Friday, 1 April 2011

Asparagus and Wine

Asparagus and wine have been labelled as uncomfortable bedfellows when it comes to food ad wine pairing . . . and I was really surprised when I read that winery in Michigan have created an Asparagus Wine. Kellie and Todd Fox of Barn Market & Winery in Shelby, near Pentwater are responsible for Odd Fox Wine. The Foxes own a 1700 acre orchard and farm near the Silver Lake Sand Dunes, and Todd Fox is the fourth generation owner. They grow sweet and tart cherries, peaches, pears, apples, plums, blueberries and grapes. But their farm also is smack in the middle of Michigan's asparagus belt, Oceana County, so they grow that, too. The idea for Odd Fox Wine started when Todd challenged Kellie to create a wine from asparagus and the result is a clear wine with a “mild asparagus aroma and flavour with a little hint of sweetness."

I haven't heard of anyone else making an Asparagus Wine so the Foxes seem to have created a unique product. They plan to market the wine this year at the National Asparagus Festival, which runs from June 10th -12th in Hart.

I wonder how it will pair with asparagus dishes? There are certain compounds in asparagus that can make certain wines take awful. However there are exceptions to the rule and a few tricks to combat the clash. If you grill or roast the asparagus it loses some of its flavour and serving it with a hollandaise or cheese sauce tones it down and adds other flavour dimensions. White asparagus is considered to be slightly milder in flavour and a bit more tender than green asparagus. The colouring of asparagus depends on the length of its exposure to the sun. Asparagus has a leaf bud which lengthens underground searching for light, and becomes coloured when it is exposed to it. However growing white asparagus is labour intensive and this explains its high price.

There is a recipe for cooking asparagus in the oldest surviving book of recipes, Apicius' 3rd century De Re Coquinaria. So prized were these perennial shoots by the Romans that not only did they enjoy eating them in season but they were also the first to preserve it by freezing as early as the 1st Century AD when fast chariots would take the fresh asparagus from the Tiber River area to the Alps where it kept for six months until the Feast of Epicurus. The Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus coined the phrase 'velocius quam asparagi conquantur', meaning to do something faster than you can cook asparagus.

The Romans are responsible for having introduced asparagus to England, where it gradually gained favour with the nobles and by the early 16th century, it was widely served in many of the Royal courts of Europe. France's King Louis XIV even grew it in hothouses so he could enjoy it year-round. In the 1880s, the French would give asparagus to men on their wedding night (see Nick's Blog Red Wine and Famous Aphrodisiacs). Near Narbonne asparagus used to be grown in between the rows of vines!

We live on the edge of asparagus country and also have a thriving bed of asparagus that Nick's father planted some years ago in our kitchen garden, so we have a steady supply! I have a trick up my sleeve when it comes to matching a wine with asparagus – I serve a sparkling wine. It's a good accompaniment and there are several that suit. You could try Cremant d'Alsace but my latest favourite is one of Nick's new discoveries: Comte de Laube. This a a French sparkling wine made from grapes grown in the South West of France and the vineyards of the Loire Valley. It's not expensive and Nick recommends it as an easy drinking wine which is perfect for parties, summer barbeques and get togethers.

Comte de Laube is made from a blend of Chardonnay, Folle Blanche, Ugni Blanc and Chenin Blanc and has subtle notes of lemon, toasted almonds, greengage, apple and broom blossom. On the palate, it reveals slight floral touches of quite surprising finesse. The finish is pleasantly and very slightly fruity.

You may recognise Ugni Blanc as Trebbiano which is thought to have originated in the Eastern Mediterranean, and was grown in Italy in Roman times. Ugni Blanc made its way to France in the 14th century and its high acidity makes it important in Cognac production. This grape brings a floral bouquet (violets, broom and geraniums), as well as the vivacity and balance to the wine.

Folle Blanche is also used in the production of Cognac and Armagnac and is known for producing light and fresh wines that have flavours and aromas of green apples and limes.

Chenin Blanc is native to the Loire Valley - it's believed to have taken its name from Mont Chenin in Touraine. The grape has flavours of greengages and quince and adds depth and body to the wine.

Chardonnay gives this wine notes of citrus, pear and vanilla with a zesty sherbet bite on the finish.

Comte de Laube is made by the Charmat Method (Méthode Charmat) which was developed by the French scientist Jean Eugene Charmat at the University of Montpellier in 1907. Instead of using individual bottles to produce the secondary fermentation, he invented the glass-lined tank. He also founded two companies, Sorevi in Bordeaux and CFGV (Compagnie Française des Grands Vins) which have gone on to become leading sparkling wine producers. His son continued his work and created the wine Veuve de Vernay, named after the widow (Veuve) from Vernay, who helped his father start up in business.

Comte de Laube is a super little sparkler - elegant and delicate, fizzing with fine, long lasting bubbles and it pairs well with most food.


lostpastremembered said...

Thanks for this, Sue... asparagus is a favorite but it makes many wines taste terrible!! I don't know if I would ever drink asparagus wine though... just too weird for even me!!
I'm blogging asparagus in the next week or so with an interesting spin on hollandaise from the early 19th c... I think I should get some of that comte de laube to go with them!

Sue said...

Thanks Deanna - your post on Hollandaise was fascinating - using Elderflower vinegar or Saint Germain is a great twist!