As an omnivore, I was oblivious for years to the convention of pairing wines exclusively with meat. Typically, an overview of a particular wine will cover its place of origin, grape varieties, vintage, and which meat it complements. How many times have we all read something like, “pair this wine with fish or poultry,” or “a great match to steak and burgers.” This meat-centric way of thinking not only ignores the vegetarian community, but it also contradicts the way most people actually eat. Some wines pair better with vegetables than with meat, and even the most committed carnivores will occasionally have a salad for their first course. The time has come to think more broadly about wine pairing by considering the vast array of flavors and styles in vegetarian cuisine. This article covers only a small sampling of dishes to inspire those who love both veggies and wine.
Kale Salad – Sauvignon Blanc
Kale stands out for its combination of visual appeal, high nutritional value, culinary versatility, and delicious flavor. Its green vegetable character matches Sauvignon Blanc, which is often described as having vegetable or grassy notes.
Grilled Cheese – Prosecco
One of the great vegetarian comfort foods, the rich, salty, toasty elements in a grilled cheese sandwich call out for something light and crisp. Prosecco, originating in north-eastern Italy, has an off-dry palate with a clean, refreshing finish and flavors of apple, pear, and citrus.
Hummus – Chardonnay
Smooth, creamy hummus and smooth, creamy Chardonnay – a match made in heaven. Chardonnay’s full body, lush texture, and nutty, buttery flavors lend themselves beautifully to hummus and pita.
Sautéed Mushrooms – Oregon Pinot Noir
Mushrooms play second fiddle to meat dishes far too often, but in a vegetarian context, their unique charms are given an opportunity to shine. Pinot Noir from Oregon has a light body, smooth texture, and notes of blackberry and cherry, accented by forest floor and dried herbs, making for a great complement to mushrooms.
Pasta in Red Sauce or Cheese Pizza – Sangiovese
The oft-repeated phrase “what grows together, goes together” applies when thinking about Italian dishes like pizza and pasta. When serving tomato sauces, consider a pairing of Sangiovese, an Italian grape grown all over the country. Its acidity pairs well with fat – with the cheese on pizza for example – while matching the brightness of the tomatoes.
Root Vegetable Roast – Grenache
A baking sheet covered with crispy, hearty root vegetables makes for a main dish by itself. Depending on the season, you might find yourself roasting carrots, parsnips, potatoes, yams, and beets among others. Grenache is a red wine with a lush, full texture and red fruit flavors like ripe strawberry, raspberry, and cranberry along with notes of licorice and espresso. A great complement to your roots.
Black Bean Burgers – Syrah/Shiraz
Even vegetarians can’t resist a good burger – particularly at an outdoor gathering. Wines that work for beef or turkey burgers also work with bean burgers, so you can serve the same bottle to all your friends. I like the savory taste of Syrah – also known as “Shiraz” – with my veggie burgers. The wine often has a spicy, smoky character that is great with grilled food. Shiraz from Australia is particularly nice since no one loves a good “barbie” like the Aussies.
Mexican Food – Tempranillo
Why not add a little Spanish flair to your Mexican food by serving a Spanish wine? Tempranillo, grown all over Spain, perfectly suits beans, rice, and salsa. It also has tannins that are wonderful with cheese and guacamole. Try a Ribera del Duero for a version similar to Cabernet or Toro for super hearty Tempranillo reminiscent of Zinfandel.