GRAPEVINE

WINES TO DRINK WITH ASPARAGUS
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The Independent Culture
It's a wonderful vindication of "winespeak", the system of adjectives used by wine writers, that "asparagussy" New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is a fine match for real, live asparagus. Sauvignons from elsewhere are frequently compared to gooseberries, elderflowers and cats' pee, but New Zealand specialises in asparagussy ones, especially in cool, less ripe years like 1995. Unfortunately, even in ripe years, New Zealand Sauvignon is too sharp and too fruity to be a perfect partner for plain or buttered asparagus, even though the actual flavour is right. But add a sharp sauce - an hollandaise or a vinaigrette - and you're in business with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

Other, gentler Sauvignons do go well with plain or buttered English, green asparagus. The most harmonious matches of all may be with a fine, mature white Graves, such as a Chateau de Fieuzal or Domaine de Chevalier (if the occasion and the budget are grand enough to justify a pounds 30-a-bottle wine). Lesser, and younger, Bordeaux Blanc works, as does gentle Chilean Sauvignon. Green asparagus is also nice with gentle, ripe Chardonnays such as Vins de Pays d'Oc (oaked or unoaked) or, if you can find it, a gentle, crisp and grassy Rueda Superior from central Spain.

White, continental style, blanched asparagus is much more difficult to match. Most of the wines that go with green asparagus taste too sharp. Nothing seems perfect, but ripe, unoaked Chardonnay, perhaps Australian, may be the best bet.

Hollandaise on asparagus is generally bad news - many wines clash with the egg, and even those that don't are left tasting watery and flat alongside the sharpness. The wine in shining armour is the one already mentioned, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. It makes no eggy clash, the flavour matches both sauce and asparagus, and its acidity and fruitiness chime with the lemon.

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is also a star with asparagus and vinaigrette. Simple Chablis is good, too, or try a 1995 Sancerre or other 1995 Sauvignon Blancs; 1993 was an exceptional year for Sauvignon Blancs in many parts of Europe, including Sancerre. The match is even better if you make your vinaigrette with lemon juice.

For New Zealand asparagus flavour, it would be hard to beat the intense 1994 Villa Maria Cellar Selection Sauvignon Blanc (pounds 7.99 Oddbins) or 1995 Kaituna Hills Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (pounds 4.99 Marks & Spencer). Two of the best value Chilean Sauvignons are the new 1995 Andes Peak Sauvignon Blanc (pounds 3.99 Oddbins), and 1995 Santa Ines Sauvignon (pounds 3.99 Tesco, for a limited period only). For a Sancerre (always made from Sauvignon), try the piercingly intense, ripe 1995 Sancerre La Vigne des Rocs, Henri Bourgeois (pounds 7.49 Asda), or the same grower's equally excellent 1995 Pouilly Fume Les Bonnes Bouches (pounds 6.99 on special offer at Safeway until 25 May).

There are some delicious, inexpensive French Sauvignons from the last vintage, such as crisp, gooseberry-fruity 1995 Sauvignon Vin de Pays du Jardin de la France (pounds 3.29 Safeway) from the Loire, 1995 Entre Deux Mers, Cuvee Frimont, Yvon Mau (pounds 3.99 Asda), a white Bordeaux with gooseberry and tropical fruit flavours, and 1995 Sauvignon Blanc Domains St Francois, Vin de Pays d'Oc (pounds 3.49 Asda), crisp, and gooseberry-fruity, with even a hint of asparagus. Over to chardonnays, Marks & Spencer have a good, grassy and honeyed 1994 Chablis, La Chablisienne (pounds 7.99). For ripe-style Chardonnay, I'd go for the brilliant value, unoaked, soft, peachy 1995 James Herrick Chardonnay Vin de Pays d'Oc (pounds 4.99 Berkeley Wines, Davisons, Booths, Eldridge Pope, Europa Foods, Fullers, Oddbins, Sainsbury's, Somerfield and Asda, Unwins, Victoria Wine, Wine Cellar, Tesco), the ripe, buttery, grassy 1995 Somontano Chardonnay (pounds 3.99 Safeway) from the Spanish Pyrenees; the unoaked, peachy Australian 1995 Samuel's Bay Chardonnay (pounds 5.99 Wine Rack, Bottoms Up and Thresher); or for a real treat, worth heaps more than its price, try the complex, subtle 1994 Petaluma Chardonnay from Australia (pounds l0.99 Oddbins).

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