I’d always heard that artichokes and wine don’t make for a good pairing. I realized that I’ve paired them together plenty of times, never seeming to have a problem with the experience. I think I was happily enjoying both and not doing any kind of serious analysis.
So I decided I wanted to read up on the subject so that I can more knowledgably do an artichokes and wine tasting. And with that knowledge, I want to try some “bad” wines, along with “good” wines.
Because I knew very little about the topic, I’m very appreciative of the sources I found:
Starting with the Worst-case Scenario
Let me start with the two most negative lines I came across. First, Janet Fletcher, a well-known food writer, wrote, “I’ve found that with a plain, steamed artichoke, the sad truth is that no wine works. But when you add other ingredients, such as pasta, cream, nuts, prosciutto, or Parmesan, an artichoke dish becomes more wine-friendly.” Second, the Bubbly Professor calls artichokes the “psycho wine killers” of the vegetable kingdom.
Why is this? It turns out that artichokes have a naturally occurring chemical in them called cynarin. Cynarin makes everything you taste seem sweet. According to Eater.com, “When the wine meets the cynarin on your palate, it enhances any natural sweetness in the wine, making it taste not only too sweet, but flabby and boring.” In fact, it even finds the sweetness in oak, making an oaked white not a good match.
Eke. That’s no fun.
How Do You Combat Cynarin?
All of the sites talk about having fun with your artichokes. They say that the more you do to the artichoke, the more likely you are to hide the impact of cynarin. It can be as simple as adding olive oil, butter or an egg or butter-based sauce such as hollandaise to mitigate cynarin’s effects. Here are a few other interesting suggestions:
- Serve artichokes with a garlicky or spicy sauce such as aioli;
- Grill the artichokes;
- Serve them with tomato-based sauce in a complex dish or ragout.
- Increase the saltiness of the artichoke dish by adding some bacon, salty olives or capers.
Artichokes and Wine – What Pairs Best?
All of the sites recommend a wine that’s bone dry, light and crisp, with high acidity and no oak. Several authors recommended a Basque varietal called Txakoli. Apparently, this wine has a slight sparkle that really helps the pairing, plus lots of tart green apple and mineral flavors.
People also recommended Fino Sherry, which they say is about as dry as it comes and has floral notes that are a great contrast for the artichoke. Other recommendations include Extra Brut or Brut Champagne, Cava or Sparkling Wine, dry Chenin Blanc and Arneis. All of the sites except one said stick with white wine. The site that mentioned reds also said they recommend white, but if you want to go with red, they suggest Barbera, which has nice acidity.
I would love to hear about your adventures with artichokes and wine.