Odd Pair: Asparagus and Wine

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Today we think of asparagus as one of the standard vegetable side dishes in the contemporary canon of American gastronomy.

But in another era, asparagus was considered one of the world's greatest delicacies: The insatiable King Louis XIV built greenhouses so that he could eat asparagus all year round.

From the bright green muscular stalks of northern California, to the white asparagus -- the "royal vegetable" -- of Europe's Low Countries, to the elusive wild asparagus of Sicily, the vegetable's points d'amour ("love tips") continue to inspire gastronomes around the world with their delicate flavor.

But when it comes to pairing, the ever vigilant wine police strictly prohibit its marriage with fine wine.

Asparagus, some find, can make wine taste metallic. Honestly, I've never experienced this phenomenon.

Others, like Decanter magazine editor Adam Lechmere, will tell you that "the intense grassy flavour of asparagus can make many wines taste vegetal and green. The worst match would be an oaky Chardonnay or a tannic red, such as Cabernet Sauvignon."

Of course, we find some comfort in this at our house because we don't like oaky Chardonnay, nor do we drink overly tannic Cabernet Sauvignon.

Our thoughts on the subject align more closely to Brooklyn Guy's take on asparagus and wine pairing: "Common wisdom holds that it's very difficult to pair wine with asparagus. I'm not sure why this is so. Every spring asparagus flood the farmers markets for a month or so and I eat them like they're going out of style. Some wines work better than others, but this quest for perfection is kind of silly, I think."

And like Brooklyn Guy, we'll reach for aromatic white grapes and bright, acid-driven white wines, like the old-school Verdicchio I paired the other night with some asparagus I had roasted in a cast-iron skillet with extra-virgin olive oil and sea salt.

But the ever adventurous Brooklyn Guy ("the Brook," as Eric Asimov calls him) will even reach for a red wine, like a Trousseau from the Jura by Arbois: "It was great with the asparagus. Okay, it wasn't all harmony and unity, but the smells and flavors were interesting together and worked well, and I enjoyed my meal. Isn't that enough?" (You can find wines by Arbois at Spec's.)

When it comes to wine pairing, some rules were meant to be broken. Just don't tell the wine police. They might arrest you and force you to drink "oaky Chardonnay" or "tannic Cabernet" as your punishment...

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