The 1961 edition of one well-respected encyclopedia of gastronomy, the Larousse Gastronomique, had some curious advice for wine and food pairings. Soup, it said, pairs best with Madeira, Port or Sherry. Iced Champagne is proposed as a match for roast meat.
It’s hard to imagine any sommelier suggesting a glass of Tawny with onion soup today. Tastes have changed, and times have moved on. But the old phrase “red wine with steak; white wine with fish” is still commonly used. At a time when more and more people are moving away from meat, for some, it’s time to move on again.
While these shifts show that pairing is ultimately quite subjective, food and wine pairing remains a fun way to explore the world of wine.
The six pairings below match plant-based recipes with wines that are slightly off the beaten path – for Winetravelers.
Five-bean Chili with Mencia
Making a tasty five-bean chili is easy and inexpensive. Several recipes, including this one from BBC Good Food, require just five minutes of prep time before cooking.
This mildly spicy Mexican-inspired dish pairs best with equally spicy red wines. One obvious choice would be Syrah – or Shiraz – from regions like Australia’s Barossa Valley, or the Northern Rhone.
An alternative is the Mencia grape. It is produced most famously in the Bierzo region in northern Spain, where it tends to show vibrant red fruit characters laced with spicy black olive.
One widely available example you can buy right now is the Petalos Mencia by Descendientes de Jose Palacios. It’s a classic Mencia that is consistently delicious each year.
Chickpea Curry with Franciacorta
Many mild curries taste great and are easy to make. This recipe, for a creamy chickpea curry, is one tasty example. It relies on coconut milk for its creaminess, making it vegan-friendly.
Off-dry wines, such as many Rieslings from Germany’s Mosel Valley, are often suggested as pairings for curry-based dishes. The sweetness can help to balance the spice.
But how about bubbles, instead? Wines from Italy’s Franciacorta are a good option. They are made in the same way as Champagne – using the traditional method for sparkling wine production – but tend to have a little more fruit flavor thanks to Franciacorta’s more southern location.
Ca’ Del Bosco is one outstanding producer in the region worth trying alongside a curry dish. They are obsessive about quality, and the organically farmed grapes enjoy a three-part “grape sauna” for cleaning before being pressed. And the result is delicious, too.
Lentil Dahl and Aussie Riesling
Coconut lentil dahl, served with either roasted potato or rice, might be one of the easiest and tastiest vegan recipes out there. All you need for the dahl is dried lentils, tomato, garlic, and a few different spices.
Matching it with wine isn’t difficult either. As a relatively heavy dish, it benefits from pairing with something refreshing. Enter Riesling. There are, of course, many great options from around the world – especially in Germany.
Australia’s Clare and Eden valleys also provide particularly crisp options. Pewsey Vale, from Eden Valley, is one producer making steely and lime-scented Rieslings. Their entry-level examples are affordable and widely available. You can even have the wine delivered to your door.
Black Bean Shepherd’s Pie with Pinotage
Shepherd’s pie – the traditional English dish of minced lamb and vegetables topped with mashed potato – now has a vegan alternative. You can make the plant-based version by swapping meat for beans.
Lamb dishes are often paired with Cabernet/Merlot blends from Bordeaux, but this lightly spicy version of the dish calls for something slightly different. A Pinotage from South Africa is one option. Examples by leading producers such as Kanonkop are often full-bodied, fruity, and smoky; perfect to accompany the beans.
Beyond Burger and Portuguese Red Wines
Vegan “meat” producers like Beyond Meat and Impossible have done an impressive job of imitating meat. These products have made it to store shelves around the world, making it easy to serve plant-based burger options at dinner or for barbecues.
An alternative is to look to Portugal. The Douro Valley, most famous for Port production, is also the source of many great dry table wines. These tend to be full-bodied, with plenty of fruit, refreshing acidity, and a slight granite minerality. While many of these can be blends, or even field blends, the Touriga Nacional grape is a Winetraveler in-house favorite.
The Altano Douro Organic Red, made by the well-respected Symington Family (owners of Graham’s Port), is one consistently great example. It typically shows concentrated red and black fruits and soft tannins.
Summer Salad with Alto Adige White Wines
Summer salads, like this one with its lemon dressing, call for elegant and refreshing white wines – perhaps for enjoying in the sun.
Alto Adige is perhaps best known for its Pinot Grigio production. And while Pinot Grigio with salad is a well-known pairing, sometimes wines from this variety can lack character and concentration. Examples from Alto Adige, a mountainous region in the north of Italy, rarely suffer from this issue. The 2020 Pinot Grigio from Muri-Gries, for example, is zippy, concentrated, and complex.
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