The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Pairing Wines with Springtime’s Bounty

How to get creative with ramps, fiddlehead ferns, asparagus and more

Fiddlehead ferns, one of spring's most evanescent pleasures

Fiddlehead ferns, one of spring’s most evanescent pleasures

Spring and summer usher in a new batch of colorful vegetables, some of which throw a curveball when it comes to pairing them with wine. Now is the time to flex your creative muscles! It’s notoriously challenging to find proper wine matches for artichokes and asparagus; however, roasted root vegetables, stewed beans and earthy mushroom dishes lend themselves quite well to wine. From my experience, when in doubt pull out the bubbles, orange wine, sake or sherry.

I’m taking myself back to my days in culinary school, to offer these basic principles for creating great pairings:

Powerful flavors in food and richness call for powerful wines. Lighter food flavors require lighter wines. Spicy, salty, or smoky flavors in food welcome lighter, fruity reds, and off-dry to semi-sweet whites. You can pair food with wine by creating complementary pairings, where the food tastes like the wine (tomatoes with fresh herbs, olive oil, and olives paired with fresh, bright herbaceous Sauvignon Blanc). Or you can go the opposite direction with contrasting pairing where the food and the wine have opposite flavors and textures (for example, roasted asparagus with hollandaise paired with a vibrant sparkling wine).

Another consideration is how the dish is cooked. Roasting and caramelizing brings out the richer, sweeter flavors in vegetables. Steaming or sautéing can keep the flavors light and bright. Braising will bring out some of the deeper, more brooding and complex aspects of a vegetable or legume. Other components in a dish, from fresh herbs to spices, can also affect what you might pair with your vegetable of choice, so consider options at both ends of the light white to dark red wine spectrum.

Ok time to jump right in! Here are some tricky veggies with wine pairings that will almost always work together:

Artichokes: Artichokes are challenging because they contain a chemical acid called ‘cynarin’, which makes everything taste sweeter — especially the wine. To counter this I recommend serving a dry Fino sherry, smooth Soave from Italy, or a vibrant Txakoli from Spain.

Asparagus: A rustic vegetable that contains compounds like asparagusic acid, which, in case you were wondering, is an organosulfur carboxylic acid. Go for something citrusy, herbal and unoaked. For instance, you might choose a Sancerre or Pouilly Fumé from France’s Loire Valley; Grüner Veltliner from Austria; Alsace Riesling; Italian Sauvignon Blanc; or even unoaked Chardonnay, especially from a cooler region like Oregon’s Willamette Valley or Chablis from France.

Avocados: They are rich and sexy, and they work beautifully with voluptuously herbaceous, grassy and fruity whites, such as Torrontes from Argentina, Chardonnay from France or Italy, Albarino from Spain, or Moschofilero from Greece.

Mushrooms: Sure, there are a number of pairings here, but as far as a standouts go, you only need to remember two words and one wine: Pinot Noir. The earthy mushrooms and the fruit of the Pinot make for the “divine” contrast.

Nettles and Fiddlehead Ferns: These are some of the most highly sought after spring vegetables! These special veggies pair well with a soft, slightly fruity white like Pinot Gris from Oregon, Viognier from southern France, or Pinot Blanc from northern Italy.

Ramps: Make sure to avoid wines with a lot of oak/vanilla notes and wines that are super floral. You want a bright wine with green apple acidity and a hint of grassiness, arugula, or pepper to go with the bright, green, funk flavors in ramps. My picks are Friulano or Pinot Grigio from Friuli, Italy.

Olives: Because of the saltiness and briny flavors, Sake, Fino or Manzanilla Sherry, dry rosé from France, Italy or Spain and/or bubbles are the way to go.

The enjoyment of thoughtful wine and food pairing comes into play when you have special fresh market products on hand whose virtues you want to showcase and savor. That is the essence of the garden cook’s mission—to capture flavor at its peak. Why stop short of the beverage? By its very nature, no other liquid flatters the earth’s bounty better than vino, so cheers!

Inside IWM, March 21-24, 2016: It’s Spring (and Easter)!

A look back at the week that was

IMG_2225This weekend is Easter Sunday, which is preoccupying much, although not all, of IWM’s staff. We finished the week with Garrett Kowalsky’s ode to pork and his picks for pairing with ham (there’s even a poem from a lauded poet). Our go-to wine, coincidentally, would be a find suggestion for this Sunday’s feast; Sean Collins wrote about a$22 Sartarelli Verdicchio so good it makes converts out of red wine lovers.

