Plant-based foods and vegan alternatives have become so popular that even fast-food chains and global conglomerates are tapping into the trend, from McDonald’s McPlant Burger to Hellman’s vegan mayonnaise and Ben and Jerry’s dairy-free ice cream. big brands are taking a piece of the vegan pie.
Outside of fast-food chains and on-the-shelf condiments, plant-based dishes are also making their way into high-end restaurants and onto Michelin-starred menus.
The challenge then comes down to food and wine pairings. For restaurant chefs and home cooks, vegan food and wine pairings are a brave new world. Which white goes best with tofu? What red with a Beyond Meat burger? db has you covered, with advice from some of the best sommeliers on wine that goes with vegan food.
Step 1: what are you looking for?
London restaurant Pied a Terre, owned and managed by David Moore, offers a ten-course vegan tasting menu, created by executive chef Asimakis Chaniotis.
Chanel Owen, born in Essex, is head sommelier at Restaurant Fitzrovia, which has retained its Michelin star since 1993. Owen is on a mission to pair the wines with the vegan tasting menu; a task that has its own set of challenges.
“A rule of thumb that I use – and it’s not bulletproof – but if you’re tasting food or making a dish, you’re basically building up layers, and you can add an extra layer with wine.” Essentially, says Owen, you have to ask yourself the question: what is missing from a dish?
“What should I add in terms of flavor? Is it a bit citrusy, or is it a bit fruity or sweet? Do I want a little crisp? Do I need to freshen this up a bit? “, she says. “You need yin and yang in the plate, and you can add that extra element in the glass.”
For David Havlik, head sommelier of a modern French restaurant Gauthier Soho, it is a question of shaping food-wine pairings around the dishes. Led by French chef Alexis Gauthier, the restaurant removed all animal products from its menus in 2021.
The Czech-born sommelier says, “Food is the main driver. Wine comes after food, complementing it, rather than the food created around wine.
As a first piece of advice then: first decide what you are eating. “It makes it a little easier because there’s something to stand on.”
“The process is always the same,” he continues. “It’s always about evaluating the dish, deconstructing it into individual parts and thinking about flavor intensity, which flavors dominate, and then deciding whether to embrace what’s already on the plate and just enhance it, or contrast it with a little balance.”
Flavors and Styles:
“Vegan food tends to be spicy or well seasoned,” says Owen. “If you go for something spicy, you want to balance it with a little more texture on the palate, so a fuller-bodied wine. If you go for a red, you don’t want any tannin, because the tannin is going to be inflamed, so it will stick more to your palate.
A silkier red, or something with a bit of oak, will help soften those edges. “It’s always a good rule,” she says.
Cutting harsh tannins can be the key to pairing with vegan dishes. For Havlik, however, that means avoiding full-bodied reds altogether.
“Plant-based dishes usually work with lighter wines, so very rarely would I find a place in pairing with a full-bodied red wine, especially something heavily oaked.”
Its logic? Full-bodied reds can disrupt the structure of a dish much more than meat dishes, where animal fat can take on much more weight than plant-based alternatives.
As for whites, Owen suggests something with a little more residual sugar: “An off-dry wine with spicy foods works exceptionally well.”
Vegan dishes also tend to offer stronger umami flavors, which can pair well with orange and natural wines.
“It’s not just about flavors; it’s also about textures and mouthfeel, so skin contact brings a new dimension that allows pairing not only based on flavors but also on textures,” adds Havlik.
In terms of flavor profiles, herbaceous can be tricky.
First, choose your approach. “Are you countering it?” Do you associate it with more herbaceous and woody notes? Are you doubling down on that? What is the balance between the dish and the wine? said the summit Pied à Terre.
Either go for a wine that doubles down on the green, earthy, and crisp tones, or choose to tone those flavors down a bit, bringing more balance to the pairing.
“I tend to take a softer approach, because I think that’s where you get a little more balance,” advises Owen.
Currently on the menu at Pied a Terre is an “iron-rich” green cabbage-wrapped dolma dish, which Owen chooses to pair with a Cretan wine, Dafni Psarades 2020, produced by the Lyrarakis family.
“It’s very flowery. So it picks up more of the aromatics that are in basmati rice, rather than that greenness. Because I think if I went with something super herbaceous in terms of flavor profile, it would be too much.
Try the challenge
Vegan foods and plant-based alternatives are a new hurdle for chefs and home cooks, and there are no hard or fast rules to follow. For Havlik, pairing plant-based dishes at Gauthier Soho is like starting with a “blank slate” – “you can bring out some very interesting combinations that in traditional pairings wouldn’t be possible.”
Owen agrees. She says, “It’s hard, but the excitement comes from the fact that it’s hard. It’s like discovering a new cuisine.