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The short asparagus season in Germany is a culinary feast. Too bad that many restaurants make so little effort with the wine selection. The British top sommeliers Eugenio Egorov and Melania Bellesini, on the other hand, give wine tips that surprise.

Germany is the world champion. Not in football, but at least in eating asparagus. Statistically, every German adult eats almost one and a half kilograms of white asparagus, in some years even more, according to the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture. Only one in six does not like it. Nowhere else in Europe is asparagus grown as in Germany. There are 22,000 hectares. This year's yield of 110,000 tonnes is meagre because of the weather, so Spain and Greece have to step in.

Germans eat the shoots of Asparagus officinalis 35 percent of the time with ham, 54 percent with potatoes and 56 percent flood them with hollandaise sauce, an amalgam of wine, cream and eggs. The food industry rejoices over this and sells millions of tetrapaks of the industrially mixed sauce, which - largely without wine, cream and eggs - is also repeatedly served in restaurants with "fresh asparagus from the region". For wine fans, there is also the pain of choosing the right wine. Silvaner, Pinot Blanc or even Riesling are just as often as unimaginatively recommended with asparagus. Menus, magazines and sommeliers reliably rattle off the same recommendations every year.

Asparagus with ham, potatoes and hollandaise sauce is a spring classic of German cuisine.
© 123rf

Asparagus deserves an appropriate wine accompaniment

Sommelier Eugenio Egorov got to know and love asparagus in Italy. He says the wine selection to go with it is "a nightmare" - and gives wonderful recommendations.
© Eugenio Egorov - Stafford Hotel

Asparagus is a brilliant vegetable. In its short season it excites the mind for a whole 9 ½ weeks and, grown in the right place, it tastes unrivalled. That's why it deserves something better than "asparagus wine", we think. So we only asked wine experts who don't know about the German asparagus cult. There is no asparagus season in Great Britain, and white asparagus is quite rare there. At most, it is on the menu in upscale restaurants. So we ask the wine professionals there what they pair with asparagus.

After all, pairing is not that easy if you take it seriously. For all its finesse, the vegetable is slightly bitter. That doesn't go well with many wines. "To be honest, it's even a nightmare," Eugenio Egorov of the Game Bird restaurant sends out right away. Fortunately, there are a few good chefs at the head sommelier's workplace. The Stafford Hotel is located in London's St. James district in the City of Westminster, where British aristocrats have lived for centuries. It doesn't get much more British than this.

The five-star hotel is one of the best in the city. In the in-house restaurant, chef Lisa Goodwin-Allen particularly likes to conjure up dishes with regional, British products. "So it's all in the preparation," Eugenio Egorov begins. "Cream of asparagus soup with cream and egg requires a different accompaniment than grilled asparagus spears with intense sauce." But which one? Fortunately for Eugenio, his working environment leaves nothing to be desired. In what is probably Britain's oldest wine cellar - it is 380 years old - 8,000 bottles of the finest are stored. The cellars are so well protected that during the Second World War, the best bottles from a fine Parisian restaurant and Her Majesty's soldiers found a safe place in the bunker here.

The all-purpose weapon: Sparkling Wines

Sparkling Wine is a culinary all-purpose weapon - not only for asparagus dishes.
© ÖWM - Martin Grabmayer

To accompany the soup, he takes a Greek Malagousia white wine out of the cellar. "It matches the creamy consistency with its minerality and floral aromas." That's quite a statement. He accompanies the grilled asparagus with a rich sauce with "a light Swiss Pinot Noir from the Geneva region on the northernmost part of the Rhône, or also a Pinot Noir from Germany". Whereas tannins and asparagus are actually a no-go. "But fat needs tannin. Beaujolais or Dolcetto also fit the bill." As an all-purpose weapon, Egorov always goes for a sparkling wine - preferably British - for example with pasta with asparagus, shrimps and lemon peel.

The sommelier spent his childhood in Ukraine - also without asparagus. His father was an ice skater who later went to a training camp in Trentino. The family stayed. A career on the ice was already planned for Eugenio Egorov. But the little boy had other plans and went into gastronomy. His first encounter with asparagus was at work, in a luxury hotel on Lake Como. The hotel's sommelier invited the curious kitchen boy to taste a classic risotto with white wine, asparagus, butter and Parmesan. The winner was a Timorasso. "The vibrant acidity and mineral impact was a perfect match." The new Italian variety Manzoni Bianco and Nosiola from South Tyrol and Veneto worked similarly well. "They do well with the creaminess and herbal flavours."

Melania Bellesini is also enthusiastic about the northern Italian whites, such as Roero Arneis. She is in charge of the wine cellar at "The Fat Duck". The three-star restaurant in rural Berkshire has long since become a legend. It was here in the 1990s that cooking pioneer Heston Blumenthal combined flavours that at the time were best known from jokes about English cuisine. Nowhere else could you order nitro scrambled eggs and bacon ice cream - or offal soup in the shape of a pocket watch whose gold plating was dissolving. Multi-sensory is still in vogue today, and so Melania Bellesini can draw from the full range.

The wine world is changing - even with asparagus

Salmon poached in liquorice gel, served with an artichoke-vanilla mayonnaise and pink grapefruit is a classic here. So is chocolate wine. With asparagus, the sommelière develops her very own ideas: "Fruity reds with subtle tannins go well with white asparagus. A Valpolicella that tastes a little of violets and liquorice is a good choice. Red wine tannins with egg? That makes the hair of veteran traditional sommeliers stand on end. "True, but strangely enough, it does go well. It even works with Cabernet Franc. The world is changing.

White asparagus also goes well with langoustine lasagne with pigs' feet and black truffle sauce. Head Sommelier Melania Bellesini serves warm sake Tamagawa Tokubezo with it.
© The Fat Duck

Melania Bellesini has seen it. At 15, she wanted to be a barista and took courses at a gastronomy school. Her favourite teacher put her in a wine tasting against her will. She won first place in the competition. After her training, she was still a bird of paradise in the industry as a woman. Sommeliers were old men with silver bowls around their necks. "Some restaurants simply didn't hire women as sommeliers." She still made it to the Michelin world, landing at the Fat Duck ten years ago and now in charge as Head Sommelier.

Once she gets going, she always comes up with new asparagus combinations: a mash-fermented Rkatsiteli from Georgia is a good counterpoint for her. Portuguese Alvarinho with its green character and soft acidity, on the other hand, is a more classic match, as is an aromatic, floral Kerner from South Tyrol or a biodynamically produced Chasselas from Switzerland. She has more ideas: Portuguese Encruzado or even a Verdelho from Madeira, young, light and with lots of acidity. Crisp and green.

Only with the red wine does she briefly consider. "Difficult. Perhaps a light Limniona from Greece would go well with asparagus with chicken and garlic. Only the sauce would have to be strong." A Ribolla Gialla or Sauvignon Blanc from Slovenia would still be hard to beat, "for example in the style of Edi Simčič with long skin contact." But for her, this requires chanterelles in the dish, which are a natural partner for asparagus anyway.

Have we got it? Not yet. "White asparagus would go well with the langoustine lasagne with pigs' feet and black truffle sauce. Accompanied by warm sake Tamagawa Tokubezo Junmai from Kyoto Prefecture. It's brilliant with the umami of the pigs' feet." And just in case, she also has a universal talent: "Sake sparkling wine, fresh, fine-floral Namazake. It even packs a luscious béarnaise sauce." And hollandaise sauce anyway.

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