Vegan News – How to pair food & wine: The meat-free edition



Third of four parts on the rules for pairing food and wine.

The oldest wine-and-food rule is “White wine with fish; red wine with meat.”

But what if you eat neither?

Vegetarians and vegans ought to be able to enjoy wine just as much as steer eaters or fish feasters. But there seem few suggestions for veg-head wines.

Most vegetable dishes — especially those prepared with a predominance of rice or pasta — aren’t much of a problem for wine, especially white wines.

CAPTIONArtichokesElisa Cicinelli, Getty ImagesArtichokes can sweeten the impression of very dry wines.CAPTIONChili peppersBob Fila, Chicago TribuneLower-alcohol whites and reds, and definitely sparkling wines, tend to match chili heat better than high-alcohol wines.CAPTIONAsparagusGary Friedman, Los Angeles TimesAsparagus can be difficult to pair with wine but it goes well with very, very dry whites.CAPTIONTomatoesAbel Uribe, Chicago TribuneTomatoes’ high acidity makes them unfriendly to many wines.CAPTIONCheeseBrian Cassella, Chicago TribuneCheese can be tricky. The milk fat and protein can coat or cloak the palate from being able to taste wine served with creamy sauces or fatty cheeses. Either red or white wines that are high in acidity, however, mitigate food fat, scrubbing the palate clean.Related GalleriesRESTART GALLERY

But certain vegetables contain chemicals or components that are hostile to most wines and spoil their taste. Wine goes with them, but only certain wines.

Artichokes contain a unique organic ester, cynarin, which stimulates the sweetness receptors in the tongue’s taste buds. Cynarin makes everything, even water, taste sweeter for a short time. Consequently, when you eat, say, steamed artichokes alongside a wine that has some residual sugar (for example, a demi-sec Vouvray or many an American chardonnay), the wine may come off as cloyingly sweet.

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Asparagus, another difficult vegetable for wine, is one of the edible plants highest in phosphorus and mercaptan (a sulphur-containing organic compound), both of which can corrupt a wine. (In fact, if a wine itself smells like rotten eggs, it is likely that it has an elevated level of its own mercaptan.)

However, very, very dry white wines that are low in alcohol and high in acidity — many northern Italian whites, for example, or a Bourgogne aligote; most German or Austrian rieslings, to give a few examples — work well with asparagus and artichokes. Artichokes, in fact, will actually “sweeten” the impression of very dry wines.

Another element in some vegetarian cooking, chili heat, doesn’t ruin wines with which it is paired so much as accentuate the chili heat itself.

The ultimate marriage: Cheese and wine. Here’s how to get it right

Alcohol is a solvent. It takes capsaicin — the powerful alkaloid in the seeds and veins of chilies, the heat that we love so much — and broadcasts it across the palate. Wine can make chili heat hotter. You may like that, but keep that in mind when pairing wines with chilies. Lower-alcohol whites and reds, and definitely sparkling wines, tend to match chili heat better than wines high in alcohol.

The acidity of many vegetables and fruits also can pose problems for wine matches with vegetarian or vegan dishes.

Tomatoes’ high acidity makes them unfriendly to many wines. That’s because foods with a lot of acidity — lemon juice, vinegar, white wine reductions, tomatoes — dull or flatten the wines consumed with them.

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So, say you have a fresh marinara sauce or a Provençal ratatouille and want to have wine. One food-and-wine rule really helps here: acidity redeems acidity, especially if a little sweetness (in either the food or the wine) goes along for the ride.

So, pair a wine that is high in acidity with tomato-based foods or with foods that have an abundance of lemon juice or vinegar. That would describe many a salad.

Oddly enough, the acidity of a salad dressing and the acidity of a high-acid wine in fact tame each other or cancel each other out in the mouth and even make the dressing and the wine feel softer than each might alone.

Some vegetarians eat dairy products such as milk or cheese. Elements here also can be difficult for wine pairings.

Both milk fat and protein can coat or cloak the palate from being able to taste what’s in the wine served with creamy sauces or fatty cheeses. It’s not that they ruin the wine in any way; they merely prevent it from being appreciated.

Either red or white wines that are high in acidity, however — especially sparkling wine (with its scrubbing bubbles) — will mitigate food fat, squeegeeing it from the palate and allowing the flavors of wine to come through.

In general, the kinds of wines vegetarians and vegans will best enjoy with all-veggie foods are high-acid, low-alcohol, lighter reds and whites (some with residual sugar) such as German and Austrian rieslings; northern Italian whites such as arneis or Soave; Spanish albarino; dry and medium-dry Vouvray or Muscadet from the Loire; some pinot noirs from cooler climates (Oregon, Burgundy, Alsace or Germany); South African chenin blanc; top-notch Italian verdicchio, vermentino and vernaccia; good Italian barbera; well-made gamay (from America or Beaujolais); Piemontese grignolino; lighter Italian aglianico; and many Rioja reds.

Stay away from blockbuster or overly manipulated, oaky, high-alcohol wines (many chardonnays, cabernet sauvignons, syrahs and merlots). They’re just too meaty for most vegetarian dishes.

Bill St. John has been writing and teaching about wine for more than 40 years.