An Introduction to Wine Pairing for Vegetarians
Just because you’re a vegetarian doesn’t mean that pairing wine with your meat-free meals has to be a chore or a challenge. While it is true that some veg can be a bit tricky – we’re talking the asparagus, artichoke, Brussels sprouts conundrum, in reality, choosing a wine that will be delicious with vegetarian eats is actually far simpler than you’d think.
When contemplating what to drink, don’t forget your basic rules regarding acid, alcohol, sweet vs dry, and so on, that you’d rely on when selecting a pairing for a meat-based dish. When it comes to vegetables, herbaceous wines like Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Tempranillo, Grüner Veltliner, and the ever-popular Sauvignon Blanc are among the first bottles you should reach for. While you may think as a vegetarian you’re forever stuck drinking white wine, this isn’t the case. As we hinted at a moment ago, red wines are most definitely not off the menu. So all you red wine loving herbivores, relax. The trick here is all in the preparation.
Grilling your veg (or tofu/other meatless protein) is a great way to open up pairing potentials. Same is true of a stir-fry or barbecue. Those delicious smoky flavours mean you can do a like for like pairing with a savoury red. Preparing vegetables in this way also reduces bitterness, something which will go a long way towards making them more wine-friendly. For steamed vegetables, bright, acidic whites are always good, particularly savoury whites with herby aromas. Opt for Grüner Veltliner, Sauvignon Blanc, Albariño, or Pinot Grigio. These are all perfect salad wines as well.
You can cheat with sauces as well – adding a sauce means you have another layer of flavour to work with. Tomato-based sauces are brilliant with red wines. Just look to Italy – Chianti, Montepulciano, even a Barolo (especially with mushroom or truffle dishes) are beautiful. Any of these would be stunning with a vegetarian lasagne. Fat in a dish does wonders for improving its pairing ability. Adding in butter or cream (for all you ovo-lacto vegetarians) is a great way to go about doing this. When butter is off the menu, a rich fatty oil like olive oil is an excellent substitute. Or throw a little soy sauce over your ingredients and pair with an equally umami-driven wine.
But it doesn’t just begin and end with white or reds either – rosé can be a dazzling pairing with veggie dishes. A good dry rosé will complement, not overwhelm many of the ingredients you’ll come across in vegetarian dishes. Provence rosés are perfect with a slightly spicy tofu stir-fry and enhance rather than detract from the flavours in your meal. You can even go for an off-dry version to help tame the spice.
The final thing to bear in mind if you follow a strict vegetarian diet is that not all wines are inherently vegetarian. Certain animal products (like egg whites) can be used during the fining process. Be sure to always check the label before you buy, there are amazingly fine vegan wines on the market!
There are countless options for choosing a wine for your next vegetarian meal. Whether you decide to go like for like (e.g. a citrusy dish with a citrus-driven wine) or do a little contrasting, like an off-dry wine with a spicy dish, choosing to go meatless doesn’t mean you’re stuck with a more limited range of wines. Don’t get boxed in; depending on how you season you can drink virtually any wine you like!