Wine pairings for me have always been a matter of determining reds or whites based on my food selection and more specifically, my meat selection: steaks, meaty pastas, chicken, or fish. While I have never been a huge carnivore, when it comes to a home-cooked meal (especially when guests are involved), I still try to incorporate a savory meat option wherever possible.
Up until recently, wine pairings have been easy decisions: red wine goes with red meat and white wine goes with chicken or fish. But how do I choose a wine when my meal doesn’t include any of those options? The question presented itself to me earlier this week at my company’s Christmas party as I browsed the pre-selected menu options. The vegetable platter sounded just as appealing, if not more so, than some of the pasta or fish selections I was considering. Trying to make a quick decision before the waitress rounded the table corner to take my drink order, I quickly realized that if I chose the veggie plate, I’d face the tough decision of what type of wine to pair with my main course.
Despite my anxiety attack, a question briefly crossed my mind: is it really tougher to decide what to pair with vegetable plates, vegan dishes, or rabbit food platters?
The obvious answer should be ‘no,’ but when the quick mental reference guide pairs “white with white” and “red with red,” dishes of leafy greens or savory ‘shrooms do pose a conundrum.
The solution? Pair wines by food flavor, not by color.
If there’s anything I’ve learned over these past months, it’s that the flavor of a dish matters more than its color. True, while “red with red” and “white with white” pairing mantra works as a general rule of thumb, wines are meant to enhance the flavor of the food – and vice versa.
With meat dishes, it’s not necessarily just the meat dictating the wine selection. The spices, flavor accents, and intensity of the meal all contribute to the selection. For example, a pasta dish with a tomato base will be high in acid, so a spicy red wine would offset the acid. The same principle applies for vegetarian or vegan dishes.
Below are some examples:
Veggie Dish: Acidic vegetables, ex: tomatoes
Vino Pairing: Spicy or peppery reds, like a Pinot Noir
Why? For the same reason that a spicy sausage course pairs well with tomatoes or tomato sauces, red wines with peppery or bold, spicy flavors will compliment the dish. Don’t go too full-bodied, though, as too robust of a wine like a shiraz or cabernet sauvignon is often high in tannins that will overpower the vegetable flavors.
Veggie Dish: Shiitake or Portobello mushrooms
Vino Pairing: Earthy red wines
Why? Red wines described as “earthy” have a bouquet rich in woody smells, clean soil, and therefore compliment ground truffle dishes.
Veggie Dish: Asparagus, artichokes, peas, or green herbs
Vino Pairing: white wines with dry, herbal, grassy aromas, such as a Sauvignon Blanc
Why? Green, leafy vegetables are naturally complimented by herbal wines. Also, asparagus and artichokes both contain cynarin, an acid that inhibits certain taste receptors, making food and drinks seem sweeter than they really are, so a dry wine will offset that flavor inhibiting effect.
Veggie Dish: Butter-flavored or olive-oil dipped dishes, such as mushrooms, green beans, or broccoli
Vino Pairing: Chardonnay
Why? Sautéed dishes pair well with oaky, buttery wines, because the “oaky” flavor of wines are a result of new oak barrels that leave a toasty flavor on the wine.
It might seem slightly more difficult to pair vino with veggies, especially when many wine makers mark their bottle labels with pairing suggestions for meat dishes. However, simply focus on the flavor at hand to make your selection and enjoy!