A few months ago, I had dinner at The Keg with my friend Jennifer. We make it a point to get together — well, I was about to say frequently, but while our intentions are good, we certainly don’t see each other nearly as often as we’d like. So when we do manage to arrange a visit, we usually make it an extended time — an evening, as opposed to just a quick glass here and there.
Anyway, we both had steak, as we are wont to do. I ordered a side of asparagus, which Jennifer also thought was a good idea, so she did the same. She had white wine because she can’t drink red, but I had a couple of glasses of my favourite, the J. Lohr Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon from California ($21.41 at the Liquor Mart).
When the meals arrived, we dug in with the appropriate gusto. The steak was good, as always, but the asparagus! Wow! Not only was it the big fat spears that I love (the thin little stalks look pretty and are delicate, but I think the huge ones have a TON more flavour, are much less prone to rapid deterioration in the fridge, and are just juicier, more fulfilling and simply better), but there was a mountain of it. And I mean a mountain!
The asparagus was adorned with butter, pepper, and because I asked for some, a few shavings of parmesan cheese as well. It was cooked perfectly, and was absolutely delicious — I’d venture to say perhaps the best I’ve ever had. Anywhere!
Anyway, I finished up my steak, but because of the generous portion of asparagus, I took half of it home, figuring I’d do the healthy thing and have it reheated for lunch at work the next day.
So I did. And it was absolutely delicious again, even 18 hours later. I started to think I should do that more often.
But as I was preparing supper the evening of my fabulous asparagus lunch, I poured a glass of what has become my new favourite chardonnay — the Kim Crawford Unoaked Chard from New Zealand. And while I usually sigh after I’ve had my first sip of it, because it’s just so lovely, this time I frowned, wrinkled up my nose, and held the glass up for examination. The colour was fine — usually if a chard is off (or other white wines, for that matter), the wine turns a golden shade, an even deeper golden shade if the wine had those tones to begin with. But as I said, the Kim was its usual pale yellow hue.
So I figured it must be me. Maybe I just needed to warm up my palate. But a few more sips in, and the taste, if anything, started to get worse.
‘I hope I’m not getting sick,’ I thought to myself, because though I’m rarely ill, usually before the sneezing and coughing start, things, especially wine, start to taste odd to me.
But I persevered, all the while thinking doing so was idiotic. If a really good wine, which the Kim Crawford Unoaked Chard is, wasn’t tasting good to me, why would I waste it by drinking it and not enjoying it? It would have only made sense to Vacuvin the air out of it, save it for another day, and hope things got better.
I had a few more sips, still not quite believing this. ‘What the heck is wrong?’ I wondered, as I finally acquiesced to reason, re-corking the bottle and putting it in the fridge.
It wasn’t until the next evening that it hit me. I’d reopened the KC Unoaked Chard, and now it was fine! I shook my head, going over the last couple of days in my mind. Jenn and I had had asparagus the night we’d gone out, and I hadn’t noticed any effect on the pairing of my J. Lohr with my steak OR the asparagus. And I knew, once I recalled it, that Chef Larry de Vries had told me many years ago to avoid asparagus with wine, as it contains a compound called cynarin, which interacts badly with the fermented fruit of the vine, making it taste flat and metallic.
Now I’d trust Chef de Vries with my life. He’s a fine, wonderful gentleman who is an extraordinary professional I’m proud to call my friend. His knowledge of all things culinary is vast, and he’s never, ever, led me wrong.
But I only noticed the asparagus-negatively-affecting-wine-while-you’re-consuming-both-at-the-same-time phenomenon once before, which is when I discovered just how unpleasant cynarin can be. But that was a combination of food factors I’ll detail in an upcoming column as space here is quickly running out.
Since that time many years ago, though, I’d never noticed asparagus wreak havoc with either wine or my taste buds during a meal in which I consumed my favourite vegetable (Did I mention it’s my favourite vegetable? It is.) along with other foodstuffs.
However, what I think happened this time is that I’d not only had asparagus for supper one night, I’d had it for lunch, by itself, the next day. Given six or so hours to percolate in my system, I think — and I’m not a medical person or a chemist or food scientist or anything remotely like that, so this is only speculation — that the cynarin was now at the height of its nasty powers, and was manipulating — negatively so — the flavour of everything I was drinking and eating.
So. Two bottom lines here. One, don’t eat asparagus at lunch if you hope to enjoy your evening glass of wine. And two, just so we’re clear, the Kim Crawford Unoaked Chard ($19.92) is a splendid wine — it remains my favourite unoaked chard. In fact, I’m impressed with the whole line of Kim Crawford wines — the Crawford Sauvignon Blanc is zesty and green peppery and citrusy, and the new-to-us Kim Crawford Pinot Gris is far gutsier than most pinot gris I’ve had, bearing many of the same flavours as the sauv blanc, but with a hint of peach and a slightly less intense edge. Why the pinot gris and the sauv blanc are seven cents more per bottle than the chard perplexes me mightily, but that’s beside the point.
Try the Kim Crawford wines. They’re great.
Just don’t drink them after eating asparagus.
Trust me on this one.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition January 11, 2014