Pairing Wine with Springtime

March 18, 2021

My name is Mike Schufman. I am not a wine professional, I am a guitar player and drummer with a culinary degree. I graduated from Saint Paul College in 2010, have lived in France, traveled to multiple European countries, and can speak and write in 3 languages. Since studying in the Loire and Rhone regions of France from 2007-2008, I have worked in various settings from full-service restaurants, to corporate dining, to grocery stores, and currently for France 44.

March through April in Minneapolis can feel a bit like getting one’s hopes up; a feeling of cautious optimism. Snow often makes an unwelcome re-visit after a bitter cold but mostly dry February. Meanwhile, moderate to chilly temperatures can create a slushy mess everywhere you look. At the same time, you smell the fresh spring air. You can finally appreciate the crisp breeze accompanied by longer sunshine as you roll down your car windows.

And even crisper than the breeze are the seasonal produce you see at your local market or co-op. There, hipsters flock for the fiddlehead ferns, ramps, spring onions, garlic scapes, peas, asparagus, mint, various other fresh herbs, and hearty, bitter greens. You can see, smell, and taste spring all around you. By May, you’re in heaven! And what is heaven without delicious food and wine?

In my first wine blog, I want to focus on Spring. More specifically, what Spring means for food and wine. Not a sommelier’s take on wine, but rather a culinary angle–my wine picks evoke the flavors and moments of spring. For this blog, I will focus primarily on white wines for their versatility and bright, crisp flavor that lends itself so perfectly to seasonal springtime dishes.

Pretty much, name something green, and it’s probably in season. Many of these fresh, vegetal flavors, in the wine world, are referred to exactly as the foods that offer them appear: “green.” Green is more than a color. It may signify bitterness, freshness, rawness, or unripeness. It can also signify healthfulness; that which is medicinal, refreshing, bright, acidic, youthful, vibrant, and zesty. Now we have a canvas on which to paint a lovely culinary picture.

As I see it, whether you’re combining foods together to create a dish, or combining a dish with wine, you are looking for balance and harmony. This can come from:

1. Complementary or contrasting flavors and textures (sweet and salty, crunchy and creamy, acidic and fatty, funky and fresh) Here, we prevent an overload of one component of food by providing a resolution.

2. Matching flavors (Herbs and goat cheese, Chocolate and chilis, stout-braised short ribs, mint and cucumber) Here we find a common theme between two seemingly different components and play on a particular flavor as an abstract concept that we wish to highlight. And in doing these two things, we also strive to avoid the third scenario:

3. Clashing flavors (Fish and cheese, Umami/Earthy+Gamey, Acidic +Hot and Spicy) Here, we unfortunately combine components that have similar needs of resolution, leaving your tastebuds and stomach feeling very, very sad.

Depending on your preference, you can lean toward #1 or #2, and chances are, your wine pick is going to be great! The most important rule is that there are no absolute rules, and sometimes, you just know what you like. If you like chardonnay with everything, then drink chardonnay with everything!

So, anyway, onto the wine picks! I have chosen 3 different styles to highlight.

Meinklang Burgenland White | Austria | $18.99 | This biodynamic white blend screams springtime with its bright, green, floral notes. An intriguing 50-40-10 blend of grüner veltliner, welschriesling, and muskat (respectively), this white offers a cohesive flavor profile rather than any obvious varietal characteristics. The nose is pleasantly fresh and aromatic, bursting with fresh, floral citrus akin to bergamot, coriander seed, and mint. In a weird but welcome way, childhood memories of opening a fresh box of fruit loops come to mind. Acidity is vibrant and reminiscent of Granny Smith apples or pears tossed with lime zest. This wine is pure excitement on for your tastebuds at under $20 a bottle.  Enjoy with mild stir-frys featuring green vegetables, chicken pizza with ramp and almond pesto, minty lamb meatballs, or a nice falafel sandwich* with lemon tahini, crisp romaine lettuce, and fresh tomato.

