After a long winter of heavy comfort foods and full-bodied reds to see us through, spring’s bounty of fresh, bright vegetables, seafood, and lighter (but just as soul-fulfilling) fare is extremely welcome on the menu. “Spring comfort foods make me think of all the fresh produce that's coming out,” says certified sommelier and Chania Wine Tour owner Anna Maria Kambourakis, an American now living on Crete. “Asparagus, lettuce, peas! A shift to eating lighter and healthier, and to outdoor cooking.”
Ready to pair with spring’s comfort foods is the world of natural wines. “Natural wines are usually fresher wines, and go well with lighter meals,” says Ramon Jané Garriga, owner of natural winery Mas Candí in Spain’s Penedes region.
Among other differences to conventional wine in production, natural wines keep the wine to the grapes and only the grapes—there’s no sugar or cultured yeast added, and winemakers don’t add sulfites to stop the fermentation process. What’s in the bottle, then, is fresh and joyously alive—the perfect wine to celebrate emerging from a long winter with.
Around this time of year, “we’re looking for more fruity and crisp aromas,” says Jané—who says spring is when white, rosé, and orange wines take their seasonal spotlights. Certified sommelier Anna Maria Kambourakis, who’s based in Crete and owns Chania Wine Tours, adds that the main thing is to make sure “the weight of the dish matches the weight of the wine.”
Natural wines aren’t bound by many rules, and you shouldn’t be either when you’re pairing them—after all, natural wines can vary a bit bottle to bottle only to transform overnight after opening, so there’s always room to be surprised.
Sparkling (Pétillant naturel, or "Pét-Nat")
Similar to conventional sparkling wines, you can pair pétillant naturel (often shortened to “Pét-Nat”) with aperitifs, as Jané suggests, or with extra-indulgent comfort foods. “Think about fatty, rich foods and sauces, but avoid heavy dishes and red meats,” advises Erik Segelbaum, Food & Wine Magazine's 2019 Sommelier of the Year and founder of hospitality consulting company SOMLYAY LLC.
And let’s do away with the idea that sparkling wine is only for special occasions or fancy food: Open a bottle of Pét-Nat with junk food like chips and french fries, and late-night nachos and tacos, suggests Kambourakis. “The bubbles serve as a palate cleanser and the acidity cuts through the grease.”
Jané says that natural white wines, in general, are great with seafood, which makes pairings pretty straightforward. “If it's ever lived underwater, it probably likes natural white wine,” agrees Segelbaum. “This includes not just fish and seafood but also seaweed, sea beans, et cetera.”
Of course, you can pair white wine with way more than fish and seafood: Jané also loves it with Spanish rice dishes, too, and Kambourakis loves it with calamari, stuffed green peppers, and spring’s wild greens.
Rosé is perfect for pairing with on-the-go, unfussy meals—or if you’re just having nibbles with an afternoon glass of wine. Crackers, hard cheeses, and olives are all great with rosé, says Segelbaum. And don’t be afraid to throw some meat on the platter too, too—it’s a great pick for charcuterie in the backyard on a warm spring day.
When it comes to reds, we might be more likely to think of winter comfort foods instead of spring ones, but there’s plenty of opportunity for lighter, jammy reds to shine in the spring. Jané suggests pairing natural reds with pan-Asian food, as well as cuisines that are grounded in rich spices, like Indian, South American, and Arabic food.
Segelbaum suggests pairing lighter natural reds with fish and seafood and fuller reds with meats—“Don't be afraid to experiment,” he advises. Winemaker Davide Gentile, who co-runs Lammidia winery in Abruzzo, found that his slightly effervescent Carbo Rosso was the perfect accompaniment to beef carpaccio.
“I’m quite fond of orange wines with pasta dishes that are heavy on the herbs and garlic,” says Segelbaum. “I also like them with falafel, lamb shawarma, soft cheeses, and savory dishes.”
Cheese with orange wine also gets a vote from Jané, and Kambourakis adds that, partly because of the tannins in orange wines, there’s a body and complexity to orange wine that allows it to pair with meat dishes as well. “Orange wine is delightful with Greek Easter dishes. It's enough to compete with lamb, which is quite fatty, and with pilaf as well—the acidity cuts through the fat of both dishes.”