Chef Gigi Wilson shares her favorite spring dishes & wine pairings.
Story by Erin Laytham Lentz
Spring. It’s a celebration of everything light, bright and fresh. Spring is a fun way to show off how wines can complement these new flavors of spring. In the spring and summer months, we love looking to fresh, bright, white wines. Wines to go along with the array of produce and foods from the sea that show up in our gardens, farmers markets and groceries. When you are preparing something earthy and sweet, your pairing will need to have the lift, weight and texture to support it. Spring is also the perfect time to drink Rosé, which has a stake in both red and white wine. The brightness of the wine plays off the intensity of each dish. Hilton Head native, chef Gigi Wilson, author of “Fun & Simple Gourmet,” has carefully selected some delicious spring pairings with their complementary wines in celebration of the delectable tastes of spring. “Spring is a great time to lighten things up after the more hearty dishes in winter. I love cooking with spring vegetables, sweet peas, carrots, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, leeks, butter lettuces, fennel and arugula,” she said. Here are Gigi’s favorite spring dishes and wine pairings.
Pan Seared Halibut with Risotto Primavera & Sweet Pea Pesto
Delightfully mild fish, pan seared to crispy on the outside, tender and juicy on the inside with creamy risotto and fresh pea pesto. Perfectly paired with a Sancerre from the Loire River Valley. Sancerre, similar to Sauvignon Blanc; in fact, it is a member of the Sauvignon Blanc family. Sancerre is produced in the Loire Valley, specifically the left bank of the Loire River. Medium bodied due to the minerals in the soil, yet delicate, floral and mildly acidic, which is a perfect balance with this mild and flaky fish, the complex flavors of the pesto and creaminess of the risotto. I’ve never met a Sancerre I didn’t thoroughly enjoy — like the Domaine Fournier Les Belles Vignes.
Shrimp Provencal with Sweet Pea Risotto
Grilled rosemary shrimp in a luscious Provencal with Pesto and Sweet Pea Risotto. Pairs perfectly with Rosé from Provence or a nice chilled Pinot Noir. This dish is complex, with many flavors of Provence, fennel, garlic, lemon, tomato, capers, olives, etc. perfect for the pale colored Grenache Rosés of Provence with their notes of citrus and melon. There are so many great ones. One of my favorites, Aix, a crisp and light wine with a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault. The Pinot Noir grape’s lower acidity and bright fruit flavor, balances the high acidity of the Provencal sauce. Try a nice chilled Buena Vista Pinot Noir made from the Pinot Noir grapes of the Carneros region of the Sonoma and Napa Valleys of California.
Asparagus & Leek Soup
Fresh, green, soothing and healthy. Paired with a crisp light Sauvignon Blanc, which is a green skinned grape originally from the Bordeaux region (France) but now grown just about everywhere wine grapes are cultivated. It produces a crisp, light and fresh flavor, which makes for a perfect pairing with the fresh flavors of this soup. In fact, a well aged Sauvignon Blanc is said to develop aromas of spring vegetables, asparagus and peas as it ages. One of my favorites is Decoy Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc from California.
Penne Pasta with Spring Vegetables
Penne with a variety of spring vegetables in a fresh spring herb pesto of basil, cilantro, garlic, lemon and pine nuts. This dish pairs beautifully with a rack of spring lamb or lamb chops. On its own, it would pair nicely with Pinot Grigio, a mutant clone of the Pinot Noir grape. Pinot Grigio is light, crisp and dry from the Veneto region of northeastern Italy close to the Austrian border. Any Pinot Grigio from the Friuli region is worth a try. One of my favorites, Jermann, dry, velvety and delicious. Of course, most people are familiar with Santa Margherita, which is also a very fine Pinot Grigio.
Grilled Lamb Chops with Mint/Basil Pesto
Succulent lamb chops with a fresh minty pesto, pairs perfectly with a nice California Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot blend. The rich earthiness of the lamb balanced with the fresh pesto calls for a bold red wine that’s not too heavy. One of my favorite blends is the Duckhorn Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Rich and oaky yet perfectly balanced with the robustness of the Cabernet grape and lighter fruitiness of the Merlot.
The idea of changing the wine you drink with the season, just as you change your wardrobe and diet is still met with some resistance. People tend to “like what they like” when it comes to wine, drinking the same bottles all year long. The more pronounced acidity and palate weight of lighter wines may not be to your taste. But try them with the right foods and you’ll see how perfectly tuned they are to the flavors of spring. For these and more delicious recipes, visit gigiwilson.com.