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Spring wine pairings



A new season is a wonderful opportunity to pay closer attention to what's on our plates and in our glasses. Politics aside, the impetus to eat local can simply be deliciousness, and that's even before we invite smartly paired wines to the party. If you consider wine a food (and who doesn't?), it falls under the same parameters of seasonal appropriateness and can work wonders to enliven the flavors of your spring lunch, dinner ... dare we say brunch? If you've never sat in the sunshine with a plate of scrambled eggs topped with chèvre and chives, melon, a croissant and a nice dry rosé, I encourage you to do so quickly.

Every spring, Humboldt's breadbasket offers up a variety of beautiful lettuces, leafy greens like kale, chard and spinach, radishes, leeks, cabbage, rhubarb, bok choy, morels, peas, fresh herbs, wild onions and the quintessential spring duo of artichokes and asparagus. I'll leave you to be the curator of your farmer's market bounty and focus on a few spring-friendly wines guaranteed to bring out the brightness and keep the seasonal beat of your plate.

Grenache blanc is native to southern France's Rhône Valley (known as garnacha blanca in Spain) and is a pivotal component to the region's alluring white blends. The grape produces wines that are chock-full of bright acidity, yet still offer ripe tree fruit and an herbaceous streak — as if chardonnay and sauvignon blanc had a love child. Winemakers on California's central coast (think Paso Robles, Santa Barbara) are planting increasing acreage of the grape of late, and more and more single varietal wines are available. Try pairing a grenache blanc (or Rhône-style white blend if you find one) with a spring salad featuring radishes and snap peas in a creamy poppy seed dressing. In my eyes, the one flaw of grenache blanc lies in its ability to disappear quickly from the glass while bottles are difficult to find. Locally, try Libation (761 Eighth St., Arcata), where the friendly winesellers can point you in the direction of either a Californian or Spanish bottle.

Vinho verde literally translates to "green wine," so you can see how this Portuguese drink is ideally suited for the verdant, fresh flavors of spring. Vinho verde hails from the far northern reaches of Portugal, where temperatures don't get warm enough to ripen grapes to fruity, high-alcohol wines. If you're a gin and tonic fan, but appreciate something lighter, vinho verde will rock your world. Crisp to the point of effervescent, vinho verde is an easygoing, citrusy and refreshing style of wine which usually weighs in at 10-12 percent alcohol (most wines are 13-15 percent), which means a glass in heat of the Humboldt County sunshine (hey, now) won't put you to bed. Try pairing vino verde with an appetizer board of Castelveltrano green olives, prosciutto and almonds — though light, the wine has the acidity to balance the saltiness and refresh your palate. To get your hands on a bottle, check the North Coast Co-op in Eureka (25 Fourth St.), which frequently carries a few producers under $10.

As already mentioned, dry rosés cry to be opened in spring when their romantic hue and subtlety are a perfect match for a salad tossed with fresh strawberries and a musky chèvre. Most every wine-producing country has a history of producing rosés, as it's often an exercise in utility. Top quality rosés are the product of saignée, or bleeding, in which red grapes are crushed by the weight of the fruit and only briefly in contact with color-inducing grape skins. What's more common in California is the run-off method, in which a winemaker pulls a percentage of juice from a fermenting red wine tank in an effort to intensify the red wine. More often than not, the resulting rosé is wonderfully dry, complex and a great food wine. Try the Arcata North Coast Co-op (811 I St.) for a varied selection that includes bottles from France, Spain and California. You can expect quality for not more than $15 a bottle, so remember what I said about brunch.

When there's talk of wine in any season, pinot noir is mentioned soon enough and for good reason. The darling of the wine world, pinot noir is famously fickle yet meaningfully expressive — much like the someone who drives you crazy, but you simply cannot live without. Responsible for the most celebrated wines in the world in France, pinot noir has cemented its reputation in Oregon and California's central coast (again, Paso Robles, Santa Barbara and my favorite in the region, Monterey) as a wine that demands attention, patience and delicious food. If you're lucky enough to hunt down (perhaps literally) some Humboldt morels this spring, don't skimp on a nice bottle of pinot. Other heartier spring fare such as an asparagus mushroom risotto or even a rack of lamb will also shine when paired with the freshness of pinot noir's berry fruit, subtle earthiness and lively acidity. Myrtlewood Liquors and John's Fine Cigars (1648 Myrtle Ave., Eureka) carries a wide selection. For your best bet, stop by early in the day when John himself is there to talk pinot.


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