The Ultimate Guide for Pairing Vegan Food with Wine
A couple of years ago, if you were out for dinner and someone mentioned that they were vegan, eyes began to roll with sighs and tuts, maybe even the odd, "why do they have to be so difficult" was muttered.
Now that western culture is fully embracing vegan and plant based diets (which have been around for thousands of years), it is becoming more common to find vegan options as the stars on menus and in recipe books.
However, with this introduction of new ingredients and food combinations into the world of wine, the marriage between the two must also evolve!
First off, how is a wine vegan (or not)?
This may come as a surprise to many people but a lot of wines are actually vegan friendly. Unfortunately, in the past it has not been at the forefront of producers' minds to market their product in this way and it is therefore difficult for consumers to know whether a wine is vegan just by looking at the label. Fortunately, here at Love Wine we know our products and are here to help!
Depending on your level of veganism, it ultimately starts in the vineyard. Some veganites (is that a thing or have I just imagined it?) will not eat food that has undergone direct or indirect treatment from animals in a non-natural way. For example, the use of manure fertiliser and/or certain pesticides to promote the health of a vineyard or the use the animals to farm the land. If you are in this deep, it can be extraordinarily difficult to work out how the vineyard has been farmed without going to the source! If you are interested in these sort of wines, organic and biodynamic wines will most likely appeal to you; but you will need to do your homework!
However, the main criteria making a wine vegan (or not) is dependent on the fining agent used during the wine making process (i.e. how it has been filtered).
Essentially, once the grapes have been harvested, pressed, fermented and then matured, the juice is usually fined and filtered to clarify it, remove impurities and stabilise the wine before bottling. Now, not all wines are filtered which means that you may get extra flavour and texture; if you find an unfiltered wine, it is going to be vegan-friendly!
If a wine has been filtered, then it CAN still be vegan depending on the fining agent used. There are a number of fining agents which can include Casein (a form of protein found in milk), egg white, gelatin and isinglass (a form of collagen from fish). Before you start thinking about all the nasty things to do with these, remember that these have been used for a long time in the wine making process.
The good news is that, whilst there are many non-vegan agents, there are also three main agents (which are commonly used due to their low cost and ease of access) that are vegan friendly, these are: bentonite, carbon and (take a deep breath) polyvinylpolypyrrolidone (also known as PVPP). If you are able to find wines that use these agents, you should be good to glug!
Want to see what vegan wines we have? Simply search for 'vegan'!
All of the wines that we recommend below are vegan-friendly.
Pairing Vegan Food with Wine
We covered the basics of food and wine pairing in an earlier article (here), where you can check out how the elements of a dish can be balanced by certain components in wine.
Now, pairing wine with meat can be relatively straightforward; higher fat content cuts can take bigger, fuller wines with higher tannin and vice versa with the leaner cuts.
But what about when it comes to grains, vegetables and others? It becomes more tricky as you need to consider the natural acidity, weight and flavours of the foods. Below we are going to pair styles of wines with common ingredients to give you an idea of how to pair wine with more complex foods/recipes:
Mushrooms come in all shapes and sizes, giving a variety of textures/weight and flavour; from the meaty Shiitake mushroom to the floral Chanterelle.
Meatier mushrooms like Shiitake, Portobello and Morel have more weight to them and intense flavour. Commonly used in risottos or burgers (in the case of the Portobello), the dish quite usually focuses on these fungi. This allows you to pair with a stronger wine, both red or white.
A classic mushroom dish such as risotto is very versatile in terms of ingredients that can be added and the wines that go with it. As it typically tends to be quite rich, you are able to pair with most rich styles of wines, so think barrel aged wines that give a good depth of flavour and character. A quality oaked Chardonnay pairs beautifully with its soft, buttery notes and ripe fruit. Whilst it is a classic pairing, not everyone likes a Chardy and so why not try something a bit different...
If you want to go white, a Chenin Blanc or Viognier can offer the same richness and synergy with food as Chardonnay, like these offerings from Mother Rock and Yalumba:
Red on the other hand, offers a different style of pairing altogether. White allows acidity to flourish with fleshy fruit, whereas a red will bring lucious, brooding fruit to the mix with smoke and spice if it has been aged. An aged Pinot Noir is a safe bet; its lighter in style than a lot of other reds but with red fruit, smoke and a bit of spice it will offer depth without overpowering the mushrooms or weight of the rice. However, you should tread lightly as a wine with too high tannin will seem more astringent due to the umami flavours from the mushrooms. If you want to try something with more delicate tannins, have a think about this funky Montepulciano from Bullet Dodger; the higher body and acidity that you get from Montepulciano could be a hit as the acidity can cut through the richness of the mushroom risotto but not become harsh due to its low tannins. Other reds that would work would be your older wines; wines that have had more time to 'chill out' and 'calm down' in the bottle like our 2006 BMW Shiraz or Jean Michel Stephan Cote Rotie (although you will need patience for this 2015 vintage!).
