RED, WHITES AND GREENS
CONTRARY TO POPULAR BELIEF, VEGETARIAN FARE PAIRS WELL WITH MORE THAN JUST WHITE WINES.
My wife went vegetarian about a year and a half ago and now I tell everyone that I am a “cheating vegetarian.” In my efforts to support her, I have had many more vegetarian meals as of late and in those instances, I have taken the opportunity to experiment with vegetarian and vegan food and wine pairing. Now for all you dyed-in-thewool, triple-meat lovers, I would not stop reading here. Everyone needs ruffage in their lives and reading this might even make you a healthier person—greens and resveratrol are a nutritious combination.
My expectation for vegetarian cuisine because it is plant-based was that it would have a lot of bitterness, the chlorophyll in plants being the primary source. I try to avoid overly bitter things, so naturally I leaned on white wine for pairings. I found that a beautiful and vibrant Sauvignon Blanc from the new world such as Twomey by Silver Oak works terrifically well with simple salads, especially ones with vinaigrettes. Not only does this Sauvignon Blanc have that fresh pomelo and grapefruit aromatics, but its vivacious acidity also complements the acidity of vinaigrettes. If you are sensitive enough, you'll find that there is a touch of that same greenness in Sauvignon Blanc akin to herbs, grass and
of course, salad greens so they go hand in hand. But it is the fruit that Sauvignon Blanc brings to the party that makes the flavors pop!
One of my other favorite vegetarian pairings is the almost electric flavors of Vouvray, Chenin Blanc grown in the Loire River Valley paired with tomatoes.
Raw, cooked, stewed and perhaps my favorite way to have tomatoes, Gazpacho Soup. My wife makes a terrific Spanish version that I simply devour with copious quantities of Marc Bredif Vouvray. This wine smells and tastes like fresh citrus, honeysuckle, honey and melons (all vegetarian mind you, maybe the honey is debatable, but I digress). Super light and it also has a zesty acidity that marries so beautifully with the acidity of the tomatoes and vinegar in this soup. I have not found a better pairing yet.
But if you think that vegetarian cuisine only plays well with white wine you would be wrong. There is so much more.
There are plenty of dense and rich flavors in vegetarian cuisine that welcome red wine pairings.
Fresh and earthy mushrooms are a favorite of mine, from Morels to Porcini, Matsutake to Hamakua-grown ali‘i, I love them all and cooked
any which way. I love them in butter with garlic, sautéed or grilled, in risotto or even as a sandwich. And with it you can definitely get into the deeper reds, even a Bordeaux. A mushroom risotto with a bottle of Banfi Brunello di Montalcino is decadence. The earthy goodness of Brunello enveloping the flavors of mushroom and revealing the beautiful red fruit of Sangiovese is a wonderful experience. Or a Portobello mushroom steak grilled and basted with butter and herbs with a bottle of Château de Pez from St. Estèphe. The perfectly ripe tannins play a perfect foil for the proteins of the mushroom and the gravelly earthiness marries so well with the earth of the mushroom. Dare I say, maybe even a better pairing than a grilled steak.
And without a doubt the most unexpected and stunningly great vegetarian pairing I've had is miso glazed grilled eggplant glazed with mature red Burgundy (Pinot Noir from Burgundy France). When I say mature I mean Burgundy that is at least 25 years or older. Burgundies of that age exhibit the most complex aromatics and flavors: cola, spices, sweet cherry, coffee, teas, toffee and even truffles. The earthiness of the eggplant embraces the flavors and the saltiness of the miso helps to lift the fruit flavors in the wine. It can be an extraordinary experience.
I certainly look forward to finding more interesting and exciting pairings with vegetarian and vegan cuisine in the coming years. I have opened my mind and my palate to all the possibilities. There is no end to food and wine pairing. And no animals were harmed in the writing of this piece.
Vegetarian cuisine plays well with both whites and reds.