Pairing Wine with Spring Fruits and Vegetables
How reassuring it is to see a wee bit more light slipping around the edges of the window shade every morning. Spring is on the way!
The extra sunshine does more than pump up our Vitamin D levels. Those additional daylight hours – and more powerful, sunshine-driven warmth – helps Mother Nature deliver us the widely diverse, seasonal bounty of spring fruits and vegetables.
Yet, winter often resists transitioning into spring. The overlapping of marvelous spring weather with winter’s bitter cold remnants can mirror the best seasonal vegetables and fruits: we have to take a carpe diem approach and enjoy them while we can. Unlike other seasons, where there the bell curves are broader, some of the most coveted spring fruits and vegetables don’t stay around for long.
So, take heed to these spring season produce and wine pairing suggestions below. Blink, and they’ll be gone until next year!
WHY PAIR SPRING WINES WITH SPRING PRODUCE
It would seem that the palette for pairing wines with spring fruits and vegetables would appear light, lighter and lightest. After all, the seasonal food transition moves from the hearty, durable consumables of winter, like apples and potatoes, to the tender, delicate ones like strawberries and morel mushrooms.
This means that the early phase of spring produce differs from the later one. It’s a progression, not a flip! Happily, this provides an array of options for spring wine pairings that is gratifyingly diverse. Moreover, since we’re being so good about indulging in our spring veggies and fruits, we clearly deserve the reward of a nice glass of wine!
There’s no better way to get in the mood for spring food and wine pairings like joining one of the upcoming Farm-to-Table dinners at the Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate & Gardens. But if inspiration waves its wand over your kitchen before those gatherings begin in May, just reach for the Jackson Family Wines Season Cookbook. Take your seasonal cooking to the next level by finding local food items to incorporate in these recipes and remember that every market has a slightly different timetable for the arrival of seasonal produce.
That could boost impatience, but why not have it enhance anticipation? When so many ingredients are available to us via traditional grocery stores and supermarkets throughout the year, sticking to the rhythm of the farmer’s market helps to incorporate the element of surprise and rarity of what’s at its peak for your farm-to-fork or field-to-fork food and wine pairings.
WINE PAIRINGS FOR SPRING VEGETABLES AND FRUITS
The key to spring food and wine pairings is matching weight and intensity. Spring meals turn lighter as the season segues into summer, so the wines paired with spring dinners or spring Sunday lunches probably should lighten up, too.
Furthermore, spring is a wonderful time for plant-based diets. It’s “Game on!” for vegetarian cuisine with wine as well as vegan meals with wine. However, there are not many traditional wine pairings for vegetarian or vegan cuisine. That doesn’t make it hard to create a wine pairing symbiosis for vegan and vegetarian lifestyles though.
Even if you are incorporating animal protein or fish in your seasonal wine pairings, here are some universal rules for pairing wine with fruits or vegetables that are in season in spring:
- Generally, the lighter the spring fruit or spring vegetable color, the lighter the wine’s color should be.
- For the lightest colored spring vegetables and fruits, the best wine pairings tend to have no to very little new oak or other new wood barrel use during the wine’s production. (New wood influences give wines baking and cooking flavors, such as toast, caramel and butter.)
- Similarly, the more a spring vegetable or a spring fruit is cooked, the more new oak influence the paired wine could support. This is because the addition of heat adds another flavor layer, called caramelization, to produce. However, most veggies and fruits on their own are best with no to minimal oak influence, even when undergoing in-depth cooking like roasting.
- I’ve written before about challenging seasonal vegetable wine pairings. The most notorious are artichokes and asparagus. However, spring graciously gives us two notable exceptions here with spring artichoke and white asparagus. Both are much milder than their later season siblings, allowing them to pair with milder (in this case, less herbal and grassy) wines like Pinot Gris.
SAUVIGNON BLANC PAIRINGS FOR SPRING PRODUCE
Speaking of asparagus – the green kind that we are most accustomed to seeing, the tiny and tender spring version absolutely kicks in a Cream of Asparagus Soup with Vintner’s Reserve Sauvignon Blanc! Linking in similarly vivid, “green” or “grassy” spring flavors, limes and salad greens are also excellent spring wine pairings with Sauvignon Blanc. One of my favorites is the fleetingly rare fiddlehead fern, which kind of looks like a wound-up asparagus and tastes about the same. Springtime is an ideal season for pairing bright white wines and vegetables.
CHARDONNAY PAIRINGS FOR SPRING PRODUCE
Chardonnay is an impressively flexible grape. It can be as restrained or as lush as the winemaker wants it to be. Its trendy, unoaked versions – less well-known than its usual, lushly oaked styles – are brilliant for pairing fruit with wine, especially pick-of-the season lemons. Check out this Lemon Chicken Piccatta with the K-J Avant Chardonnay if you’re looking for a mouth-cleansing sort of finish.
