How to Pair Wines with Impossible Veggies

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Steak and Argentine Malbec is perfection. Lamb and Rioja, creamy pastas and buttery Chardonnay, mushrooms and Burgundy… these are all heavenly pairings that are easy to dream up. But what about those dishes that leave sommeliers scratching their heads, and leave the average wine consumer feeling utterly helpless? What do you do with cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts? Asparagus? How about artichokes or tomatoes?

There are wines for every dish. Some are a little counterintuitive, but experimentation will show that they work beautifully. Read on to learn how to pair wines with these impossible dishes. If you're in the area, stop by and visit us to taste some of the wines mentioned below!

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Brussels sprouts, Cauliflower, and Broccoli… Oh my!

Brussels sprouts are part of a class of veggies that contain a large amount of sulfur. Along with cauliflower, broccoli, and cabbage, these sprouts present great difficulty for wine pairing. But don’t fret… follow a few simple rules and you’ll be pairing sulfur-rich dishes like a pro!

1.      For red wine lovers: stick to red wines with low tannins. Tannin molecules interact with sulfur compounds in a way that leaves quite a bad taste in our mouths. Most wine folks will recommend a white wine with these types of veggies, but you really don’t have to stick to white… try a bright Schiava from northeast Italy (you can even give it a little chill), or a light Grignolino from Piemonte.

2.      Keep the acidity high. Sprouts and the like are alkaline, and a little acid helps to balance things out. Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, Arneis, and Pinot Blanc are always good choices. For a special treat, get ahold of Alexander Zahel’s “Orange T” Orangetraube (yes, that’s the grape!) from Vienna and pair it with any sulfur-rich veggies.

3.      No pungent flavors! Though a Sauvignon Blanc seems like a perfectly pleasant match, the green grass and gooseberry aromatics combine with the pungent sulfur compounds to offer up a nose redolent of a sulfur bath.

4.      Keep the treatment in mind. Brussels cooked with caramelized onions and bacon? Lean toward an aromatic Riesling or a light red. Cauliflower baked with cumin? Try a zesty Grüner, like a powerful one from Nikolaihof for example. Broccoli sautéed with garlic? Arneis or Pinot Blanc harmonize well with this dish.

 

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Asparagus

Here’s another well-loved but very difficult dish. Asparagus contains a special sulfur compound called organosulfur carboxylic acid, which creates an aroma that smells to us like, well… urine. What to do with a dish like this?

1.      For red wine lovers: keep it light! And try something a little funky. A Pinot works well, especially an Oregon Pinot. Or for some fun, try Louis-Antoine Luyt’s “Cruchon” Pinot Noir, an all-natural Chilean Pinot. You can also go with a Loire red such as a nice Chinon or Bourgueil. Fronton de Oro’s Listán Negro (Canary Islands) is also a very interesting pairing.

2.      Match flavors with whites! A Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre (or a lean one from New Zealand) can be a lovely complementary pairing that basically amplifies the very flavor thought of as unpleasant in asparagus… with incredibly delicious results!

 

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Artichokes

Wonderful steamed or grilled, the simple artichoke poses a difficult challenge for wine. Another pesky chemical is at fault here: cynarine. Cynarine is a taste receptor inhibitor. Basically, it makes everything taste much sweeter than it actually is. Not a good quality for wine pairing… but don’t give up!

1.      For red wine lovers: keep it very, very dry. A little spice doesn’t hurt either. Natural wines often offer a good balance of spice and earth, but only some will work. Try Benedict et Stephane Tissot’s Arbois Rouge from the Jura region of France, or the aforementioned Fronton de Oro. Aged Barolo and Barbaresco can be a very delicious (and expensive!) pairing as well.

2.      For white wines: also, keep it dry! And mineral-driven, not fruit-driven. White Vinho Verde or white Txakoli work quite well, and a little effervescence doesn’t hurt.

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Tomatoes

Tomatoes are highly acidic and savory at the same time. This can make wine pairing a bit bewildering. Of course, the pairing is highly dependent on the method of preparation…

1.      Fresh tomatoes: think Provençal-style rosé. The slight amount of skin contact that turns a rosé that beautiful salmon color adds a little texture that plays with the savory notes of tomatoes nicely.

2.      Baked tomatoes: try a light and juicy red. Barberas and Garnachas can be perfect for a baed tomato dish such as a tian.

3.      Stewed tomatoes: match flavors! Greek Xinomavro, known for its characteristic tomato-and-black-olive aromatics, is a powerful and delicious match to any stewed tomato dish.

 

Need more pairing advice? Check out our next post: Seafood and Wine Pairing for the Adventurous. Email us with your pairing questions!