Organisers cancelled the Asparagus Festival in Evesham because of rain and flooding. Now we are told British asparagus is in crisis. Luckily, Medley Farm in Binsey continues to supply local shops, restaurants and the public. Millets farm shop in Abingdon sells their asparagus daily. They are growing a portion of their crop under poly tunnels meaning even the cold May start can’t stop the crop. As the rest of the country suffers with imports from Peru, Oxonians will be eating the fresh British veg.
While we are grilling, steaming, and roasting this produce, there is still the question of what wine to serve with it. Asparagus is particularly difficult to match because of its strong flavour. Many people recommend forgetting the wine, drink beer instead. Fiona Beckett (matchingfoodandwine.com) suggests a Belgium Witbier. For wine she recommends “an English sauvignon taste-alike” such as a Camel Valley Bacchus (£12.95 camelvalley.com).
Chef Mark Peregrine, the head tutor at Raymond Blanc Cookery School says, “Chardonnay seems to work well for green asparagus. More specialised, Chassagne Montrachet.” Marks & Spencer has a beautiful 2008, but at £30 a bottle this is only for special occasions.
On the other end of the scale try Aldi’s Freeman’s Bay Sauvignon Blanc (£5.49). A bargain-hunting colleague introduced me to this wine. It is a classic Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc with gooseberry and grassy flavours. Fiona Beckett (@winematcher) might disagree with this recommendation, saying there is too much asparagus flavour in the wine and vegetable together. However, if you wrap the spears in Parma ham and grill them so they are just a tad charred, then serve it with barbecued halloumi, the combination is magic.
My final recommendation is for a summer brunch, baby asparagus, slightly steamed and served with soft-boiled eggs. No butter, lemon or hollandaise is needed when you can dip a spear into the soft centre of the egg. This dish calls for a Camp de Rousse, Picpoul de Pinet (£8.50) as recommended by Jon Patterson from Odd Bins on Little Clarendon Street. This is a light dry wine with good acid. It sold out due to its popularity at a tasting this past weekend, but Jon assures me they will be fully restocked by the time this column goes to print.
Next Thursday, May 17, if you can’t make it to Banbury for the South African wine tasting at SH Jones (£5, 01295 251177), then go to Science Oxford (OX4 1BD) and listen to Richard Liwicki from Bothy vineyard talk about the science behind wine. Tickets are £8, book online at www.scienceoxfordlive.com or 01865 810 000.
Speaking of Bothy Vineyard, their new vintage will be on sale tomorrow (Friday, 11th May).
If you tire of wine, try Oxford alcademics. The next event is Monday, May 21, at Raoul’s Bar on Walton Street. Vestal Vodka, a Polish vodka maker for over 600 years, will talk about its roots and distinctive flavours. The Oxford alcademics is free to any one interested in learning about tipple.
*The wine tasting dinner due to be held at the Oxfords Blue Wednesday night was postponed till 6:30pm on May 30. 01865 460215.