Vegans and veggie lovers rejoice! Wine pairings for plant-based meals are a snap.
Spoiler alert: vegetable focused dishes are just as easy to pair with wine as meat-laden ones.
If you’ve ever taken our Food + Wine workshop, you know that one of the cardinal rules to pairing food – any food – and wine is matching the strongest flavours on the dish. This is rarely the “star” of the show (generally speaking the protein, whether it be tofu, steak, or fish). The star of the show is the sauce, spice and other flavourings making up the meal.
So, when those back labels on wine bottles suggest your Pinot Noir is perfect with chicken, beef or fish (or their meat-substitute stand-ins) what are we talking about here? Sunday’s roast Tofurkey or spicy vegan-turkey chili? Beyond Meat burger or ground tempeh spaghetti sauce? Crabless cakes or no-tuna melt? You can see there’s a wide range of flavour to be considered beyond the headliner of your dinner.
I’ve outlined 10 popular plant-based meals below. If I’ve missed your favourite veggie dish, let me know what you want to see a plant-based pairing for in the comments below!
There are as many veggie versions of this Italian favourite as there are meat options – and each one will have a screaming vegan Nonna behind it insisting “this” is the only way to make it. Lasagna dogma aside, for the purposes of this exercise, I’m assuming this is a classic tomato sauce ragu, vegan parmesan cheese and faux ground beef version.
Let’s go classic with a Chianti Classico.
Chianti Classico is the traditional choice for tomato-based pasta dishes and for good reason. These red wines have a bright acidity to match that of the tomato, and red fruit and earthy herbal favours to compliment the herbal notes of the basil and oregano. This is also a fairly hearty dish, so you need a mid- to full-bodied wine to stand up to it.
A healthy and light Asian-inspired stir fry of crunchy vegetables, tofu and soy sauce-based marinade, you’re going to want something equally light on its feet for wine.
The challenge, though, is that the natural “green” flavour of your veggies can make wine seem bitter. To counter this curve ball, look for is a wine that also has herbal, vegetal flavours.
You’ve got a few options for a tasty wine adventure such as Austria’s Grüner Veltliner, Spain’s Verdejo, or Portugal’s Vinho Verde, but likely easiest to find, is a zesty New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.
Sauv Blanc bursts with flavours of lemon-lime, gooseberry, grapefruit, fresh-cut grass, and asparagus. Along with its mouth-watering acidity and natural lightness this is a no fuss, no muss, plant-based pairing.
With the veggie-burger/faux meats now a billion-dollar industry, vegan burgers are the darling of both plant-based converts and curious. And with the top notch quality, you’d never know your All-American burger isn’t the “real” thing.
My vote is for Gamay.
Gamay’s joyful flavour mix of ripe black and red fruits, touch of crushed black pepper, lip-smacking acidity and soft tannins is perfect. The flavours will pair nicely with the sweet and sour notes of all the toppings, and structurally, we can get away with a softer red wine because the plant-based burger lacks the saturated fat and protein found in meat burgers. Ergo, we don’t need big tannins to wrestle the fats and proteins in into submission.
The earthy beans and mushrooms, savoury bell peppers, sweet corn and tomatoes, and the deep and fiery chili spice, vegan comfort food at its finest.
A medium- to full-bodied California Zinfandel.
The dominate flavour in the food, is, of course, the chili spice with that deep, smoky chipotle note and a touch of heat. Rich, fruit-driven Zinfandels are juicy and plush with a hint of spice, and they have enough body to stand up to this Football Sunday plant-based favourite.
If I knew then, what I know now, I would have taken out stock in Jackfruit. That lament aside, this vegan taco is a delicious mix of sweet, smoky, spicy, and saucy.
Rosé to the rescue! More specifically, go for a Tavel, or a deeper pink wine that has a bit more weight.
A mid-weight pink wine has enough stuffing to match the richness of the jackfruit (delicately pink, Provence-style rosés could be easily overpowered by the saucy flavour and hearty “meat.”) It also has ripe berry flavours that almost work like a sauce on their own. Plus, Tavel (a rosé from the southern Rhône) still has that mouth-watering acidic backbone to mop up any saucy flavours on your tongue and get you ready for the next bite!
With many variations to from which to choose, these aromatic sauces are deeply flavoured with smoky herbs of cumin, coriander, turmeric, chilies, ginger. Sweet, spicy, rich… I’m drooling.
Alsatian Gewürztraminer is your go-to.
Indian curries, while wide ranging in recipes and ingredients, are spicy (either aromatic or hot), complex and rich. Gewürz is a classic pairing because it also has spicy ginger notes but more importantly, its slight sweetness will offset any heat of the dish, and the mouth-coating weight of the wine stands up to the heft of the sauce.
Herbal, vegetal and light, this is the epitome of vegan clean-out-the-fridge meals.
I like the Italian whites for this pairing. Pinot Grigio, Pinot Blanco, Vermentino all fit the bill nicely, but the one I reach for is a well-made Soave (unless you’ve got a lot of tomatoes in the mix, then see Lasagna for pairing ideas).
The point of this dish is to really feature the fresh, seasonal vegetables that make the pasta sing. A wine with some lemon freshness and a touch of earthy minerality offers a nice frame. Garganega (the grape of Soave) has what you’re looking for.
A cross between a stir fry and a pasta primavera, a Buddha Bowl is a hodge-podge of grains, legumes, vegetables, and a sauce or dressing.
For heartier Buddha Bowls that incorporate sweet potatoes, rice or quinoa and a hearty bean like chickpeas, I’m saying Chardonnay; for lighter versions, see stir fry above.
Chardonnay is nutty, creamy and has the weight to stand up to the robust veggies and grains. Complimentary flavours with matching body so nothing is overwhelmed or left behind.
Salty, piquant, and tangy, don’t rule out plant or nut-based cheeses. They’re actually really delicious!
I’m partial to white wines with cheese – plant or dairy based. For me a crisp, dry Riesling is your get-out-of-jail-free card for all cheese plates.
Any kind of cheese naturally has a fatty, mouth coating character – it’s why we looooove them! A wine that’s high in acid that makes your mouth water, like a Riesling, cuts through that coating on your tongue and gets you ready for the next bite. And the next one, and the next one ….
Earthy, hearty, savoury and lightly herbal. Comfort food at its finest.
I love a spicy, smoky Syrah for this dish.
I like how the peppery spice in the Syrah compliments the homey spice of the pie. The moderate acid in the wine is just enough to brighten the hearty filling of the dish. And, the earthy element of the Syrah is matched well with the inherent earthiness of the lentils and sweet root vegetables. Bring on the cool nights!