Culinary Note:

*Where did I come up with the idea to pair this with falafel? Not only are falafels crispy and delicious, but they are also jam-packed with fresh parsley and cilantro, with just a hint of zesty green chilis and spices such as cumin and coriander. This, along with the nutty characteristic of fried chickpeas (some versions feature fava beans as well) pairs beautifully with this style of wine. 

 


 

Soave Classico, Veneto, Italy | From the grape garganega, which is scientifically identical to the Sicilian viarietal Grecanico.

Being a culinary graduate, I find a lot of overlap between the jargon between foodies and wine nuts (By the way, you can’t caramelize a steak!). After all, part of the fun is finding the balance between the simpleton and the snob. If you don’t say something slightly pretentious, are you even enjoying it?

Medium bodied, this style gives you complex aromas, vibrant acidity, and nice, oily texture on the palate.

Sometimes, when people describe wine tasting notes, I think to myself “Wow that’s very specific. Toasted almond? Is it really a note of toasted almond? “Nutty” or “almond” isn’t enough of a description? But when I swirl this in a glass, it is clear to me. This is toasted almond. The aromatic compounds are reminiscent of nuts having gone through to transformation of roasting. A raw almond note, by contrast, would read much more subtle on the nose, similar to unripe stone fruit. For this more subtle almond note, lighter body and fruitiness reminiscent of honeydews, reach for a verdicchio or grechetto (try Andrea Felici Verdicchio–$17.99, or Antonelli Grechetto–$16.99).

These wines would be brilliant with anything pesto* fine Italian cheese & charcuterie plates, pan-seared whitefish and green beans amandine with lemon zest, and would also shine alongside a mushroom risotto with asparagus.

Examples:

Inama Soave Classico | $17.99

Pra Staforte Soave Classico | $27.99

*Culinary Note: Since I’ve mentioned pesto twice, I’d like to add a note from the kitchen and mention it a third time. I know–it’s not 1991, but pesto doesn’t need to go out of style and can be revisited anytime. Plus, it tastes like spring. In culinary school, we learned that anything can be classified as a pesto if it features these components:

  1. A nut. In the classic basil pesto, pine nuts are used for their piney aroma and butteriness. But you can swap it out for marcona almonds, pistachios, walnuts, peanuts, macadamias, anything that you can call a culinary nut.
  2. A plant tissue. This would be the basil leaves and garlic in the classic green pesto. But this can be interpreted many ways. This could be kale, mint, ramps, roasted bell pepper, fresh peas or mustard greens. Get creative and use whatever you picked up at the farmer’s market that would work for the flavor you want to create!
  3. A cheese. Doesn’t have to be parmigiano reggiano, though always a great choice. Anything nutty and aged is good. But you can also take it in a different direction and go with something creamy and herbaceous like chevre. Get creative!
  4. An oil. This is when you want to break out the extra virgin olive oil. That said, some chefs do like to dilute the mixture with a neutral oil and only add a small amount of extra virgin to finish it, to prevent the overall mix from being too bitter.

 


 

Koehler Ruprecht Kallstadter Riesling Kabinett Trocken | Pfalz, Germany | $23.99

This riesling achieves a wonderful balance. It delivers the bracing acidity that you would expect from German riesling accompanied by tropical notes of coconut, green apple and citrus zest. There is an underlying hint of green or vegetal flavors and a pleasant minerality. The fact that there is so much going on in this wine is resolved by the ever-so-slight hint of residual sugar, though still well within the category of “dry.” This gives the wine some roundness and a refreshing character that makes you want to come back for another glass. This riesling could be featured with a variety of dishes, from Thai coconut chicken soup, to roasted sweet potatoes with harissa, to pork chops with kohlrabi slaw or braised cabbage.

Other dry, balanced Rieslings to consider:

Donnhoff Tonschiefer Riesling Trocken | Rheinhessen, Germany | $29.99

Boundary Breaks Dry Riesling Clone 239 | Finger Lakes, New York | $14.99

And there you have it! My top 3 white wine picks to go with your creative springtime meals! I hope you enjoyed reading, and just maybe it will inspire you or change the way you think about the food, the flavors, and the moments. Have fun in the kitchen and enjoy the weather!