6 Tips for Pairing Wine with Vegetables

published Aug 27, 2014
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(Image credit: Faith Durand)

Gone are the days when vegetables were relegated to the role of a side dish. Parsley is no longer just a garnish, kale has escaped its position as a mere salad bar prop, and the likes of beets and Brussels sprouts are found on many restaurant menus.

We’re all trying to squeeze more veggies into our diets. Learning to pair wine with vegetables makes the process even more delicious!

Questions to Ask When Pairing Veggies and Wine

1. Which vegetables are you serving?

Consider the wide spectrum of flavor intensity amongst vegetables.

  • Lighter, vibrant vegetables, such as peas, celery, fresh greens, or green beans, pair well with sparkling wines or crisp, un-oaked white wines.
  • Savory, earthy vegetables, such as mushrooms (technically a fungus), sweet potatoes, Swiss chard, or lentils, pair well with richer white wines, rosés, or even light red wines.

2. Are your vegetables raw or cooked?

In general, a crisp white wine is your go-to when serving raw vegetables; however, various cooking methods change the flavor and texture profile of a vegetable. How different does a crisp, raw carrot taste, compared with a rich, roasted carrot?

3. What is your cooking method?

Once again, think about a spectrum of cooking intensity: poaching being the least intense method, and grilling being the most aggressive method. Similar to pairing wine with animal proteins, more delicate preparations require lighter wines, while roasted, grilled, or braised preparations can stand up to the boldest of red wines.

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

4. What about the sauce?

Sauces can change an entire dish’s characteristics. Is your sauce rich or cream-based? Consider a complementary rich California Chardonnay, or a contrastingly crisp Oregon Pinot Gris. Does your sauce pack a spicy punch? Reach for an off-dry (semi-sweet) German Riesling from the Mosel region. What if your sauce is herbaceous, like a pesto? Try a rosé from Provence or a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand.

5. Is there dairy involved?

The palate-coating tendencies of cheese, butter, and cream allow for a much broader range of pairing options. Crisp whites are still an excellent choice; although, richer, oaked whites and light, tannic reds, such as a Chianti, become options, as well.

6. What should I do with those “impossible pairings“?

Asparagus, Brussels sprouts, and artichokes — oh, my! These vegetables are exceptionally challenging to pair with wine. Certain chemical compounds within the vegetables can actually change the perception and enjoyment of the accompanying wine. Beer is always a viable option, but if you’d rather sip wine, opt for these choices:

  • Asparagus – Grüner Veltliner or Sancerre
  • Brussels Sprouts – Sauvignon Blanc or dry Chenin Blanc
  • Artichokes – Champagne or a dry rosé (especially one from Tavel, France)
(Image credit: Karen Biton-Cohen)

4 of My Personal Favorite Wine + Veg Pairings

1. Pinot Noir + Mushrooms – The savory and earthy flavors inherently found in Pinot Noir are considered by many to be the perfect match. In particular, try a Pinot Noir from Burgundy, France.

2. Chardonnay + Corn – The sweetness of corn, even grilled, served with a richly oaked California Chardonnay is one of my favorite pairings, both by texture and by complementary flavor profiles.

3. Riesling + Beets – I like to experiment with both dry and sweet versions of Riesling for this classic pairing. Both Germany and Austria are great sources of this grape varietal.

4. Sparkling Wine + Tempura-Fried Vegetables – This is a perfect texture pairing. The bubbly effervescence of sparkling wine, combined with its bright acidity, are perfect with the delicate tempura batter.

What are your favorite wine and vegetable pairings? Anything you think is absolutely terrible together? I kept this post pretty general and didn’t list any specific wines. If you need a suggestion, let me know, and I’d be happy to recommend one!