Wines to match your gourmet veggie dinner


WORKING with primarily vegetarian (and even vegan) foods, I’m constantly having to look at innovative ways of matching food to wine. It seems that even in some of the top restaurants most sommeliers are terrified by the concept of not resorting to their good old stand-by pairings: nice juicy steak with a full-bodied, full tannin red, gamey rabbit with a mushroom-loam-laced Burgundy and so on. No beef – what to do? Hold the fish – hold the wine? In general though, there are infinite options within the world of vegetarian food so that even the most passionate oenophile need never have a dull match. This is true now more than ever as there are many widely available “subtle” wines, and tastes have gone beyond the massive California-jam-style to more delicate, spicy and therefore vegetarian-food friendly wines.

Reds might still be the hardest to pair with veg food, but that said, a great place to start are those wines made from grapes known for their lighter body and spicy fragrant style such as French Gamay and Pinot Noir, Italian Nero d’Avola, Portugese Peraquita and Tinta Roriz, and from the new world, blending grapes such as Barbera, Malbec, Mourvedre, and Grenache but vinified alone. These wines have a backbone and beautiful but delicate structure that can easily accompany aromatic Middle Eastern or Mediterranean dishes such as those using smoked peppers or cheeses, grilled rices, pastas and stuffed vegetables.

For whites, there are loads of wines to choose from which are crying out for nice, fresh herbaceous flavours such as fresh tomato and feta salad, pan-seared courgette with garlic and chili, steamed artichoke with lemon aioli, smoked babaganoush and hummus with harissa or any dish using fresh herbs such as fennel, coriander, sage, and basil. Racy and aromatic whites with medium to full body and usually with nice citrus or green apple acidity are great matches. My picks include New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling, Rhone Valley Viognier, Austrian Gruner Veltliner (try Meinklang Vineyards, 2008, Burgenland), Argentinean Torrontes and (my personal favourite), whites from Alsace. Rosés are always a great bet as well – I’m a huge fan of pink wines from Cotes de Provence or Spain.

In general, the main concern with matching veg food is finding a wine that can handle the absence of animal proteins and fat which usually beg for the rough tannin and a savoury full body. But avoiding these massive pours gives a chance to really explore the spicy, earthy side to many wines. Best of all, many of these sexy subtle pours are usually younger or from up-and-coming regions so can be a really great value as well.