THERE’S only one basic rule to remember here. In the minefield that is food-and-wine matching, there is just one thing that is sure to send a vegetarian screaming for the door. Don’t serve them heavy tannic reds to wash down a veggie risotto, quiche or polenta. Remember, there are no friendly meat proteins on the plate to soak up all those aggressive tannins swimming around in a full-bodied red wine. Stick to soft, fruity, spicy numbers and you’ll win over your veggie friends every time.
This is a tip from a man who should know. David Bann, in his St Mary’s Street restaurant, specialises in serving up shepherdless pie and mushroom risottos every day of the week to the Edinburgh veggie community. If you check out his wine list, you’ll see he concentrates on lighter-flavoured whites and smooth, silky, fruity reds. Gamay, Tempranillo, Sangiovese and Grenache are the good red grape guys welcomed into every vegetarian restaurant, rather than firm tannic Nebbiolo or brash flavoured over-oaked New World Cabernet Sauvignons.
Instead of worrying about roasts and casseroles, the vegetarian is more likely do a bit of herb-spotting instead. Often the dominant flavour in a vegetarian dish is the herbs and spices used in cooking the vegetables, rice and pasta. Some herbs definitely have more affinity with one grape variety than another.
Take dill, for example. It seems to complement the pungent green fruits of Sauvignon Blanc far better than the citrus flavours of Chardonnay. Fennel is the same. Yet basil on the other hand prefers a slightly sweeter-flavoured grape like Chardonnay grown from a warm climate, so head for unoaked South Australian or Chilean Chardonnay. Tarragon is delicious with dry whites from Chenin Blanc in Loire, while rosemary matches better with light reds like Pinot Noir in Burgundy or Tempranillo in Spain.
The wonderful smell of thyme sends me straight to the herby scrub of Provence - and is perfect with their ripe fruity Grenache-based reds or with Spanish Tempranillos from Valdepenas or Rioja. Coriander has a strong flavour, so needs a vibrantly acidic Colombard white or herby, northern Italian Pinot Bianco. Minty flavours can often be found in South Australian Cabernet, but it definitely does not enjoy the match. I think mint actually clashes with most reds - so serve Chardonnay or Riesling instead.
Now let’s look at a few vegetables with strong flavours which need a cautionary note. Asparagus is a popular starter, but a nightmare for wine pairing as it has a very strong flavour. Match like for like with your tips or crepes and go for pungent, dry whites like New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, a grape which often develops asparagus notes itself after a few years in the bottle. Artichokes are also tricky to match with wine making them taste rather tinny. I recommend using a squeeze of lemon on the artichoke and match this "bridge ingredient" with a crisply acidic Touraine Sauvignon, Alto Adige Pinot Grigio or Ugni Blanc-based vin de pays de Cotes de Gascogne.
Mushrooms have so many permutations, it is tricky to generalise. In risottos they can match well with the soft, silky, fruity red-grape brigade like Chilean Merlot, but they can also be heavenly with the earthier notes found in Italian Barbera. The wilder flavoured mushroom can also be a beautiful marriage with a fine Chianti Classico or even red Bordeaux. Onion or leek tart is a popular veggie dish with imposing flavours, delicious matched with aromatic whites like Australia’s Clare Valley Riesling, vin de pays Viognier or maybe a little spicier grape like Germany’s Rheinpalz Gewurztraminer.
Spinach needs more care as its texture clashes with tannic reds, so serve only vibrantly fruity soft reds like Tempranillo. And for all those left-over pumpkins, serve them in a risotto with a fruity buttery dry white like unoaked New Zealand Chardonnay or Chilean Viognier.
Spaghetti, lasagne, farfalle, conchiglie and rigatoni pasta dishes will depend on their vegetarian sauces. Study the herb matches. As a general rule of thumb, for creamier carbonara choose creamier unoaked Chardonnays from Macon, Languedoc or Pinot Grigio from Alto Adige. Tomato-based pasta sauces suit Sangiovese or Zinfandel and with Pesto sauce choose Corvina.
With vegetarian couscous, go native. Head to the band of exotic scented Moroccan reds for a real taste of the Med.
And with that ubiquitous veggie salad? According to David Bann, you should keep it simple: stick to crisp fresh aromatic whites from Sauvignon Blanc or Colombard.
ASPARAGUS: Marlborough, New Zealand: JACKSON ESTATE SAUVIGNON BLANC 2002 (8.99 Oddbins) Knock-your-socks-off Sauvignon,with enough pungent power and underlying asparagus and green fruit notes to conquer the tip
MUSHROOMS /RATATOUILLE: Chile: MONTGRAS MERLOT RESERVE 2000 (7.99 Villeneuve Wines; Peter Green) A very soft,slick Chilean with blackberry lums and sweet vanilla notes, ripe, smooth, silky, with soft oak
ONION/LEEK: Clare Valley, South Australia: KNAPPSTEIN HAND-PICKED RIESLING 2001 (7.29 Oddbins) Beautifully poised limey,fleshy Aussie white with a touch of sweetness from the alcohol and ripe grapes to match with the carmelised veg
TOMATO-BASED SAUCES: Apulia, Southern Italy: CANALETTO PRIMITIVO DI PUGLIA 2001 (4.99 Villeneuve Wines; Waitrose; Springfield Wines 01484 864323) Packed with super-ripe red berry fruits, rich, spicy and soft textured
GREEN SALAD: Coastal region, South Africa: SCARBOROUGH SAUVIGNON BLANC 2002 (6.99 Majestic Wine) Delicious green grass notes,zesty fresh palate from up-and-coming Cape region
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