If you are trying to pair wines with soft, more floral mushrooms we would advise to pick a wine to match - a wine made from Cinsault grapes would be a match made in heaven here. Cinsault essentially comes in two forms; one is less expensive, fruity, clean and fresh but also floral to compliment mushrooms like Chanterelle or Mitake/Enoki. This style would be great for your lighter dishes. If your dish is on the complex side with deeper flavours, the second style of Cinsault would work best. This style of Cinsault is made from old bush vines (old vines that are trained low to the ground in order to ripen further due to the additional heat by being close to the ground); the aromas and flavours in the wine become more complex and gives the wine depth. You will still find delicious red fruit, but in a more seductive style.
Quinoa (and other grains)
A rich source of protein, grown as a grain crop and botanically related to spinach. We are still finding new health benefits to quinoa although its been around for thousands of years.
Normally used as an alternative to white rice and pasta, it is a grain that becomes nutty and slightly chewy when cooked. Many recipes and meals include this super food as a side or as the heart of the meal, like as a salad.
If you are choosing the salad option, a crisp, fresh white wine with good acidity like a Vermentino or Gavi (the Cortese grape) would pair deliciously. Enough fruit in the wines to bring balance whilst still remaining refreshing.
Butternut Squash/Aubergine/Sweet Potato (and other Carbohydrates)
These foods can be prepared and cooked in so many different ways, so it can be difficult to generically pair wines with them. They can be richly flavoured vegetables with a good amount of weight, displaying earthy notes.
This is potentially where you could experiment with medium to fuller bodied red wines such as Merlot, Syrah/Shiraz and/or Cabernet Franc/Sauvignon. Good examples of these wines have great structure and flavour without bitter tannins, to stand up against the strong vegetables.
We have therefore set out three differing scenarios: spicy, roasted and fresh!
When pairing spicy food with wine, you need to consider the fruit, sweetness and alcohol in the wine. The spice in food will make a wine appear more astringent / bitter whilst reducing the body; therefore considering a wine with higher sugar helps combat this perception. Off-dry wines or wines produced in hotter climates, like the below BMW Shiraz is a perfect example of the pronounced fruit from a New World climate.
Another aspect is how high the ABV level is; the spice will amplify the burning sensation when drinking the wine. If you like this, then no worries, but if you want to avoid this try a wine with lower ABV like the Huber Gruner Vetliner or a Muscadet.
Due to the longer cooking time, the sugars within the vegetables begin to caramelise giving sweetness to the dish; the skins can sometimes begin to burn, giving a char-grilled taste (and my mouth begins to salivate).
This is good in terms of pairing as it produces more intense flavours and smokiness, perfect for pairing with more robust wines!
A simple rule of thumb for pairing roasted veg, is to look at what goes well with roasted meats that you would serve with these.
Roasted squash or potatoes? Think white meats like poultry or ham. A delicious Tempranillo red wine; full bodied, smooth tannins, plummy fruit with seductive smoke and spice. Or a full bodied, Spanish white wine like Albarino or Viura.
Char-grilled aubergine or peppers? Maybe a meat with a bit more flavour, like game or wild boar. Fancy a red? The below Cabernet Franc from Australia with its supreme structure and rich, herbaceous notes would pair well. Other full reds like Cab Sauv or Shiraz would also work here.
Thinking of making a bangin' salad or a dish on the lighter side? Vegetables cooked until tender and dressed in a sharp vinaigrette or dressing. Maybe something to pair with your quinoa?
For this you want something lighthearted and fresh. Crunchy fruit with higher acidity to match the zesty dressing. For this you could bring out the Australian Riesling with its fresh lime and citrus fruit or a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc for a bit more riper fruit and the classic herbaceous finish.
We have covered the main flavours and components within vegan recipes; sweet veg, spicy dishes and umami (yes, that is a flavour!). However, the possible combinations are limitless, which is why wine pairing is such a highly coveted area.
Speak to any Sommelier and they will tell you, it is about the experience, the journey that food and wine take you on which makes the overall dining experience so special.
If you want to take the guess work out of pairing, the above is a great way to start. But wine is always evolving and changing, and so by experimenting with flavour combinations, you are only expanding your knowledge.
What are your thoughts? Drop a comment down below on what you think!