslings, pinot blancs, and lighter-style rosés,” she suggests. “All these wines have beautiful acidity and minerality and are delicate enough to let the ingredients shine through--and bubbles too - always bubbles with springtime veggies.”

Chrisman and other area wine pros share some of their favorite wines to drink with what you’ll find right now at the farmer’s market (and the butcher shop).

Asparagus

Just why are these stalks the nemesis of many sommeliers? It comes down to the fact that the chlorophyll-rich vegetable contains compounds that can make some wines taste metallic, harsh or off-putting. Wines with notes of citrus, herbs or minerality (generally whites) are your best bet. Eric Dinardo, beverage director for Schlow Restaurant Group (the group behind Alta Strada and Conosci), looks for crisp wines to mimic the squirt of lemon we sometimes put on roasted or grilled asparagus. “I also often fall back on the old adage of if it grows together, it goes together,” he says. He prefers the inherent nuttiness and bright acidity of the 2014 La Rocca Pieropan Soave Classico with the blanched asparagus with Hollandaise sauce, black tobiko, cured egg yolk and micro arugula on the menu at Conosci.

Keith Goldston, master sommelier at The Grill Room, says that because spring flavors are light and bright, it’s important not to overpower them. Matching white asparagus with grüner veltliner from Austria takes him back to working with Wolfgang Puck and how passionate he was about Austrian wines and spargel (white asparagus). One of his favorites is the 2014 Federspiel Hinter der Burg Grüner Veltliner, which hails from one of Austria’s top producers. “All of their wines are blessed with an intense focus, a purity of fruits, lots of yummy minerals, and balanced with long crisp harmonious finish.”

Chrisman turns to bubbles with white asparagus, specifically a non-vintage Corvezzo Organic Prosecco from Treviso in Italy’s Prosecco DOC. Made in an extra dry style (which actually means it has a little more sweetness than a brut), it complements the sweetness in the vegetable.

Peas

“Peas taste like spring and are often accompanied by herbs such as mint, so I often seek a fresh white wine with a good bit of acidity and spicy and herbal qualities,” explains Dinardo. The 2013 Luigi Ferrando Erbaluce di Caluso fits the bill, he says, similar in weight, fruit and acidity to grüner veltliner, without its signature peppery style but with a touch of mint and honey that go nicely with Conosci’s pea soup with corn, puff pastry and huitlacoche. (But grüner veltliner would definitely work well with tender spring peas, too.)

Ramps

Like a cross between a leek and a scallion with a flavor reminiscent of strong onions and garlic, ramps can be tough to match with wine because their sulfurous notes lean towards reductive wines like syrah or cabernet franc, Early Mountain Vineyards winemaker Ben Jordan points out. The chef of the Virginia winery in Madison, Ryan Collins, suggests the orange blossom, melon and guava notes, and round mouth feel of the 2011 Early Mountain Vineyards Pinot Gris with tart and tangy pickled ramps. The super high acid, naturally effervescent quality of the 2015 Julian Ostolaza Gañeta Rosé Txakolina from Spain's Basque country are awesome with flash charred ramps, says Chrisman, scrubbing your palate in-between bites.

Fiddlehead Ferns

With a grassy flavor that falls somewhere between asparagus and baby spinach, fiddleheads are usually steamed or sauteed--they also look super cute and Instagrammable on the plate. Chrisman turns to the 2014 Galen Glen Stone Cellar Riesling from Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley region, an Austrian-like riesling with a minerality that can stand up to the aromatic ingredient. Jordan suggests Early Mountain Vineyards Five Forks Blend. “The sauvignon blanc brings the green, fresh vegetation component and the petit manseng provides the counterpoint of ripeness,” he explains.

Lamb

Tender and succulent, baby lamb chops are a great foil for Rhône reds, says Tredici manager Andrea Newton. She serves their lamb lollipops with mint aioli with the bright red cherry, pepper and vanilla notes of the 2013 Dom Boutinière Châteauneuf du Pape. “The lamb chops actually soften this wine, enhancing the acidity in the wine and making it taste fresher.” Cabernet franc also plays well with lamb, says Jordan, especially in Mediterranean dishes.

Ham

"I want something to complement the saltiness and a wine that can stand up to bold flavors - so I love bright, slightly fruity reds like grenache," says Kerstin Mikalbrown, sommelier at Kinship. "Birichino’s Besson Vineyard Grenache from our list is perfect with sliced ham because it’s tart strawberry notes really balance out the rich saltiness."

Kelly Magyarics, DWS, is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com, or on Twitter and Instagram @kmagyarics.

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