It gets a little tricky to pair spring foods with different wines

Updated 3/2/2023 2:34 PM

Chicago-area residents who have lived here a long time will remember April 10, 1977, down to what you wore. I was in my parka, headed home from the night before, but others on the street sported shorts and sandals. Why the sartorial spread? Because this day saw a 56-degree temperature jump from 29 degrees to 85 degrees.

Herein lies one tricky bit of springtime in our area: Not only deciding what will you be wearing but what will you be eating -- a rich, warming meal or light and low-calorie -- and which wine to pair with it.


From rich to light, it's essential to balance the body of your wine with your food. Wine's body -- how it feels in your mouth -- is primarily influenced by alcohol, which creates viscosity, weight and heat on the palate. Rich wine balances a rich dish, but light wine will taste watery. Light wine refreshes a light dish, but rich wine will overpower it. In addition, without the protective coating of rich food's fat and protein, high alcohol burns the palate and careens straight through to the tummy for fast intoxication.

To find light-bodied wines, look north to cool climates and their lighter grapes. Germany and Austria give us riesling; northern Spain provides Albarino; Alpine Italy's darling is pinot grigio. You may find wines as low as 9% alcohol, but global warming has pushed the norm toward 12%. Another benefit to light wines is bright acidity, like a squeeze of lemon on veggies, seafood and poultry dishes. For a richer body, turn south. California and southern France give us a range of grapes, including rich chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, syrah and zinfandel; the same is true of Washington wine country, a northern desert. Southern Italy provides Primitivo; Spain gives us garnacha. Caveat emptor: Nowadays, 16% alcohol is not unseen, walloping the palate and sobriety.

Purchasing several wines of various bodies may not be practical, so one solution is the sommelier's maxim: In case of emergency, serve light red or dry rosè. Ask your wine merchant for a Spanish rosè, richer than French counterparts; for a red, look for Ross's Choice.

Another curve ball is vintage changes, which are prevalent during spring. In recent years, frost has affected 80% of French vineyards, Italy is in severe drought and fire, and smoke has plagued our West Coast and Chile. Even mass-produced McWine, devised for consistency, shows the effects of these dramatic weather changes. The solution: Talk to your wine merchant, whose job is to keep ahead of vintage, flavor and price changes. Also, attend in-store tastings -- even of your familiar selections -- to avoid surprises.

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Pairing wine with seasonal produce also hits snags during springtime. Asparagus is high in chlorophyll, making wine taste metallic. Artichokes are high in cynarine, making wine taste sweet and flat. For the remedy, we turn to trained chefs, whose first solution to any culinary mishap is "add butter." And if a generous slather of butter isn't enough, try the second solution: "add fat." A classic accompaniment to asparagus and artichoke is hollandaise, one of five French so-called mother sauces, which suspends butter in egg yolks. Serve this luxurious sauce during another one of spring's tricky bits -- a family gathering for Mother's Day -- and you may head off snafus, culinary and otherwise.

• Mary Ross is an Advanced Sommelier (Court of Master Sommeliers), a Certified Wine Educator (Society of Wine Educators) and recipient of the Wine Spectator's "Grand Award of Excellence." Write to her at

Ross' choice

Wine Name: Cotes-du-Rhone

Producer: Pont de Nyons

Region: Rhone Valley, France

Vintage: 2021

Availability: Major and specialty grocers, about $13

Distributed by: Romano Beverage, Elmhurst

Tasting Notes: Tax season may make "luxury" expenditures like wine tricky, so turn to this enduring quality/value. Bursting with bright cherry and berry flavors, firm acidity, peppery accents and gentle tannin -- bistros choose this style throughout France to satisfy the broadest range of cuisine, from salads and veggies to lighter red meats. The importer, HB Wine Merchants, has championed quality wine at everyday prices since 2001. For a fun red wine and chocolate experiment, pair this wine's ripe fruit and soft tannin with another seasonal favorite: Girl Scout Samoas Cookies.

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