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Oct 3, 2012 11:44 PM

Pairing wine and vegetable main dishes?

Most traditional wine wine pairings seem to be traditionally pair wine to the meat or fish protein. I have promised my better half to cook and eat veggie three times a week. Other than the usual reds with pasta, are there pairing that set up naturally for veggie meals? Pair heavy bodied wine with hearty dishes and light with light?

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  1. Obviously, veggies covers a lot of area, from light green salads to smoky charred vegetables, and your wine choice will depend on the intensity and type of the veggie flavor.

    But you're already on target, mostly. Pairing light with light and heavy with heavy is the most basic pairing rule there is: Match intensity.

    What this means in terms of prep is that steamed veggies and lighter salads will take a lighter wine than roasted vegetables (white or red) or grilled vegetables (usually red, but can be white). The cooking method changes the intensity of the veggie flavor (increases its concentration, or deepens or darkens the flavor, like that from charring), which means the food can then pair with a heavier wine.

    It's the total of the dish that determines the intensity: a green salad will take a lighter wine than a composed salad with duck, sauteed mushrooms and pomegranate seeds. Fava beans alone would probably take a white. Fava beans with sauteed ramps, prosciutto and mint would probably take a rose/rosado/rosato or Grenache/Garnacha, maybe even a Beaujolais non-Cru or lighter weight Pinot.

    There are certain reds that pair better with root vegetables -- these are the wines with mid-range flavors. The mid-range in wine is characterized, in part, by caramelized starch flavors that go well with roasted root vegetables and other vegetables. Wines with a full mid-range are Barbera, Pinot Noir and Syrah. Barbera also seems to be the best possible wine, IMO, with cooked tomato sauce. In contrast, Cabernet almost always lacks a mid-range unless a wine is blended into it to correct that.

    Certain wines go very well with mushrooms: Pinot Noir, Sagrantino, Rosso di Montalcino, in particular. More opulent, richer white wines work as well, like Chard with judicious ML, Roussanne, Marsanne, Gavi, Pinot Gris -- wines with weight and viscosity from part ML and some oak treatment. Just to be clear, I am not recommending wines with heavy ML or oak exposure -- they're out of balance.

    Adding olive oil, citrus, Hollandaise, cheese sauce, or any other sauce creates more flavor complexity and intensity. And remember, you often pair to the sauce or to the other ingredients combined with the veggies rather than to the veggie per se.

    1. This is an interesting subject, near and ear to my heart. Many of the wines in my cellar that are "classics" and considered "very food friendly" are NOT anymore for ME...with my daily meal plans and lifestyle changes :)

      I find "traditional" pairing recommendations to not be helpful to me (much at all) -as I rarely eat "traditional" Western Euro-centric foods anymore. It has been an interesting process to discover great, new pairings. It is not as easy as using the same ideas- just minus the meat (unless of course, you just eat broccoli and potatoes... or a green salad for dinner). Because, typically, your dishes will have much more creativity than that, and often- a more specific and wider variety or pronounced "ethnicity" to the meal. So, not specifically in order, here is what I think about for a pairing:

      1. Style of the dish ( formal, informal, bold, light, seasonal, etc). This really matters more in veg dishes because many veg dishes are "one dish" meals, a mix of flavors/layers of flavors in a single dish occur more often, so I pair to the "overall" flavor profile and "feeling" of the dish. Like for simple one dish meals with mixed flavor profiles- I simply pick a wine I like to stand up to the dish, not necessarily to "enhance" it (as you would for a steak dinner).

      2. "Roots" of the dish ( country of origin, ethnic fusion factors and main flavor focus). Many times the cultural root of the dish will not be from a wine centric country. This doesn't matter to me, I am not a slave to authenticity anyway. But, in these cases, I typically go "lighter body" in wine choice (white or red) and look to focus on a "stand out" flavor if there is one, if not then I focus overall on sweet, salty, bitter, sour, umami and pungent (as in chili's). Take mushrooms as a focus-for example, if it is an SE Asian, mixed mushroom, dark, chewy noodle, umami, formal meal, side dishes, wine choice would be a heavier body, probably a red. If Vietnamese, informal, one dish Pho, lighter, with same mushrooms, I would go for a lighter body wine, probably a white. The specific red or white wine would be determined by spice level (below).

