Wine With Artichokes & Asparagus? Wine Pairings for 6 Difficult Foods

published May 14, 2013
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

While I am a big advocate of how most foods and wines are pretty flexible when it comes to wine pairing, there are a number of foods that are known to be challenging in this domain. However, do not give up! Read on to find out what wines work well with salad vinaigrette, hot and spicy foods, dessert, asparagus, artichokes and even Brussels sprouts. 

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)


Artichokes are challenging because they contain a chemical acid called ‘cynarin’, which makes everything taste sweeter — especially the wine. To counter this I recommend serving a really, dry wine such as a Fino sherry or a Txakoli — a very dry, high acid wine from the Basque area of Spain. Fino sherry is about as dry as it comes and the floral notes are a great contrast for the artichoke. Likewise with the Txakoli with its combination of dryness, high acidity and slight spritz will act as a foil for the artichoke. Another option is to up the saltiness of the artichoke dish by adding some bacon, salty, olives or capers to reduce the ‘sweetening’ effect of the artichoke. 


Asparagus are challenging because they contain sulfur compounds, which when combined with wine can make everything taste sort of metallic and vegetal. This is especially the case when the asparagus are just simply steamed/cooked gently in water. Serving a high acid, grassy wine such as
Sancerre or a
New Zealand Sauvignon will usually do the trick and act as a foil for the asparagus flavors. Another wine I especially like with asparagus is
Grüner Veltliner – because it has a lovely savory (think lentil, wax bean, salad) dimension to its flavors. Additionally, char-grilling the asparagus or serving it with a rich Hollandaise sauce will also help counter any negative impact of the asparagus on the wine.

Brussels Sprouts

Like asparagus, Brussels sprouts contain sulfur compounds, which also make the wine taste metallic. This is the reason why other ingredients such as bacon, ham etc. are usually added to any Brussels sprouts recipe. In terms of wines, I recommend a wine with high acid and a little residual sweetness such as
Chenin Blanc from the Loire, especially
Vouvray, or an
off dry Riesling.

Hot & Spicy

This is a hard to generalize category, as the level of heat and spiciness varies between dishes. The challenge is to serve a wine that is not over-powered by the heat or spice. The traditional recommendation has been to serve sweet white wines such as
German Riesling of Spätlese or even Auslese sweetness. The sweetness offers a refreshing contrast and moderates the heat and spice.
Gewürztraminer from Alsace is also another great option.

That said, there are foodies that do not want the heat or spice to be moderated in any way and or like to drink red wine with spicy foods. This can work too, so long as the wine is not very tannic. Best options are a fruity Beaujolais or a spicy, but not too extracted zinfandel. Also, watch out for tomorrow’s post, which will focus more specifically on different types of hot and spicy dishes. 

Salad Vinaigrette

Salad has long been considered a challenged for wine pairing, because of the vinaigrette component, which can make a wine seem austere, thin and even vinegary. The best solution here is to use lemon juice or verjus in place of vinegar in your recipe. The use of a good quality balsamic vinegar instead of regular wine vinegar can also help. As vinaigrette is a high acid dressing, it needs an equally high acid wine. Great options include
Sauvignon Blanc,
Riesling as well as high acid Spanish whites such as
Albarino or
Godello, or an Italian white such as
Soave or


The golden rule for pairing wine with dessert is that the wine should be sweeter than the dessert. Secondly, match the flavor intensity of the dessert with the flavor intensity of the wine. For example, a delicate fruit pavlova calls for a floral scented, fruity sweet wine with such as
Moscato d’Asti, or a
Muscat de Beaumes de Venise. In contrast a rich chocolate pudding could handle a
Malmsey Madeira or
LBV Port. Other great dessert combinations include the luscious
PX  sherry (Pedro Ximénez) over vanilla ice-cream,
Icewine with delicately flavored ice creams, sponge cake or fruit based desserts and a Hungarian
Tokaji with a rich bread and butter pudding.

These are just some of the more well known food and wine pairing challenges. I would love to hear from readers who have wine-pairing questions for other foods.

This post was requested by Angela! for Reader Request Week 2013! 

(Images: Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan; Leela Cyd Ross; Faith Durand)