by Brooke Wagner
Food and wine have a symbiotic relationship--and once Spring arrives in the Bay Area, my mind instantly begins to think about all the wonderful fresh produce options now available in the markets. I am continually impressed with customers who come into the shop looking for the perfect pairing, to a meal plan already in mind (whether simple or complex, these often sound out of this world). The common thread I continue to find between these gastronomes is, as always, a commitment to fresh ingredients, particularly vegetables. With that in mind, the following brief guidelines should help you to better navigate a few of the potential Spring produce pairings.
The season for Morel mushrooms is typically from March through May. Some of the better local spots for foraging these gems are found in the areas surrounding Santa Rosa and Palo Alto. If you don’t feel like committing your time to foraging for this seasonal delicacy, then you certainly will pay a premium for these wonderful mushrooms at your local grocery store or farmers market. Nevertheless, wherever you might acquire them, their earthy and meaty flavor will be an unrivaled and decadent treat. One method to prepare them is to simply sauté in butter to release their fantastic aromatics. As far as pairings go, in general, I tend to lean towards Pinot Noir as a classic selection for mushrooms. In addition, because of their richness, I would also recommend both white and red wines for pairing options--my top choices being either a white Burgundy, or an Italian red, such as a Rosso di Montalcino.
Elsewhere, the season for fresh Fava beans is considerably shorter, so it’s best to stock up on these wonderfully meaty legumes as soon as they appear. They are typically available in April and May, and generally may not be as common place as other beans in many kitchens, perhaps due to having a waxy shell around the beans in addition to an outer pod. As a result, they do tend to take some extra time and effort to prepare; however, their buttery, sweet, and starchy texture make them totally worth it. A simple and excellent way to incorporate them into a tasty appetizer is to combine with burrata and lemon zest over grilled rustic toast. Sancerre is the perfect compliment for this unique legume.
Lastly, common knowledge traditionally holds that asparagus and wine can not be paired together effectively. The combination of vegetal characteristics and acidity can all too often leave a downright disturbing metallic sense of taste in your mouth. On the other hand, faced with the abundance of asparagus around this time of year (the stuff is currently growing like wildfire in my Oakland garden), the chances of having wine and asparagus together can seem rather inevitable. So, the trick is to be selective with your pairing, and to avoid the always convenient option of simply drowning your asparagus in a rich and flavorful sauce. For me, the golden ticket for success here is to go with either a Gruner Veltliner from Austria, or the beautifully aromatic Kerners, from Alto Adige in Northern Italy.