Red meat, red wine. Light meat, white wine. It’s the basic principle of wine pairing. So what on Earth do you do if you’re a vegetarian? No fear, friends, here’s a simple guide to help you pair your meatless meals with ease.
The basic rule of thumb is to consider the flavor source of your overall dish. Is it fatty? Acidic? Sweet? Try not to focus on the flavor of the vegetable itself, but also the spices, oils, and marinades that you used on the vegetables. For example, Asian glazed dishes pair well with sparkling wines for the crisp bite that balances the sweetness of these sauces. Meanwhile, spicy foods beg for a taste of sweetness, so a sweet white wine is a perfect partner for Thai spices. It’s important to never forget to match the mood of your spice to the personality of the wine. Delicate flavors mean a delicate wine, while bold flavors beg for a robust wine.
Beyond simple flavor profiles, another way to pair with ease is to think regionally. Understanding a bit of geography can help you pair vegetarian dishes with wine like a pro. Start by thinking about where the main vegetables in your dish were grown, or are best grown. For example, dishes with a Mediterranean spice profile will do very well with wines from Spain. Meanwhile, dishes served in a thick cream based sauce, like is standard in Northern Europe, do exceedingly well with wines from the Burgundy or Bordeaux region. Understanding the global proximity of food to wine is a great starting point for fine pairing, but it doesn’t mean that you should ignore US vineyards, either. Plenty of US vineyards will be in the same latitude as these European vineyards, meaning that they produce grapes (and thus, wines) with similar flavor profiles.
What’s kind of fun to note is that, just like with meats, the color of your overall dish also coordinates with the wine that tends to best suit it. For example, a tomato vodka sauce, which is a light red, works very well with light-bodied red wines. Meanwhile, a buttery or citrus sauce, which are closer to a white or yellow hue, do better with a white wine. Neat, huh?
Does this mean that a vegetable lasagna needs a bold, red wine to pair well, though? No, it does not. Apart from the one simple truth that you should always pair what you like to drink with what you like to eat (no matter the color), there are many other factors at play in the successful pairing. Things like the body and sweetness of a wine, how it was aged, where the crop was grown, all these things play into a much more complex equation of finding that perfect paired wine. So, when in doubt, just choose something you like drinking.
If you’re still confused, or just in a rush to get dinner started, here’s a quick cheat sheet that’s pretty error-proof.
Asian Influence: Prosecco, Riesling, Shiraz
Italian Influence: Sauvignon Blanc, Chianti
Mexican Influence: California Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Malbec
Thai, Indian, or another curry heavy influence: Riesling, Pinot Noir
Mediterranean Influence: Chenin Blanc, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Sparkling wines