What a triumphant trajectory humble Brussels sprouts have had. Once widely mocked and feared by children everywhere, Brussels sprouts are now extraordinarily popular, both in innovative restaurant dishes and as an essential part of any festive winter feast. Named for the Belgian capital, Brussels sprouts are members of the genus Brassica, which includes cabbage, broccoli, kale, cauliflower and turnips. All are typically considered difficult to pair with wine, but there are several directions to go with these buds of pleasure.
In the last 20 years or so, Brussels sprouts have been bred to be less bitter, which may explain their newfound popularity. Still, they retain a pleasant bitterness that lends balance and complexity. Vouvray, made from Chenin Blanc, has a honeyed, floral character that helps round out the sprouts’ sharp edge.
Brussels sprouts have an innate nuttiness that can be accentuated by very high heat as well as with the addition of nuts. Vin Jaune, from the Jura region of France, is made in a similar manner to dry Sherry and shares its intensely nutty flavor. It would be a daring match for any preparation of Brussels sprouts that includes sweet or nutty flavors.
When part of a dish or meal, the vegetable-garden flavor of Brussels sprouts offers balance. When eaten on their own, however, this quality can be a bit intense. You could embrace it with a wine like Cabernet Franc that’s known to have vegetal notes, but a better choice would be Vermentino. The white wine has flavors of tart apple and salted almond, with a hint of green herbs that would work in harmony with sprouts.
Brussels sprouts release sulfuric compounds when cooked that clash with many wines. While certain cooking methods can mitigate the issue, Gewürztraminer can turn it to an advantage. The little sulfurous tone doesn’t stand a chance against the wine’s shameless nose of tropical fruit, potpourri and sweet spices.