The arrival of the first Wisconsin-grown asparagus in the spring is a long-awaited sign that another winter has come and gone, and that longer, warmer days are ahead. Unlike spring’s ramps and morels, which can be paired successfully with an array of whites or lighter-bodied reds, asparagus presents particular challenges to those wanting to match it with wine. Its high chlorophyll content gives it its strong vegetal flavor that quickly transforms your favorite red or oaky white wine into a tinny, unappealing mess. These challenges, however, are not insurmountable. Here are four bottles that still shine next to asparagus — however it is presented.
If there is one grape variety that gets mentioned consistently as a pair to asparagus, it is grüner veltliner — and this Schlosskellerei Gobelsburg Kamptal Grüner Veltliner 2020 ($20) proves why. The Gobelsburg estate has been making wine in the Kamptal since 1151. This entry-level bottling is sourced from younger vines and is an excellent introduction to how complex and delicious grüner veltliner can be. The Gobelsburg has a peppery streak on the nose that complements asparagus, and its crisp, mouthwatering finish readies the palate for another bite.
This Fraga do Corvo Monterrei Godello 2020 ($19) from Galicia in northwest Spain is another example of how wine consumers can find remarkable value if they are willing to look to smaller and slightly more obscure wine-growing regions. Made from organically grown (but not officially certified) grapes sourced from a single 10-acre vineyard, the Fraga do Corvo Godello has a nice weight on the palate without being laden with oak. Its pear and floral notes make it perfect for a spring dinner featuring grilled asparagus.
Winemaker Kenny Likitprakong’s Banyan Monterey County Gewürztraminer 2021 ($14) has been a favorite since its introduction in 2002. Some wine drinkers shy away from gewürztraminer due to its reputation for producing wines that are cloying, overly perfumed, and devoid of finesse. In Likitprakong’s hands the grape’s intense flowery nose is instead transformed into a supporting character behind the cool-climate grapes’ juicy tangerine and cantaloupe notes on the palate. This balance between rich aromatics and mineral-framed acidity makes Banyan gewürztraminer a great pair to many challenging dishes, including asparagus, which also benefits from the wisp of pear blossom aroma on the finish.
Ca’n Verdura Binissalem-Mallorca Moll Supernova 2020 ($30) from the Spanish island of Mallorca might be a little unfair to include, since production is normally limited to fewer than 1,000 cases, and this scarcity was compounded by poorly-timed rain in the 2020 growing season that caused the loss of approximately 40 percent of the crop. It is made from Moll, a grape unique to the island, and the wine is soft and medium-bodied with notes of tart apple and a finish marked by a distinctive and fresh echo of citrus and herbs. At $30 it might seem like a splurge for wine for dinner at home, but this is a special expression of a small corner of the world, and it is undeniably tasty. Besides, if there ever was a cause for celebration, surviving another winter to taste the arrival of asparagus season is certainly one.