By Ryan Lim
As a harbinger of spring, asparagus shares an unique status as a “ceremonious” vegetable among French chefs, along with first summer tomatoes. It is difficult not to be excited about them when you see childlike-wonder from the eyes of an overworked and underpaid young cook. At the same time, a very vegetal vegetable - with that chlorophyll-driven green flavor - asparagus always comes up when talking about foods that are difficult to match with wine. So this spring, Paris Wine Company conducted an investigative lunch with chef Thomas Guernion to talk about our wine from a different perspective, and to find great pairings.
‘A thin slice of powder-sugared rhubarb wraps around blanched white asparagus, lightly colored with butter and garnished with few herbs. Searing acidity from rhubarbe is balanced with a mousseline of smoked beetroots and shallots, along with hints of bitterness from baby red mustard and a touch of sweetness from timut pepper.
Following the old adage of wine pairing - ‘great with great, humble with humble’ - we’ve decided to go ‘surprising with surprising’. A Clos Signadoré AOC Patrimonio ‘A Mandria’ Blanc 2016, with its bold and round body complemented the dish beautifully. This unusual 100% Vermentino Corsican white had pleasant minerality and citrus note that was persistent yet not overpowering the delicate white asparagus, and its rich saltiness accentuated the sweetness of the beetroot mousseline, giving both the wine and the food a long finish.
Beyond ‘seasonality’ and ‘farm-to-table’, rather trite clichés in modern restauration, when looking at Thomas’ green asparagus dish - simple on techniques, humble in ingredients, carefree in plating, I see his intentions to let the ingredients shine. Sauteed green asparagus, wilted spinach with new garlic, and lemon condiment are adorned with fresh chives, tarragon and thyme-salt.
It’s a privilege to be able to cook with the best vegetables that french terroirs can offer and what better wine to pair such philosophy than with a Valentin Morel’s Les Pieds Sur Terre AOC Côte du Juras ‘Chardonnay Saint-Savin’ 2015. With high minerality and a lively texture that hums spring, in the hands of Valentin, Chardonnay seems to be a vehicle for an expression of the soil. Bathing in first spring sun rays of Paris, these two that share such propensity for both terroir and climate, were the most evident, and the only unanimous pairing that everyone agreed upon.
Imagine peeling the skins off of chicken breasts, soaking them in cold water to wash, boiling them in salted water, putting them back into the iced water to reserve the color, and finally roasting them in the oven… Although we would never cook a piece of meat in such manner, this is how we normally cook vegetables, for convenience and for presentation. In order to seal in all the flavors, spring leek, green asparagus, and wild broccoli were glazed in one pan with a touch of butter and water, while monkfish was slowly roasted with a dab of browned butter and fresh herbs, along with a few drops of lemon juice and olive oil to finish.
To go with a bouquet of spring vegetables and monkfish, we decided on Domaine de la Cras Coteaux de Dijon Blanc 2015 from Marc Soyard. Though restrained, buttery texture of ripe yellow fruits and vibrant minerality complemented gelatinous monkfish. Cleansing acidity functioned as a perfect seesaw, with each sip of Chardonnay leaving us to take a bite of food. It was suggested at this tasting that white Burgundy has become famous because it paris well with everything, but we found that crips white wines with good dosage of mineral and acidity go well with different elements within the dishes we prepared today. Clearly more research is needed !