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.
Hey Betty, great post!
John and I were just talking about artichokes last night. Years ago, we found a special place north of Santa Cruz where artichokes grow semi-wild. I was ecstatic and picked a ton of baby artichokes, that I prepared in a variety of ways. We are looking forward to returning there soon, weather permitting.
What you posted about the types of wine to pair with artichokes confirms my own personal experience. I am eager to try the Txakoli that you mentioned. I’ve never heard of it before–where can I get it?
Unfortunately, because my stomach is so delicate, I can’t drink much wine these days. But tonight we are excited to be attending a winemakers’ dinner at Tessora’s Barra di Vino in Campbell.
We’ve been back in the Bay Area for 7 months now, but it still feels like yesterday, as I joyfully rediscover all the wonderful places and things I came to take for granted before we went to live in ND, where temperatures are still well below freezing, with snow…. ❄
I’ve never tried Txakoli either. Maybe we should try it together! I’m guessing we can find it at Vintage Wine Merchants at Santana Row. The next time I’m there, I will look for it.
Hi everyone…. my name is Omar and I’m from eastern Spain and live near to Alicante on a special wine culture area (Marina Alta). I’m just finishing my sommelier studies…. and I can say that from my experience I’ve had the opportunity to taste both wines, the txacoli advantages as you say are its good acidity and its carbonic point that will contrast with the particular and special artichoke flavor. But I always recommend (with this kind of food that are a little bit complicated to wine pairing) a good sherry wine, especially a Palo Cortado (a Sherry jewel). I’d love to be more in touch with you. Greetings from the Valencian Community.
Hi Omar. It’s great to meet you. Thanks for the dry sherry recommendation!