By The Glass
Wines to make vegetarians happy
MORE of my friends and loved ones are leaning toward a vegetarian lifestyle. Some have gone completely vegan. Whether prompted by a heart attack, cancer, diabetes or other malady, they have all seen the benefits that come with this major change in diet. But one thing that has not changed is their love of wine, so they ask me what wines pair best with vegetarian menus.
Some people think vegetarian menus are limited, but this cannot be further from the truth. A plethora of cookbooks specialize in vegetarian and raw foods and plenty of recipes simply substitute conventional ingredients with vegetarian ones. I've done much research with vegetarian menus and wine, and there is enough creativity and variety to keep any true food lover inspired.
The basics of food and wine pairing apply to vegetarian cuisine -- lighter wines for subtly flavored and textured dishes and heavier, more intense wines with richly flavored, heavier dishes.
Here are a few really phenomenal pairings that are easy to replicate at home.
AN EASY and common preparation is grilled vegetables and mushrooms. Simply grilling some red, yellow or green bell peppers with onions, asparagus, zucchini and your favorite mushrooms, and basting them with olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper, gives them great flavor. You get the smokiness of the grill, earthiness from the mushrooms and sweetness from the caramelized onions and peppers. Put these together with sun-dried tomatoes to make a gourmet sandwich, if you like.
If you like white wines, try a nice toasty, creamy chardonnay. The 2003 Arnold Palmer Napa Valley Chardonnay ($13), with its vanilla tones, works really well, bringing a balancing acidity and long finish. For red wine drinkers, a juicy, soft, not over-the-top shiraz is the way to go. One of the best I've had in a long time is the McClaren Vale 2003 Samuel's Gorge Shiraz ($36). I've added it to my own cellar.
VEGETARIAN CURRIES are some of my favorites. As with other curries, riesling is best, period. One of the best values is the 2004 Theo Minges Riesling Halbtrocken ($11 for 1 liter, not the normal 750 ml bottle). It smells like peaches and citrus zest with a flowery fruitiness on the palate. It also has just enough sweetness, not too much, to cut into the spicy heat. Not to mention, the acidity is so cleansing that each bite seems as fresh as the one before.
THE LAST PAIRING is one I would never have recommended if I hadn't tried it myself. Miso glaze and an earthy pinot noir, especially burgundy, go amazingly well together -- a match made in vegetarian heaven.
The first time I had this pairing it was miso-glazed eggplant and aged red burgundy. Wow! The saltiness of the miso really brought out the sweetness of fruit in the burgundy; the acidity of the pinot noir helped cut the pasty texture of the miso. As hard as it is to find great burgundy, an earthy pinot works just as well. I recommend the 2003 Domaine Gachot-Monot Cote de Nuits Villages ($19), fresh with cherry and spice, with lovely texture.
I ADMIRE those who have taken a conscientious decision to better their health by going vegetarian or vegan. It may become the next fashionable cuisine, with plenty to offer, even more so with wine.
Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier and wine educator with Southern Wine & Spirits. This column is a weekly lesson in wine pairing.
This column is a weekly lesson in wine pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org