Best Wines for the Flavors of Spring
Since almost everything that grows is available year round in your local supermarket, it is hard to name the exclusive flavors of spring. But it wasn’t that long ago that everyone shopped (or grew!) and ate by season. So, if you ask an old memories expert like me about the flavors of spring, it would be rhubarb and strawberries. It would be it would be lamb, salmon, or trout, or smelt. It would be asparagus, tiny little radishes and carrots, new turnips, new potatoes smaller than golf balls, morels, scallions, green garlic, and leeks, and peas in a pod, also called English peas. Even farmer’s markets don’t carry those shelling peas anymore, only the flat edible snow pea pods and the plump hollow pods of snow peas. I remember sitting on the back steps of my childhood home with a brown bag of pods pregnant with perfect, round fresh peas, splitting the shells and seeing them lined up before I zipped them out of the pod.
Most cultures celebrate the arrival of spring with culinary tributes to nature’s miracles. In Vietnam, it might be delicate Spring Rolls—shrimp, baby lettuce leaves, fresh young herbs, finely shredded crunchy carrots, bok choy, and cucumbers wrapped in translucent rice paper. In Italy, pasta primavera (Italian for “spring,” literally “first green) celebrates the season with its asparagus tips and fresh peas in cream sauce or garlic/basil pesto. In France, spring lamb printantière (see recipe) or cold poached river salmon with fresh sorrel mayonnaise and cold steamed asparagus drizzled with lemon mustard sauce are spring traditions. Right here, we can celebrate with grilled fresh Michigan trout (see recipe), locally grown asparagus, and from our wild Michigan woods, garlicky ramps, earthy morels and nutty tasting fiddlehead ferns—all things available in our stores for a few weeks in spring.
Spring Flavors in the World of Wine
In the wine world, the previous year’s harvest is getting bottled in spring, so there are always plenty of new vintages to taste and compare. The dry, tangy 2017 Rosés are starting to pour in as we are finishing up the mellower 2016s. Those dry rosés, all the rage right now, are THE wine flavor of spring and go well with vegetables and freshwater fish. Vegetables though, are not always easy to pair with wine, especially asparagus, artichokes, young turnips, salad greens, and steamed greens. So here are a few tips:
Asparagus: The Sauvignon Blanc Solution
We in Western Michigan love our local asparagus, but chefs agree, it is one of the hardest treats to pair with wine. Because of its naturally occurring sulfur compounds and its savory umami flavors, it make wines taste vegetal and metallic.
Sauvignon Blanc has enough flavor and acidity of its own to keep the dressing from overpowering the wine. Sauv Blanc produces the dry gravelly whites of Bordeaux and the bracing minerally, grassy whites of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fuissé in France’s Loire Valley; more lush and fruit forward Sauv Blancs of warmer California. And it has more recently grabbed the attention of wine drinkers with the citrusy, sometimes grapefuity flavors of its cool climate New Zealand version.
Or chill a bottle of Gruner Veltliner, a bracing wine from the cool climate of Austria whose citrus, white pepper and herbaceous flavors match the asparagus. Or a bottle of dry local Michigan Riesling.
Pairing Wines with Green Salads
Classic green salads with tangy, vinegary dressings just clash. While vinaigrette dressing brightens up salads, it does poor things for most wines. The acidity of the vinegar can overpowers the flavors of wine making them seem thin and acid. And any sweetness in the dressing can make the wine seem unpleasantly tart or even bitter. One way to deal with the salad course is skip the wine—just think of the salad course as a palate cleansing moment! But there are other ways to get around the problem.
The Wine Fix:
Serve Brut Champagne or Spanish Cava. Both have high acidity provided by the bubbles—the perfect foil for vinaigrette.
The Salad Dressing Fix
Verjus [vair-zhoo] is the unfermented grape juice. Chefs use it in place of vinegar when they don’t want excessive acidity. It’s hasn’t been readily available, but we are now able to offer it in our wine departments thanks to a new Michigan winery named Dablon. Use it in place of the vinegar in your vinaigrette.
Citrus juices provide a fruity substitute for vinegar: Lemon or lime or even fresh squeezed orange juice are all great options.
Bridge ingredients help keep wine and salads from clashing: walnuts, pine nuts, sliced toasted almonds, sesame seeds, dried fruits, cherries or cranberries, cheese, crumbled goat, feta, blue, or parmigiana reggiano will all help mask the acidity of dressing.
