Pairing a Wine for Meatless Monday

Need to pair some wine with your meatless Monday dish? Not so difficult, you think -- enter a wine store and read the tags with pairing recommendations and flavor descriptions and pick out a bottle. Or chat with the salesperson and let them be your guide.

Sounds like a simple plan, but the tags often reveal no further information than "pairs well with beef, chicken, pasta or fish", and the sales person you find is slightly uncomfortable as they admit a limited knowledge of vegetable based cooking. So, what information helps serve as a guide in choosing a wine?

We looked back at some wine tasting notes, stopped into Sportsman's, specialty wine retailer, and our neighborhood Trader Joe's to pick up a few pointers. To start any pairing it makes sense to follow the same basic guidelines for pairing vegetarian food with wine as for dishes that include animal protein.

pairing tips and wine suggestions for meatless dishes

Two pointers:
Big bold wines are often recommended for big bold flavor packed food, like a full-bodied red or wood aged white to go with a hearty meat entree. Wines like these are tannin heavy, a good pairing for a dish heavy in animal protein like fatty meats, but overpowering in their absence. Low tannin wines, and more mature wines with tannins, are generally better for pairing with vegetable and bean or grain based dishes.

Conventional and organic wine and beer makers use a process called fining, collecting and removing unwanted particles from the beverage, before the final stage of bottling. Fining prevents the wine or beer from turning cloudy or having an off taste. Egg whites, egg albumin, casein and isinglass (usually fish bladders) are added to the wine or beer and act as a collecting agent. The fining material and the particles they collect are removed before bottling. Vegan wine makers use a clay material for fining, with no animal product introduced into the wine.

Tips for vegetarian wine pairing:
Jerry Comfort, Director of Wine Education, Beringer Vineyards, explained some wine pairing traditions and his approach this winter at a tasting at Oakville Grocery. A traditional rule of thumb for wine pairings is based on pairing of wine with food based on region (French food-French wine, Italian food Italian wine), a simple grow together, go together guide. Another rule often presented in wine books, is pairing based solely on main ingredients in a dish. With traditional varietals grown around the world and the complexity of flavors in a meal, these "rules" do not necessarily lead to a satisfactory pairing.

The best consideration in choosing a wine and food pairing, according to Comfort, is based on flavor, and the taste of the food (salty, sweet, sour, spicy, and umami). He recommends tossing out those rules when choosing a wine, and experimenting with taste and flavor pairings to find what you like. Wine should create harmony in a meal, complementing the flavor of the food without overpowering or changing its taste.

Flavor profiles to consider:
Recognize the predominant tastes in a vegetarian dish-salty, sweet, sour, spicy, or umami (savory). Is the flavor earthy (mushrooms, grains, legumes), acidic (citrus, tomato), sweet (corn, peas,), or herbaceous (thyme, rosemary)?

Consider the cooking method; roasting and grilling caramelizes vegetables and smoky notes are introduced into food by both smoking and grilling. Marinating adds flavor and saltiness to tofu.

Sauces and vinaigrettes add an additional layer of complexity. Herbs and spices add layers of flavor as well, and their poignancy is determined by how much and when in the cooking process they are added to a dish.

Wine pairings to try:
Based on the considerations mentioned above, we offer some recommendations from Clay, a vegan working at Trader Joe's, and Chris and Leah with local distributor Valley of the Sun Fine Wines. Do some experimenting and remember to find the wines that agree with your taste.

Fresh leafy greens: Spanish, Italian white: crisp, smooth, light wine
Albarino 2009 Tempranillio Barica $3.99 Trader Joe's
Hermanos Lurton Rueda (Verdejo and Viura blend) $13.26 Sportsman's
Paco & Lola Albarino $18.99 Sportsman's

Hearty soups, stews and chili: Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon: fruity, clean
La Granja Syrah $4.99 Trader Joe's
Peachy Canyon Petite Syrah $23.49 Sportsman's
Freemont Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon $30.39 Sportsman's

Tomato sauce and pasta: Zinfandel, Merlot, Malbec: soft, smooth, fruity
Panilonco Merlot/Malbec blend $3.99 Trader Joe's
X Wine Red 2008 $12.99 Sportsman's
Seghesio Zinfandel $24.99 Sportsman's

Asian dishes flavored with soy, garlic, and ginger: German Riesling or Grenache: strawberries, melons
Joseph Handler Riesling 4.99 Trader Joe's
Keeling Schaefer Grenache $15.99 Trader Joe's
X Wine White $11.76 Sportsman's
Heinz Effel Riesling $13.29 Sportsman's
Kuentz-Bas $15.99 Sportsman's

Earthy beans, grains and lentils, spiced with cilantro, cumin or coriander: Zinfandel or Pinot Noir: fruity, lower tannin
Layer Cake Zinfandel $11.99 Trader Joe's
Cambria, Julie's Vineyard 2008 $21.29
Raptor Ridge Reserve Pinot Noir $29.99

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