The Belgian Wine and Asparagus Battles: #1 – Pinot Blanc vs. Pinot Gris

After our general wine pairing tips with asparagus earlier this month, it is time to put a number of actual pairings to the test.
In this series we will focus on classic asparagus dishes, combined with exclusively Belgian wines. We’ve set up the test as separate battles, in which each time two carefully selected wines will battle for first place as the best pairing for an asparagus classic.

The Dish

For our first dish we picked what’s probably the most classic of asparagus recipes: ‘op Vlaamse wijze’, ‘à la flamande’ or ‘Flemish style’. With only a few ingredients (white asparagus, eggs, butter and parsley), this is not just delicious, but also easy to make yourself. You can find countless recipes online, from traditionally boiled to cooked sous vide in a temperature-controlled water bath.

Alongside the traditional preparation, we garnished one of the portions with thinly cut cured ham, in order to test the impact of of the savoury, saline, earthy and delicately sweet ham on both wine pairings. The lengths we go to for science …
For this experiment, we picked one of my favourite cured meats: the local, naturally cured Ganda ham, which has only two ingredients: good-quality, 100% Belgian pork and Camargue sea salt. The meat is dried and matured for approximately one year or more, and no colourings, preservatives or other additives are used in any stage of the process.

The Wines

For the first battle, we are pitting two wines of the same winery against one another: the unoaked Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris of superb winemakers Karel and Tine Henckens. On the 10 hectares of their Aldeneyck property in the beautiful Meuse Valley, they grow Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir, but also Chardonnay and Riesling.

Because both Pinot Blanc and Gris are members of the exclusive club of prime asparagus partners, ánd asparagus tends to favour wines that have had a few years to mature, we choose the 2016 vintage. So: two wines by the same producer, of the same vintage, and both labelled at 13% alcohol.

The Pinot Blanc is the most elegant of the two, without being too light or lean. Its lovely, crisp acidity and delicate roundness support the pure aromas and flavours of citrus, apple and spring blossoms, with a hint of steely minerality and green herbs and spice.

The Pinot Gris on the other hand is showing a warmer, richer and more exuberant fruit character, full of juicy peach, apricot and mirabelle plums. A touch of honey in the flavour profile and a pinch of residual sugar soften the light herbal bitter we find in the finish.

Both are lovely wines, which are still in their optimal drinking window. Worthy contestants in this food and wine duel.

The Verdict

To summarise: both wines work well with asparagus ‘Flemish style’, but each in a different way.

The bright Pinot Blanc brings out the white asparagus’ gently vegetal personality, which are then enveloped in the interplay of fruit, spice and subtly floral aromas. The pairing also works on the level of palate and mouthfeel, with lively acidity to balance the melted butter, and enough body in the wine to hold its own alongside the more-than-royal portion of egg we piled on our asparagus. The 2016 Aldeneyck Pinot Blanc finds itself in the same weight category as the unadulterated version of the dish, without the ham. It offers a delightful complement to the vegetable’s graceful nature, without overpowering it. So with the traditional asparagus ‘op Vlaamse wijze’, the Pinot Blanc is our absolute favourite of the two.

The 2016 Aldeneyck Pinot Gris, with its riper fruit, spice, honeycomb and almond bitter, also works with the basic version of our asparagus ‘à la Flamande’, but it points more at the natural bitterness of the asparagus. Additionally, with the nudge of residual sugar, the wine becomes slightly too outspoken to form a perfect match with the more restrained dish.
In this pairing the Ganda ham does make a tremendous difference. The additional salt, the almost nutty, savoury, peppery flavours and the delicate, melt-in-the-mouth meatiness of the wafer-thin slices, intercept the natural bitters in both wine and asparagus. This gives the pairing a lot more volume and depth, which makes the Pinot Gris our favourite with the Flemish-style asparagus with cured ham.

Hopefully we have managed to give a few tips and a bit of inspiration here. As always we are very curious to find our about your favourite wine and asparagus adventures. so feel free to share them in the comments below!

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