How to Pair Wine with a Vegetarian Meal
A “classic” rule of wine and food pairing says that white wines accompany fish and red wines are for meat dishes… but what if the meal has no fish or meat but is vegetarian? Which wine bottle should you open?
Vegetarian and vegan food options are now varied, colorful and tasty. Totally different from when, a couple of years before I started working in the wine industry (1997), I opted for a practically vegetarian diet, which I still keep to this day. At that time, in a restaurant, you could choose between a lettuce and tomato salad or an omelet!
For about six years, due to the increase in tourism and foreigners who decided to come to Portugal, Portuguese people became aware of what healthy and sustainable food is, with some “fashionable trends” along the way… the truth is that the number of spaces offering vegetarian and vegan meals has increased - both in quantity and quality.
In addition to innovation, technique, new products and non-meat options being offered in restaurants and even supermarkets, we are now able to experiment with (and enjoy) more vegetarian dishes. And while vegetarian restaurants had begun to pop up in Lisbon and all around Portugal, other Portuguese restaurants followed suit and started including vegetarian options as well.
Today I can (we can) choose between lentil meatballs, stuffed eggplants, lentil casserole, eggplant cannelloni with cream cheese, potato curry and peas; soy burgers, legumes and cereals, lasagna and even vegetarian Francesinha, bean Moussaka, Caponata pasta, Tabbouleh, tofu stew with vegetables, courgette and cheese tortilla, stuffed tomatoes and the inevitable salad bowls.
So now, what about wine?
Well… most of these spaces choose not to serve alcoholic beverages. Others, Organic or Natural wines. And few have what can actually be called a wine list.
I haven't seen the offer of wines, beer or “alcohol-free” Cocktails so far, and it wouldn't be for a lack of products.
The offer of alcohol-free beverages already exists in Portugal with 0% original alcohol-free white, rosé and red wines since the beginning of 2020, in addition to alcohol-free beers and spirits. There's even an online store for non-alcoholic drinks.
Assuming there is wine available, which one should you choose?
As always, you should weigh the texture of the dish versus the body of the wine, don’t forget to consider the sauce too.
Vegetarian food tends to be lighter, looking for elegant, aromatic wines. So now would be the time to put aside the “big” wines, whether they are white or red.
With fresh red fruit flavours, rosé wine is a great counterpoint to the subtle flavors of vegetarian food in general. Especially if it's a dish served cold or with a sweet and sour sauce.
But if what you are going to have for lunch or dinner is a salad bowl, then know that the task of pairing a wine will be difficult, they are so many ones.
When choosing a wine, consider the main ingredients and not just the fact that it's a “salad”. The Síria Portuguese grape variety from Beira Interior wine region is a good choice for a vegetable-based salad.
If the salad has cheese (or avocado), consider a fuller white wine, from Alentejo region, for example, or even a natural sparkling from Bairrada region to counteract the creaminess of the cheese.
And why not make a vinaigrette with citrus juices instead of using vinegar? You will see that it is much easier to pair your favorite wine with the Bowl of choice.
If you prefer red wines, then you should choose vegetarian dishes with texture and a dense sauce.
You need something “to crunch” to give the tannins a fight, however, choose a wine that is not too full-bodied. Single grape wines from Castelão, Rufete, Tinta Miúda or Jaen are a good starting point.
If the wine has a few months of aging in wood, choose dishes with mushrooms, beans or eggplant.
The classic Caponata perfectly pairs to a red wine because it is a dish with spices and has the texture of eggplant present.
Likewise, other vegetarian dishes, like stews, are also friends with red wines.
Also, don't forget to consider organic and low-alcohol wines for an even healthier meal.
Consider local wines, not only for environmental reasons but also because, above all, what is grown side by side, pairs well at the table.
Because I receive many messages with questions about Organic and Vegan wines, I want to use the theme of this article to clarify what they are. Maybe you too have these questions floating around in your head?
Do they have sulfites?
Do they taste the same as conventional wine?
Are they quality certified?
A wine made from organically grown grapes and which follows a set of practices in the cellar.
The use of fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides of chemical and synthetic origin, the use of antibiotics, growth regulators and the use of copper has a maximum limit and is not allowed.
As for sulphites, their use is allowed. In a maximum quantity lower than conventional wines.
In the European Union, organic wines must obtain a certificate issued by a non-state entity. For example, in Portugal it is Sativa.
The differences in the production of conventional wines and organic wines are many, in terms of the pleasure they give to drinking, they are the same. Today, there is no difference in aroma and flavor.
The three main organic wine producing regions in Portugal are: Beira Interior; Trás-os-Montes; Alentejo. You'll easily find these wines in organic stores or in the “healthy” area of supermarkets.
Just because wine is made from grapes, does not necessarily mean that it can be considered a food product capable of entering the Vegan way of life - products that have no animal origin or contain substances from that origin.
It is important to note that wine does not have to be Organic.
It is common practice for winemakers to use agents of animal origin during the winemaking process.
Yes! In filtering and stabilizing the wine before bottling, gelatine from the bones of various animals or fish entrails can be used, for example.
For a Vegan wine, pea protein must be used. In fact, it's not much more than that.
These wines also undergo a specific certification. In Portugal, it is the Portuguese Vegetarian Association (Associação Vegetariana Portuguesa) that certifies them.
If you're unsure that a wine is Vegan, just like Organic wines, Vegan wines also have a logo printed on the back label of the bottle.
If you're not familiar with this type of food or wine, then go on an adventure! Summer holidays are a great time to try novelties!
Don't make comparisons, challenge yourself to discover new aromas, flavors and sensations. Your body and soul will thank you.