The English asparagus season is upon us which is a cause of celebration in its own right. I boycott the inferior, factory farmed Peruvian stuff with its indefensible air miles, which is available all the year round in the supermarkets, so tend to go overboard when our peerless home grown spears become available. The big question, that I'm frequently asked, is: What wine to serve with this monarch of the vegetable world? For many years my default response was 'Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley's Central Vineyards'. There is something about the racy minerality of a top notch Sancerre or Pouilly Fumé that has a magical affinity with the verdant, freshness of new season's asparagus.
As my culinary horizons extended I experimented with different cooking methods - having started out as a plain 'boiler' (oh the ignorance of youth) I became an ardent steamer (so sophisticated), then an oven roaster and finally an on-trend griddler and griller. How you cook asparagus and, moreover, what you choose to serve it with does have a bearing on what wines you can partner it with. At Le Gavroche, where they serve it with shavings of summer truffles, head sommelier David Galetti favours a Corsican Vermentino which is a bold and beautiful match as the sun-kissed, scrub scented wine marries perfectly with the tender stalks and earthy truffle flavours. If you adorn your asparagus with mozzarella, olive oil, Parma ham, Hollandaise sauce or shavings of Parmesan cheese it can stand up to Chenin Blancs, Pinot Grigio and lighter un-oaked Chardonnays.
A happy discovery last year was a white Appellation d'Origine Protégée 'Duché d'Uzès' from Domaine Camp Galhan called 'Cuvée Amanlie'. It is made by a chap called Lionel Pourquier from a blend of Viognier, Grenache Blanc and Roussanne and according to no lesser personage than Robert Parker it 'offers pungent cress, lemon zest, and white pepper along with ripe peach'. As well as being an accomplished wine-maker Lionel also cultivates asparagus so perhaps it is unsurprising that his Amanlie makes a magnificent accompaniment to it.
My rule of thumb is to avoid any wines that are too exotically scented, oaky or full-bodied and plump for nervy, youthful bottlings that capture the spirit of Spring. Today I've pretty much come full circle - if you lightly steam a generous quantity of spears (never too thick or fine), refresh them with cold water to arrest the cooking and dress them with good olive oil and lemon juice and a touch of salt and pepper and serve them with a chilled glass of Pouilly Fumé or such-like you can't really improve on that. I've just taken the photograph below, the sun is shining and you can guess what happened next!