      3. Spice style level (often determined by sauce & condiments, not by main). A spicy moong daal can be paired with a grassy Sav Blanc when there is a generous sprinkling of cilantro over top and some fresh yogurt, sweet chutney and rice served along side. Fresh, aromatic herbs and spices are one of the more important considerations when choosing wine if you choose cuisines that focus on vegetable quality and freshness.

      Random thoughts:

      I ignore the red/white profile traditions issue for the most part. I eat seasonally, so that translates into more whites in the hotter months with more light, informal meals....the opposite in the winter. You will find your own "natural" pattern emerging if you pay closer attention centering a meal on the beautiful produce in your market.

      I have found that thinking differently about the pairings is more helpful than following old rules and trying to adapt them to meatless meals. You will find alot of information that is operating on old concepts of food styles : )
      For example, to pair "Chinese food" with "Riesling" ( that might be okay if you are eating kung pao chicken from Panda Express) but is almost useless advice today, given the variety of "Chinese" meals, styles, ingredients, etc and the wide variety of wines easily available to everyone. Basic taste issues still apply, but you might have more success with a non -European style meal served with wine if you think more "conceptually" than just focused on matching to the main flavor in the dish.

      I eat alot of vegetable focused Vietnamese, Szechuan, East Indian, Mexican, Thai, and Brazilian foods. I eat vegetarian at least half the week. I drink wine almost every night. I have had a few clashes, but I am improving. I started to improve the most when I threw out old rules and concepts, and focused on those three things I listed. When I make a mistake- I have found that a good Gin and Tonic goes with everything :)

      I hope this helps or gives you some ideas.

      3 Replies
      1. re: sedimental

        Second this. Vegetable main dishes as others have noted (or cuisines form non-wine cultures) do not as easily pair with red wine as say a steak. Vegetables range from imitating the characteristics found in meat (say mushrooms) to something unapologetically green, or astringent or bitter which requires a grassy sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio or sparkling or defaulting to that gin & tonic Sedimental mentioned. Grilling as others have suggested or roasting is a good way to get meaty flavors/smoky flavors and erase some of the green-ness from your vegetables -which makes them easier to pair.

        It's fun to experiment and there are no hard and fast rules. The spicier, bitter or greener the food, the more likely you will have a clash with the wine (mushrooms and root vegetables are decently easy).

        1. re: goldangl95

          Yes, you mentioned Pinot Grigio. I discovered that if I buy a PG with overly banana or pineapple notes, then really chill it cold, it goes really well with Viet spring rolls (with carrots, radish, etc) and peanut or hoisin dipping sauces as well as green papaya salads. This would not be something that you would normally choose for a wine nor would you normally chill it so cold, but it is excellent when paired this way. If you chose the same wine and drank at the appropriate temp without food- you would probably gag! Really fun to experiment.

          Also, to OP, as Chinon00 mentioned, Mediterranean vegetarian dishes (often with eggplant, olive, tomato, garlic) are much easier to pair with standard red wines from the "home" country.

        2. re: sedimental

          Thoughtful response, sedimental. Thank you.

        3. I'd look to regions of Europe where vegetables are a larger part of their diet (i.e.: south of France, southern Italy, etc) and see what they drink. Generally speaking though I'd lean toward red (nothing huge though) when the dishes are heavily seasoned with say garlic, olives, etc and conversely use lighter bodied reds and whites for less seasoned dishes. Also preparation drives things a bit. An oily preparation would call for a "zippier" wine (to cut the grease) while a less generous preparation might call for a rounder wine.

          1. Thanx for all for responses. I find Riesling is a fall back when the meal is green leaf focused, kale, spinach etc but I often don't feel the connection with the food. I also do a lot of roasted root veg that works well with CNP I get a bit wonky when the dish is very herb-centric or with sauces like hollandaise, so these are very helpful ideas. I have a fava bean, ramp, pasta recipe that may work with a Beaujolais i have.

            1. In her excellent book, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, Deborah Madison devotes some pages to this topic and give some solid advice.