Pairing vegan dishes with vegan wine is one of the most challenging food-matching exercises the modern somm can be tasked with – but, according to David Havlik of Gauthier Soho, it can also be one of the most inspiring.
As the head sommelier of chef Alexis Gauthier’s eponymous restaurant, Havlik knows a thing or two about vegan matches. Gauthier offers a vegan tasting menu alongside its selection of more classical French dishes, and he gets plenty of practice with plant-based pairings: ‘Sixty per cent of all the tasting menus sold at Gauthier Soho are vegan, though we’re not an entirely vegan restaurant,’ he said.
So how does Havlik make the most of vegan pairings at Gauthier? He explained his approach to vegan food and wine matching during his session at Imbibe Live – here four of his top strategies.
- Define vegan wine for your venue
First and foremost, Havlik said, it’s important that you and your customers share an understanding of what vegan wine means at your restaurant, so you’re on the same page.
‘I focus on the fining processes – are the wines made with gelatin, casein, isinglass? That’s what you need to let the customer know,’ he explained. ‘This isn’t an exhaustive definition of vegan wine, but it is a starting point.’
- Understand your vegan customer
Just because a customer avoids animal products doesn’t mean their tastes are esoteric – so don’t automatically assume a vegan guest will gravitate towards the funkiest natural wine on the list.
‘Vegan customers have conventional tastes, same as anyone else,’ Havlik noted. ‘They often want the same flavour profiles, there’s just a slightly more limited selection they can choose from.’
- Be creative
Even though selection can be limited, there’s ample room to play with unexpected matches. ‘With vegan food you have the chance to create and explore,’ he said. ‘For instance, where you might go for a classic dry Sauvignon Blanc, you could go for something with lees ageing to add more complexity. Don’t be afraid of taking risks.’
The tasting’s first course, a ‘faux gras’ of lentils, mushrooms, herbs and sage paired with Tio Pepe En Rama 2019, was a shining example of this. ‘There’s no animal fat in the dish, so you don’t need extremely high acidity or sharpness – I decided to emphasise the textures and flavours instead.’ The unfiltered and unfined sherry did as Havlik thought it would; rich and umami-driven, the wine bolstered the earthiness of the dish.
- Don’t force it
On the flip side, said Havlik, it is possible to take things too far in the name of creativity. ‘Never try to force anything,’ he emphasised.
Because of the seasonal nature of produce, there’s no way a restaurant can have the same dishes all year round. This can limit your wine options – which Havlik thinks is perfectly fine. ‘In the warmer months, you might be forced into a space where you almost always serve only white wines, and this is okay. It’s impossible to change the way a dish works.’
This doesn’t mean that reds are completely out of the picture, but they must be chosen thoughtfully. For Gauthier’s dish of chilled beetroot and cherry velouté with tarragon, Havlik picked Bodega Miras Malbec Joven 2017, which was still light enough to enhance the food rather than overpower it: ‘It’s from Patagonia, with fruitness and juiciness to match the red fruit of the cherries and the freshness of the dish – but a [Malbec from] Mendoza would be too much.’