By the time you read this, spring will have officially sprung: redbuds in full bloom (perhaps even past their peak in this changing climate); market shelves stacked with bunnies and gefilte fish, chocolate eggs and matzo meal, brightly colored baskets and Manischewitz Concord Grape wine; shamrocks, leprechauns and green beer at half price; sunset after seven.
The Farmers Market will have switched its Wednesday hours to become Picnic in the Park — and the farmers themselves will be talking asparagus. Customers will be talking asparagus, too — and taxes.
But, to me, asparagus is much the more interesting topic in this season of the Earth-come-back-to-life.
I like the fat stalks. I like the purple ones. I like them raw, steamed, sauteed. I like them in salads and soups, in savory tarts and omelets as a vegetable side and — topped with a perfectly poached egg and cheese — as a main course. Most of all, though, I like them roasted with olive oil, sea salt and garlic, served over linguine with a very generous grating of Parmesan and lemon zest. And a handful of chopped fresh parsley.
Until recently I puzzled over wine — in part because one reads so many contradictory things about this particularly challenging pairing. We’re warned that oaky or tannic wines are the worst — so we can eliminate chardonnay (unless it’s French, which usually works out just fine) and most reds. A light French or Oregon pinot noir might work, but a white like pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc, marsanne or dry riesling would be a safer choice.
Safest of all, I think, is sparkling wine of a dry, restrained sort, so a nice French sparkler, a cava, or a prosecco would be ideal. Opinion is divided on asparagus and rosés, with some folks urging us to avoid them altogether. I, however, think certain rosés — of the very dry rather than fruity variety — work quite well.
Besides, what could be more beautiful in the season of redbuds and decorated eggs than a glass filled with a wine that practically screams spring? And there are other wonderful things that appear during this season that love rosé — green garlic, for example, and pea shoots and fava greens and fiddlehead ferns and strawberries and sorrel.
I know rosé’s a hard sell in this town. Too many cringe-making memories of white zinfandel linger. But the French love their rosé — and not just in spring — for good reason. French and Italian and Spanish rosés (and the West Coast wines made in that style) are not just delicious for patio sipping but perfect accompaniments to spring foods. Even asparagus.
I’m still a fan of the Domaine de Fontsainte Gris de gris that I touted last spring and that Kermit Lynch thinks is the finest rosé value on Earth. And that might be my first choice to celebrate sun on the patio at 6 p.m. And to celebrate as well as the appearance of delicate and delicious lambsquarters and their spring green siblings. You can get a bottle of this remarkable rosé for less than $15 at Valley Wine Company.
You can also get good (though not as good, to my mind) rosés for less — and this is the best time to experiment. My own first experiment of the season was a bottle I admit I picked up just because I couldn’t resist its long elegant neck, understated label and gorgeous color — the Italian Rosé del Drago (Co-op, $11). It tasted good, too. Made with Corvino grapes (used extensively in Valpolicello), it has an almond nose that gives way to flavors of berry and stone, and there’s a long acidic finish that made it work with my asparagus linguine. A keeper.
Perhaps an even better partner to green stalks is its sister, the Bianco del Drago. Both wines come from the Verona area, this one made from garganega (the primary grape in Soave) with a touch of chardonnay. The bianco shares the lovely bottle shape of the rosé, but you can’t see the wonderful golden color through the dark green glass. The bianco, too, has good acidity but has more minerality than the rosé and a nice roundness that’s probably the gift of the splash of chardonnay.
In fact, if you’re looking for an excellent alternative to chardonnay, you should definitely try this. We have given up finishing a whole bottle at dinner, but that resolve was useless in the face of this wine’s drinkability. Fortunately, it has only 12 percent alcohol. Same price, same shelf.
I picked up an even less expensive rosé at Nugget ($8) called 1749. From the Loire, it’s a cabernet and grolleau blend, crisp and light, tasting of berries and cherries. It’s simpler than the wines above, but a good dry and refreshing patio sipper — and quite nice with all manner of appetizers.
As you can see, I’m collecting rosés and whites for the season, but since spring brings such unpredictable temperatures, I like to keep on hand a good supply of lighter reds. I know I recommended Il Goccetto just a month ago, but I picked up another bottle this week and got excited about it all over again.
Earthy, rustic, vibrant, unusual, it seems at home with almost any food and is fun and exuberant enough to drink on its own, perhaps after half an hour in the refrigerator. Blended by Kermit Lynch, it’s a terrific bargain at $10. John at Valley Wine Company tells me that most folks who buy a bottle come back for a case. Like me. I can’t vouch for its excellence with asparagus, but I’m sure if you grate enough Parmesan, it will work just fine.
— Reach Susan Leonardi at firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment on this column at www.davisenterprise.com