Alternatively, if you want to match up to the dish’s creamier sensations, go with the wine that started it all for Kendall-Jackson, the Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay. Its toasty character and riper, tropical fruit flavors will mesh enticingly, if differently, with the creamy sauce. Other peak season fruit pairings with wine that smack of deliciousness here include pineapple and the rather exotic jackfruit. Chardonnay with double cream or triple cream cheeses and these fruits are truly divine. It’s a welcome overload of smooth and supple textures!
If pairing fruit with wine is less your mojo than vegetable wine pairings, check out the Season Cookbook’s Spring Vegetable & Herb Quinoa Porridge. It’s a colorful feast for the eyes as much as it is a flavor and nutrition kick for the taste buds and tummy. The expansive texture of the quinoa and fava beans coupled with crème fraiche will harmonize nicely with an oaked Chardonnay companion, especially those from the Jackson Estate collection.
ROSÉ FOR SPRING WINE PAIRINGS
Rosé is a unique cross-over between red and white wine styles, giving it impressive versatility. Rosé is one of the most friendly options for fruit and wine pairings, and it also works well for wine pairing with vegetarian recipes. Rosé is always a winning wine pairing with fruit and cheese!
A great way to experience rosé’s flexibility is via the Season Cookbook’s Strawberry-Rhubarb Salad with Pistachios & Goat Cheese recipe.
- Hot tip: Chef Justin Wangler suggests dipping a leaf of the green you are using into the salad dressing while you make it to see how it is tasting. Not making dressing? No worries! The same holds true with store bought salad dressing. Before you dress everything, test it first with your combination of seasonal greens and fruits!
Finally, if you are lucky enough to have a geeky grower market nearby and can find the briefly available ramps and garlic scapes, rosé is unquestionably your best wine pairing. Ramps are sometimes called wild leeks and resemble scallions, but they are generally stronger than both – somewhere closer to a sweet onion. The complimentary garlic scapes are “greener” and more similar to chives. Both of these springtime farmer’s market specials excel in savory character, a perfect contrast to the zippy acidity and succulent fruit flavors of rosé wines.
PINOT NOIR PAIRINGS FOR SPRING CUISINE
Pinot Noir is often associated with fall flavors given its tendency to exhibit earthy and autumnal aromas. Were there a classic non-protein with a red wine, it would be Pinot Noir and mushrooms. Of course, mushrooms technically are neither spring vegetables nor spring fruits; they have neither leaves nor seeds. As fungi, they aren’t even plants! However, because they are fibrous and frequently served as a side dish, we tend to lump them into the vegetable category.
For spring season dishes with Pinot Noir, any of the series of traditionally spring mushrooms works beautifully. Morels, oyster and hen of the woods mushrooms along with spring porcini have a brighter, less earthy tone. Moreover, many spring vegetables bring a gentle sweetness to dishes, just like English peas. Mushroom Risotto with Peas is a lovely meal that brings hearty comfort with fresh, spring flavors when wintery nights persist! Because of this recipe’s lifted and nuanced flavors, I would pair this vegetarian recipe with a lighter red wine like the Vintner’s Reserve Pinot Noir.
For a meatier, heftier Pinot Noir, I would revert to the Jackson Estate Range and pair it with succulent spring lamb. The Season Cookbook’s recipe for Braised Lamb Belly with Farro, Seared Turnips and Ramps works particularly well with darker expressions of Pinot Noir, like the Outland Ridge and Anderson Valley bottlings, thanks to the intense flavor of the braised belly meat. With this Pinot Noir food pairing, it’s the turnips that blend with the Pinot’s earthy flavors. Additionally, spring gives us “baby turnips”, which are much sweeter than the larger, more fiber-filled turnips stacked on fall’s farmer’s market stands. This makes for a seamless mouthfeel alongside Pinot Noir’s velvety tannins.
CABERNET SAUVIGNON WITH SPRING VEGETABLE PAIRINGS
The vigor of Cabernet Sauvignon can make it seem like a wine destined to drop off the wine and food pairing list as spring arrives. However, Cabernet Sauvignon is a brilliant match for early spring wine pairings, like Beef with Broccoli. The weight of Cabernet Sauvignon stands up to the power of this recipe’s red meat, and Cabernet Sauvignon’s evergreen or bell pepper tones mesh well with this noble grape variety’s “green tones”. (Geek alert: pros call these green flavors pyrazines.) This is but one example of how red wines blend along with spring vegetables into new seasonal pairings!
In summary, spring food and wine are only limited by our imaginations. The cross-over of hearty winter foods and lighter spring foods make this a wonderful season to experiment with everything from full-on reds to lighter whites, without forgetting rosés!
Christy Canterbury is a Master of Wine, journalist, speaker and judge based in New York City. In 2014, she was short-listed for the Roederer Online Wine Communicator of the Year Award. Her work has been published in Decanter, Wine Enthusiast, Edible Green Mountains, Wine Searcher, Food Arts, Snooth, Beverage Media, TimAtkin.com, Civiltà del Bere, Wine Business Monthly, TASTED, Selectus Wines and in other outlets.