Artichokes or not?

How to handle a difficult wine pairing.

 


So what should I not write about? Artichokes for starters, a wine paring frought with perils. On the other hand perhaps I should be writing about why artichokes don't pair well with wines. It has to do cynarin, a chemical compound contained in artichokes that is like LSD for your palate. It makes you hallucinate flavors. See it really wasn't that bad of an analogy. For most people it makes wines taste oddly sweet, though for a small number of people it actually makes the wine taste notably bitter instead. Good trip:bad trip you could argue, but it makes the whole wine pairing thing a real mine field.

So what to do? Well, for starters I'm not going to avoid artichokes when they are in season, i.e. now! And while I love beer, you have the same issues arising with beer, so that's not a solution. No the solution is to soldier on and incorporate your artichokes into dishes with wine friendly ingredients. And for those moments when only a wonderfully pure artichoke will do, find the driest wine possible and be content in knowing that the effects of cynarin are very short lived!

Quick-Braised Baby Artichokes

Here's a simple recipe, and as good a place as any to get started problem solving our recipe pairing dilemma. This recipe includes plenty of garlic, mint and parsley; all great foils for that sweet impression the artichoke will lend to the wine you choose to pair here.
 
 
Let's draw our inspiration from the seasonings here, and turn to the Mediterranean for our wine pairing. Something dry, zesty, and refreshing is what's needed, and having plenty of acid and minerality sounds like a good idea. Something Greek maybe? Santorini springs to mind with their fabulous Assyrtiko, a perfect foil for this recipe.
 
Two to try:
 
 

Pan-Seared Artichokes

Here's a lovely recipe that deals a one-two punch to the pairing problem. Not only does searing the artichokes introduce a level of sweetness that helps to soften the blow of the wine, but the sherry vinegar used in this recipe is another way to balance out that perception of sweetness.
 
 
An easy out here might be to suggest sherry with this dish, and while it could be a fabulous pairing, not many of you will even think about trying it. Sherry is just not on everyone's short list of wines to try. I can still stay in the obscure though, with Sauvignon Gris as a selection here. Though rare, this cousin of Sauvignon Blanc produces wines that are similar in nature, slightly herbal and zesty, though with a bit of a richer mouthfeel, which will come in handy for balancing out the vinegar used in the recipe without resorting to a sweeter wine.
 
Two to try:
 
 

Fried Artichokes

Another option to help alleviate our cynarin problem is fairly simple, fry the artichokes until they are crispy and some of the cynarin is neutralized by the heat. These are a lot of fun to eat, and are delicious, but are also very addictive so be careful if you plan on sharing these. Not many will make it out of your grasp!
 
 
Look for a simple wine to pair here as the flavors of these fried artichokes are also on the subtle Something with lots of acid to help cleanse the palate of the oil used to fry these babies up, as well as the oil used in the mayonnaise based dip that you might pair these with is jut the ticket. Tarragon and lemon infused home-made mayo with some capers for garnish. Just sayin.  I'm looking at a dry Riesling, all lemony and mineral here, as the perfect foil for this dish.
 
Two to try:
 
 
 

Roast Chicken with Artichokes

Now we're moving into territory where the artichoke plays a supporting role. Not that roast chicken is terribly assertive, though the gremolata used to season the bird certainly contributes a lot of flavor here. I'd double down on the herbs, adding in  some tarragon and a bit of oregano to help add layers of flavor.
 
 
In any event, this will be a gently balanced recipe, yielding flavorful chicken and rich, creamy artichoke hearts. I'd opt for a Gruner Veltliner with this preparation, particularly if you take my suggestion to herb it up. Gruner has a nice hint of peppery spice and herbal nuance that makes it a wonderful match for this recipe, and the flavors in the wine are underpinned by fine minerality and a subtly citrus character that will mirror the flavors of the gremolata.
 
Two to try:
 
 

Braised Lamb Chops with Black Olives & Artichokes

Here's an odd recipe, pairing lamb, black olives and artichokes. Who'd've thunk? This is an unusual blend of flavors but the braising helps to knit the dish together. Throwing a few capers on for garnish might be a nice way to help brighten this up for service but no matter what you do you're going to have a dish that is rich and deeply flavored. And yes, I like capers with my artichokes, so kind of you to notice!
 
 
Here's a rare chance to try and pair a red wine with artichokes, though of course you're actually pairing the wine with the lamb and olives. A wine that is a bit gamy with a wild and herbal edge to it should work perfectly here. There are a handful of wines coming out of Lebanon that would make for an inspired pairing.
 
Two to try:
 
 
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