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After a long, if somewhat mild winter, spring has finally arrived not only in the city but in the Green Markets. And while we enjoy the earthy virtues of squash and root vegetables, it's a pleasure to see all that green on the tables from the local farms. After the brief thrill of ramp season, asparagus has arrived and has us dreaming of the myriad of ways to enjoy its verdant pleasures and the wines to accompany its grassy deliciousness.
And what to do with asparagus? In Simple French Food, Richard Olney counsels simplicity: "It may be sacrilege to eat asparagus any other way than alone, barely cooked..." David Lillie concurs, although he has opted to grill the fat spears and dress them simply with olive oil, lemon juice and accompanied by the François Chidaine 2017 Montlouis-sur-Loire Les Bournais, whose lovely citrus and herbal notes work beautifully with the sweet flavors and light char of the preparation. With asparagus vinaigrette, Eben Lillie opts for the brisk and chalky freshness of Maison en Belles Lies 2017 Aligoté, a bright and stony expression of the grape with a host of orchard and citrus fruit flavors and bottled without SO2. Famed chef Alice Waters has an inspired simple recipe for thin asparagus spears with crispy julienned ginger root quickly sautéed in clarified butter in the excellent Chez Panisse Vegetables, which seems tailor-made for the textured and fainlty exotic Nikolaihof 2017 Gruner Veltliner Zwickl. Asparagus and eggs always makes for a felicitous pairing and the classic (and simple) Italian preparation of asparagus alla Milanese makes for a quick and sublime supper. Steamed asparagus dressed with olive oil and freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano topped with a fried egg and plenty of freshly ground pepper, is wonderful paired with the deliciously savory Orto di Venezia 2016 Sant'Erasmo Bianco, advises Jamie Wolff. And while I wouldn't dream of gilding the lily, I love warm asparagus with a lemony hollandaise or better still sauce gribiche, a punchy mustard vinaigrette emboldened with chopped cornichons, capers, loads of fresh herbs, and seived hard-cooked eggs, offers a pleasing contrast between the bold flavors of the sauce and the green springtime simplicity of a plate of the just-warm spears. And there is no wine I'd prefer to drink with this classic dish more than an effusively aromatic and bone dry Muscat from Alsace, especially the lovely biodynamic Domaine Dirler-Cadé 2015 Muscat Grand Cru Saering from Bergholz. The exotic perfume and fine bead of minerality of the wine works wonderfully with the big flavors of the dish and harmonizes beautifully with the chopped herbs.
We sincerely hope you'll support your local farm stand or Green Market and drink seasonally with these fine wines.
From biodynamically farmed vines in the clay, sandstone, limestone soils of the east, southeast-facing grand cru Saering vineyard, Domaine Dirler-Cadé 2015 Muscat offers an exotic nose on opening with aromas of litchi, orange oil, blackberry leaf, and wet stone. The pleasingly dry and stony palate has bright acidity and a dense core of minerality that belies the flamboyant aromatic profile. This is a lovely Muscat, with exuberant perfume and vibrant flavors and a savory, nearly salty finish. Enjoy with asparagus vinaigrette or Thai green curries. John McIlwain
Nikolaihof is the oldest winery in Austria, with the cellar dating back about 2,000 years. The Saahs family took the reins in 1894 and went biodynamic in the early 1970s. 'Zwickl' is a reference to the unfiltered beers of Germany (Zwickelbier), and this is the unfiltered version of the Nikolaihof Hefeabzug. Although it won't be quite as cloudy as its beer counterpart, the texture is present just enough to give depth and delight to the fresh floral, peachy, and pollen notes. Serve with spring vegetable salads, asparagus tart, roasted chicken and herbed new potatoes. Cari Bernard
Orto di Venezia is a striking wine grown on the island of San Erasmo within the lagoon of Venice. Based on Malvasia Istriana but comprised of a number of other local cultivars all planted on its own root stock, the wine is deeply colored in the glass, with a nose reminiscent of ripe golden apples and honeysuckle undercut by a salty tone. The palate is bold, with an initial attack of juicy orchard fruit and rich texture, followed by a honeyed note giving way to a long savory finish. More than anything else, Orto shows a stern backbone of minerality bracing its mellow acidity and weight on the palate. I served it with shrimp cooked with their own stock and butter, but this wine would pair beautifully with anything out of the sea, soft cheese, or rich vegetable dishes. Open early and serve slightly chilled. Andy Paynter
This is usually our favorite wine from François and Manuela Chidaine, long-time champions of organic and biodynamic farming in the Loire Valley. Named after the soil type "Les Bournais," a unique clay topsoil over limestone (tuffeau blanche) also found across the river in Vouvray and without the silex present in most Montlouis terroirs. The 2017 is a beautiful example of this wine with lovely aromas of lemon confit, kiwi, pear, lime-flower, honey and earth, with subtle hints of crushed raspberry as well. The palate is dense and creamy with chalky ripe pear and citrus fruits with a long, lush finish of stone, white fruits, anise and citrus. (Lush but dry at only 2.3 gr RS/L) This is a beautiful Montlouis that will perfectly accompany lobster, fish or white meats in sauce, Asian foods and goat cheeses. It's delicious now, and should be very interesting after ten to fifteen years in the cellar. David Lillie
Pierre Fenals has slowly patched together a collection of vineyards in Burgundy, with some tiny plots he owns and others he manages and farms. The Bourgogne Aligoté is from biodynamically farmed vines located on the hill above St. Aubin. Fermented with native yeasts and vinified and bottled without the addition of sulfur. Everything here is textbook Aligoté, not too aromatic on the nose, but still revealing hints of citrus peel, white flowers and salted lemon. Stones and underripe stone-fruit, very mineral and sharp on the palate. What I like here is the bit of viscosity that creeps into the finish. It's a quality I've noticed in a few Aligotés to date, and also with the whites from Belles Lies. A beautiful and unassuming wine that deserves a bit of air. Eben Lillie