The Belgian Wine and Asparagus Battles: #3 – Chardonnay and the Pinot Family

In this series, each time we pair two Belgian wines with a different asparagus classic. The wines are carefully selected for their potential as asparagus partners, to showcase the nature and diversity of Belgian wines, and to illustrate as many aspects of wine and asparagus pairing as possible.

After our general wine tips for asparagus, and our two previous wine and asparagus duels, here we look at blends of grape varieties in the wider Pinot family, including Chardonnay and Auxerrois.

The Dish

This time we opted for another house favourite: white asparagus with hollandaise sauce and smoked salmon. Here it’s garnished with tufts of green fennel, fresh from our urban garden. If you don’t have green fennel available, you can use dill or the green tops of a fennel bulb instead; they work just as well. Or you might consider growing it yourself. It’s a tall but easy-to-grow plant for pots / on balconies or gardens. Like last time, we cooked the asparagus sous vide in a hot water bath (just over half an hour at 84 °C), and the hollandaise sauce was homemade with egg yolks, clarified butter, a generous dash of lemon juice, salt and pepper. By the way, did you know that with a bit of practice (and much less effort) you can make hollandaise simply with a stick blender?

As always, you can wizard the asparagus peels and ends into a delicious (cream of) asparagus soup. And if you have smoked salmon and fresh fennel at hand for the main dish: they make a scrumptious garnish for the soup. In case you don’t want to use the cut-offs right away, you can freeze them for later use.

The Wines

Many of ‘the Pinots’ match splendidly with asparagus dishes, and Chardonnay, like Auxerrois and other grapes from the wider Pinot family, is usually a good pairing partner for (smoked) salmon. So we decided to put two and two together here.

Auxerrois is much less known in the world than Chardonnay, yet they’re very closely related. Both are natural crosses of Gouais Blanc and the original Pinot grape, of which Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Meunier, etc. are mutations. When it comes to organoleptic characteristics, Auxerrois and Chardonnay are actually quite similar, with main aromas and flavours of orchard fruit, citrus, pineapple and other tropical fruits; a chalky or flinty minerality and floral touches that stretch from subtle fruit blossoms to the warm, sultry tones of acacia, honeysuckle or hawthorn. Auxerrois can have a more earthy, moss-like, grassy-herbal scent, but the main difference between the two varieties is found in their acidity levels: Auxerrois’ acidity is usually lower and milder than that of Chardonnay.

As representatives for this type of blends and this wider grape family, we picked two dry white wines from the warm, rich vintage 2018: Gloire de Duras’ Chardonnay-Auxerrois, and Entre-Deux-Monts’ Pinot.

Gloire de Duras is a fairly new project of the Nijskens fruit growers family. In 2015, in the scenic, undulating landscape of the Belgian blossom paradise Haspengouw, they planted Chardonnay, Auxerrois and Pinot Gris, followed by Riesling in the years after. Dad Peter, mum Hilde and their three children Laura, Gert-Jan and Isaline each have their own responsibilities in the company, from wine making to administrations, events and PR/marketing. The estate now covers around 6.5 hectares.

For our second wine, we go to Belgium’s far west, to the West-Flemish region of Heuvelland. Here Martin Bacquaert has been cultivating grapes for more than 15 years now, on the lands where his grandfather used to grow tobacco. Martin inherited his love for wine from his father Yves, a passionate wine lover and wine merchant, and he makes white, rosé, red ánd sparkling wines. With its 18 hectares, Entre-Deux-Monts is one of the bigger wine estates in Belgium.

Gloire de Duras, Chardonnay-Auxerrois 2018

This wine is composed of 75% Chardonnay and 25% Auxerrois, both of the 2018 vintage. Dry, vinified on stainless steel, no oak maturation, and with 13.5% alcohol on the label.

In the glass we discover a charming, harmonious and accessible white wine. Enticing, refreshing acidity and a pinch of grapefruit bitter balance the fuller, lightly creamy mouthfeel. We smell and taste fresh pineapple, mirabelle plums, lemon zest, grapefruit and a whiff of freshly mowed grass.

Entre-Deux-Monts, Pinot 2018

Entre-Deux-Monts’ 2018 Pinot is a blend of Pinot Gris, Auxerrois and Chardonnay. Fermentation happened in stainless steel tanks, with bâtonnage afterwards. (Bâtonnage is the French term for stirring the lees, the sediment of i.a. dead yeast cells in the wine, so they can impart more of their specific flavour characteristics.) A small part of the Chardonnay then spent a few months in French and American oak barrels. With only 12% alcohol, you would expect this to be the lighter wine of the two, but the oak maturation obviously adds extra volume and personality.

This Pinot is a graceful and moreish example of an elegantly oaked white wine, where the short barrel contact adds a spicy and gently smoky note, without overpowering the juicy fruit and the sunny floral touches. Citrus, apricot and pineapple are backed up by aromas of gingerbread, honeysuckle and a hint of green herbs.

The Verdict

This battle presented us with a conundrum, because both wines complement the dish really well. A luxury problem, I admit, but still…

The Gloire de Duras Chardonnay-Auxerrois is a great match for different reasons: its youthful acidity, the pure fruit and soft grapefruit bitter gives the wine enough backbone to stand up to the creamy hollandaise sauce and the smoked salmon. At the same time it remains elegant and subtle enough to not dominate the asparagus. As a bonus, the hint of grass and green herbs resonates beautifully with the green fennel garnish.

With the Entre-Deux-Monts Pinot, it’s precisely the light oak influence which adds an extra dimension to the pairing. For the asparagus on their own, this Pinot would be too powerful. But when you add the hollandaise and the delicately smoked salmon, the wine’s lively fruit, uplifting acidity and spicy-herbaceous character make for a complex and sophisticated ensemble. Interesting too is how the hints of smoke and spice on the finish continue to evolve and mingle with the dish.

So, as far as we’re concerned, this battle ends in a tie, and we’d happily recommend both wines with this asparagus classic!

Have you tried this combination yourself, or you have another wine and asparagus tip for us? Feel free to share in the comments below. 🙂

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