Lamb Stew with Spring Vegetables
- 1 TBS cooking oil
- 2 lbs. lean lamb shoulder, cut in 2-3” cubes and dusted with flour)
- 1 large onion, peeled and chopped
- 3 cloves new garlic, peeled and minced
- 2 TBS flour
- 1 C dry white wine, like a Pinot Grigio
- 4 fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
- 2 TBS tomato paste
- 2 C low salt chicken broth
- salt and pepper to taste
- bouquet garni (2 sprigs thyme, 3 sprigs parsley, and 1 bay leaf—tied up with white string)
- 8 small new potatoes, peeled
- 8 thin young carrots washed, with green fronds discarded
- 8 small turnips scrubbed and cut in half
- 8 large scallions cut in 2” pieces
- 2 C shelled fresh or frozen peas
Preheat the oven to 350F.
- Heat oil and butter in a skillet on medium-high, brown lamb on all sides, and transfer into a large oven-proof covered casserole dish.
- Reduce heat in skillet to low and add chopped onion and garlic. Cook gently, stirring occasionally for about 8 minutes. Add flour and cook until lightly colored, stirring constantly.
- Add wine and tomatoes continuing to stir. Add chicken broth and stir in tomato purée.
- Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and pour over the meat in the casserole. Add the bouquet garni.
- Cover and bake for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and add all vegetables except peas. Cover and return to oven and bake for 30 minutes. Add peas and cook for an additional 15 minutes.
- Discard the bouquet garni, sprinkle with minced parsley and serve with crusty French bread. (Can be made up to 2 days in advance and just reheated.)
Pair with a fresh, light red wine or a dry rosé. A Pinot Noir from Oregon would in with a red or rosé form! Try Elk Cove Pinot Noir Rosé or Elk Cove’s Pike Road Pinot Noir. Chill the rosé like you would a white wine and just cool the red Pinot Noir.
Grilled Harrietta Trout
- 4 whole dressed Harietta Michigan rainbow trout (about 10 ounces each), head and tail on
- 12 fresh sprigs of thyme
- 2 shallots, thinly sliced
- 1 lemon thinly sliced + juice of one lemon
- 2 TBS extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- Nonstick cooking spray
- Pre-heat to medium high and oil the cleaned grill.
- Whisk together olive oil, lemon juice set aside. Season inside of fish with salt and freshly ground pepper. Stuff thyme, shallots, and lemon slices inside of the fish. And let stand for ¼ hour
- Slather both sides of the fish with oil and lemon juice mix.
- Grill fillets meat side down until trout is half-done (about 4 minutes).
- Turn and brush with lemon and oil mix oil. Grill until fillets are opaque throughout (about 3 more minutes). Grill until just cooked through and firm to the touch, 4 minutes per side
- Serve immediately accompanied by grilled Michigan asparagus and ramps, fiddlehead ferns, sautéed morel mushrooms.
Pair this wild Michigan spring meal with a chilled Michigan wine: St. Julian Reserve Riesling. This elegant, aromatic, faintly fruity but dry Riesling is classic with trout and flavorful enough to stand up to our spring meal. It is made by Michigan’s first female winemaker and longtime friend of D&W, Nancy Oxley, who is winning the highest competition awards around the country and even in Europe!
Wine 101: Sauvignon Blanc Spring Semester Homeschooled
The best way to learn about wine is to taste it and talk about it. That is why it fits a social setting. Get together with geeky wine friends and do some comparison tasting.
- For each seated participant, you’ll need 3 glasses preferably the same size, lined up in the same order in front of each person. Chill the following 3 bottles of Sauvignon Blanc to the same temperature. Pour each participant a couple of ounces of each wine.
- Before tasting everyone should go down their line of 3 wines, sniffing each one for a few non-talking moments, then report their observations.
- Then follow the same process for tasting. Taste each wine in order, swishing it around in your mouth and swallowing it. What did everyone discover? Which one did each person prefer?
- If you want to make it more complex serve the wine with some goat cheese and a spear or two of asparagus. Taste each wine with the two different foods. What does everyone discover?
Wine 101 can be simple; it can zero in on very small and particular details. Watch our Blog and Facebook for Wine 101 ideas. Or talk to the Wine Steward in your own D&W store for cool ways to learn about wine!