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Problem pairing

Salmon steaks and asparagus in Hollandaise sauce

Asparagus is one of the more difficult foodstuffs to match with wine, because its unusal flavours can clash with many wines. Salmon is not usually so problematic, although in this case the match is made tricky by the rich, buttery Hollandaise sauce which could overpower a delicate wine. For this reason, I chose three full flavoured whites that I thought might stand up to this difficult combination well.  

Basic recipe:
Take two medium sized salmon steaks, cover in foil together with a knob of butter  and bake in the oven for about an hour. Steam the asparagus until tender. You can either make your own Hollandaise sauce (difficult: see any decent cookery text for instructions), or buy it ready made, in which case you will have to heat it gently. Pour it over the salmon and asparagus, and serve with new potatoes.

The wines

Casablanca Sauvignon blanc 1998, Casablanca Valley, Chile (4.99 Oddbins)
Fresh and crisp, with lifted aromatic nose of gooseberries and freshly cut grass. This came from the cool 1998 vintage that generally produced tighter, crisper wines, and this one is o no exception. On the palate it is bone dry, with bracing acidity. It is refreshing, but perhaps a little sharp for casual sipping. Bold and intense.

Cape Mentelle Semillon/Sauvignon blanc 1998, Margaret River, Australia (Bentalls 8.75)
Beautifully lifted nose with citrus, gooseberry and elderflower notes. Rounded palate with smooth texture and crisp juiciness. A portion of this wine was barrel fermented, which has contributed a lovely rich texture that nicely counteracts the crispness of the fruit. Very refined, complex and well balanced.

Banrock Station Colombard Chardonnay 1999, South Eastern Australia (3.49, most supermarkets)
This bargain basement branded white is made by Hardys. Fresh and crisp, with a boiled sweetes nose that technological whites often seem to have. Some fatness on the palate from the chardonnay, and a rather bitter finish. This is mass produced jug wine, and it's a little too technological for me.

Food matching

With the Asparagus and Hollandaise sauce
The Chilean sauvignon blanc works best. It's crisp, sharp acidity and powerful flavours cut through the rich sauce and strongly flavoured asparagus nicely, complementing them well. The Cape Mentelle is quite useful in this respect also, but with its fatter texture its subtleties are a bit lost.

With the salmon and Hollandaise sauce
The Cape Mentelle shows well here, but again the Chilean Sauvignon wins out: it cuts through the Hollandaise sauce beautifully. The Banrock is reasonably versatile with both combinations, but it is still just a jug wine and is distinctly out of its league.

For sipping on its own, the Cape Mentelle is the most rewarding wine, and it is also a good performer at the table. However, the Chilean Sauvignon, although not such a useful casual sipping wine, really comes into its own against this tricky food combination.