By Marissa A. Ross. Photos by: Alex Lau and Michael Graydon + Nikole Herriott.
Pairing food and wine can sometimes feel like a pop quiz in chemistry. That’s because sometimes it actually is. That time you thought your favorite California Chardonnay would be a hit with your raw asparagus salad and it ended up tasting like a carton of rotten eggs exploded in your mouth? It wasn’t because you got a bad bottle, it was because asparagus is one of many spring vegetables that contain naturally occurring compounds that don’t interact well with wine. A problem for wine pros and casual drinkers alike, your favorite seasonal green on the plate may destroy the seemingly ideal wine in your glass.
Asparagus, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and even the beloved kale all have high levels of organosulfur compounds, AKA straight up sulfur. The same vegetables that can give you serious, uh, gas can also make wine taste awful. When the compounds come in contact with wine, it makes the wine taste overly sulfuric and flawed, like a glass of burnt rubber or rotten eggs.
And then there is the World Champion Hardest Pairing Vegetable of all Time, the artichoke. Artichokes are the most notoriously hard to pair, and leave even some of the best sommeliers shuddering. This one really upsets me, because there are few things more enjoyable in life than devouring artichokes’ flowery green leaves on a long afternoon. And it seems only natural that you would want a glass of wine for such an activity! While artichokes don’t have organosulfur compounds, they do have another organic chemical that messes with wine called cynarine. Cynarine makes everything taste sweeter than it actually is because it knocks out your taste receptors and inhibits you from experiencing acidity, bitterness, and saltiness. This leaves wine, yes, tasting sweeter, but also flat and one-note because the cynarine has robbed you of the wine’s other characteristics.
Usually, I try to stay positive and optimistic in my writing. But I’m not going to lie to you: These vegetables are truly a pain in the ass to pair wines with. Your best bet when serving these foods is to go with dry, zesty and herbaceous white wines like Grüner Veltliner, Sauvignon Blanc, or Vermentino. Or, as with any pairing you are unsure of, you can always go bubbles. Not only are sparkling wines extremely versatile for food pairings, they turn dinners into tiny impromptu parties. Then everyone will be having so much fun they won’t even care about subtle notes of geyser vapor with their broccolini!
This story originally appeared on Bon Appetit.
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