John Camacho Vidal offered a brief history lesson before picking two Italian Cabernet Franc wines, both from Antinori. Michael Adler looks forward to 2014 Burgundies by selecting a pair of beloved 2013 Chassagne-Montrachet bottles. When it comes to pairing with spring’s tender bounty, Crystal Edgar turns to Umbria’s Castello della Sala, another Antinori holding, for her selections. And Francesco Vigorito has your value Burgundy needs covered with two lovely Pinot Noir bottles, both under $40.

Cheers to you, your family and to spring, however you’re celebrating it!

Inside IWM, March14-17, 2016: Under the Tuscan Sun

A look back at the week that was

IMG_2452We have been living under Under the Tuscan Sun for twenty years! It’s true; Frances Mayes book was published this month in 1996, and we kicked off our week with a literary consideration of Tuscany. There’s no question that Mayes’ book, and the resulting movie, colored America’s consciousness, and in some ways, IWM itself is a result of America’s love affair with Italy. For these reasons, it’s only right that this week was mostly centered in Tusconay. On Tuesday, Sean Collins wrote about a beautiful $27 Super Tuscan from Antinori’s Maremma Estate, Le Mortelle, and on Wednesday, we discussed wines to pair with our favorite thistle, the artichoke, in honor of National Artichoke Hearts Day.

Two of our Experts stuck with the Tuscan theme. Garrett Kowalsky picked a pair of wines from Valdicava, one of IWM’s favorite makers of Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino. And John Camacho Vidal explored what’s so super about the Super Tuscan, and then he chose two that he loves, Sammarco from Castello dei Rampolla and Flaccianello from Fontodi. Only Crystal Edgar strayed outside of Toscana, but given that she calls Jean-Philippe Fichet’s Meursault wines “love at first sip,” we can understand why.

Cheers to you and your love of Tuscany, a love we share with you–and most of the world.

Inside IWM, March 7-10, 2016: Look Beyond the Ordinary

A look back at the week that was

800px-UmbriaPanoramaWe began in ancient Greece and we ended in Umbria, and in between, this week was a whirlwind of delicious wine. A man who figured out all the angles, Pythagoras knew a thing or two about politeness too; we look at the Greek philosopher’s wineglass that schools greedy guests. Stephane Menard doesn’t want to relinquish winter too soon, so he’s holding onto the last of it with this delicious $25 Valpolicella Ripasso from Venturini Massimino. And Umbria is more than Toscana’s neighbor; it’s a vital winemaking region in its own right. We look beyond Orvieto in this tour of Umbria.

Garrett Kowalsky looks past the myth of Charlemagne’s beard in his expert picks, selecting a pair of Corton-Charlemagne bottles from Louis Jadot and Henri Boillot. Michael Adler pretends it’s still winter and cuddles up with a pair of Aldo Conterno Barolos that just don’t quit. And John Camacho Vidal just cant quit Amarone; he looks at the region’s wines and picks two outstanding bottles from Nicoli and Romano Dal Forno.

Here’s to celebrating a life less ordinary with wine and people you love!



Inside IWM, February 29 to March 3, 2016: You Gotta Have Heart

A look back at the week that was

Il Palazzone's olive trees in bloom

Il Palazzone’s olive trees in bloom

We kicked off the week with a look at the other great product from Italy–olive oil. Remembering her time in Italy, Janice Cable talked about why olive oil is good for your heart, both  literally and metaphorically. Sean Collins enjoyed an under $30 Aldo Conterno wine, and you bet your corkscrew it was delicious. And John Camacho Vidal went to Umbria, where he toured the iconic Paolo Bea estate–and got to meet Paolo himself!

Crystal Edgar looked forward to spring with two white Burgundies from Michel Niellon; these Chassagne-Montrachet bottlings will make you feel like flowers in bloom! Garrett Kowalsky also selected white wines to hurry spring’s arrival, but he chose bottles from Antinori’s San Giovanni della Sala and Burgundy’s Bachey-Legros. And Camacho Vidal dove into Chianti Classico, explaining the region’s DOCG laws and picking two favorites, La Maialina and Castello dei Rampolla.

Here’s to faith in warm weather and enjoying the wine you love, no matter the season!


« go backkeep looking »