The only way is ethics: Matching vegan food & wine

Kate Malczewski

Kate Malczewski

29 May 2019

With more people adopting a plant-based diet – and not just for #Veganuary – the landscape of vegan food is changing. But how do you match this increasingly diverse cuisine with wine? Kate Malczewski joins a team of somms to #eattherainbow…

What is vegan wine? You might know what vegan wine is, but there’s a good chance your customer doesn’t. Here’s your script for answering their most pressing questions.

Customer: If wine is made from grapes, how’s it not vegan?

You: It’s all to do with the way the wine is produced. Often, winemakers use fining agents like casein (a milk protein), isinglass (from a fish bladder), gelatin (an animal protein) or egg whites.

Customer: So how do you make a wine vegan?

You: Winemakers can use fining agents that aren’t derived from animals to produce vegan wines. These include carbon, bentonite and limestone. Of course, some producers choose to dodge the issue entirely by instead making unfi ned wines, which as a result will then have a much cloudier appearance.

Customer: Yeah, I’ve heard of that natural, biodynamic stuff.

You: Actually, biodynamic wines aren’t technically vegan. While biodynamic winemaking practices might be vegan-friendly, the biodynamic cultivation of grapes involves the burial of cow horns filled with manure and the use of other various animal parts.

Customer: I need a drink...

How it works

We asked UK agents to submit examples of food-friendly vegan wines in a variety of styles (wines are not all necessarily certified vegan, but are made through vegan-friendly methods). The panel first tasted and scored the wines without food, then sat down to try them with a range of vegan dishes. The white, sparkling and orange wines were served chilled. All prices are ex-VAT.

Panel

Aurore Anguenot, ETM Group; Timothy Connor, Heddon Street Kitchen; Martin Lam, consultant; Kate Malczewski, Imbibe; Sylwester Piasecki, Zuma; Andrés Rangel, Gymkhana; Joe Stokoe, Ceremony

The Wines

Reds

89 Ca’ Rugate, Campo Lavei Valpolicella Superiore 2016, Veneto
‘Tawny in colour, with red fruit including sour cherries and strawberries, as well as peppercorns and vegetal notes. A great food wine,’ JS. ‘This has a dark red-plum nose and good extraction of fruit and weight,’ ML.
£19.13, Hallgarten & Novum Wines

88 PolOpuesto, Qué Grande Sos 2016, Mendoza
‘Faint red berries and a hint of tar on the nose. The palate is light and fresh, with a balanced acidity. It’s an easy-going quaff er,’ ML. ‘Soft, red and jammy, this wine would be great for light meals,’ TC.
£11.17, Les Caves de Pyrene

87 Caravaglio, Palmento di Salina 2017, Sicily
‘Raspberries and strawberries leap out of the glass. It’s juicy and light, with a natural hint of fizz,’ KM. ‘A bright crushed-strawberry nose and a fresh and fruity palate, with a bit of a tannic background to make it more interesting. It’s a really useful wine, but is it too expensive?’ ML.
£14.97, Les Caves de Pyrene

87 Ramón Bilbao, Viñedos de Altura 2015, Rioja
‘This wine gets a big hit of American oak, with all that you’d expect from it. It’s juicy and consumer-friendly,’ ML. ‘Ruby in colour. Big, rich aroma, with stewed red fruit and lavender. The palate is complex and tannic, with a hint of peppercorns. It needs food or ageing,’ JS.
£11.80, Enotria&Coe

85 Doña Paula Estate, Blue Edition 2016, Mendoza
‘Savoury, aromatic nose. It’s a friendly blend, on the light side for Argentina,’ ML. ‘Stewed red fruit, smoke and leather on the nose. A palate of sour cherries and some rather vegetal notes,’ JS.
£10.69, Hallgarten & Novum Wines


Whites


88 Dopff Au Moulin, Gewürztraminer Terres Epicées 2017, Alsace
‘A classic Gewürz, there are no surprises here. It has a nose of rose petal and lychee and a good vinous character,’ ML. ‘Pear, Turkish delight and apple on the nose. This wine is clean and bright, with a lovely palate that echoes the nose,’ JS.
£15.19, Hallgarten & Novum Wines

84 Terra Viva, Mas Autanel Picpoul de Pinet, 2017, Languedoc
‘Soft fruit, fresh acidity with a hint of honey – what more could you want from a Picpoul?’ TC. ‘On the nose, citrus and peach meet a floral note, as well as a hint of salt. On the palate, stone fruit, white flowers and that same salty touch,’ AR.
£9.90, Roberson Wine

82 Larry Cherubino, Laissez Faire Fiano 2017, Frankland River, Australia
‘An interesting style of Fiano. It’s a very delicate grape variety, and this wine takes a gutsy approach. Rich fruits, jasmine tea and malolactic notes that still keep it soft,’ TC. ‘Nutty, aromatic, and floral nose. Rounded citrus palate, quite textured and full,’ ML.
£17.07, Hallgarten & Novum Wines

80 Clos du Gravillas, L’Inattendu Minervois Blanc 2017, Languedoc
‘With a funky, lightly oxidised nose, this wine benefits from skin contact. A complex and spicy palate,’ ML. ‘An immensely aromatic wine with some lees showing. Rich, earthy, full and herbaceous,’ KM.
£16.87, Les Caves de Pyrene

75 Viano Vineyards, Hillside White NV, Contra Costa, California
‘Rich butter and ripe fruit flows in the palate, but there’s a line of acidity and a crisp salty taste too,’ TC. ‘So much complexity: stone fruits, mangoes, ripe peach, apricot, toast and hint of vanilla,’ AA.
£9.90, Roberson Wine

74 Broadland Wineries, Proudly Vegan Sauvignon Blanc, Valle Central, Chile

‘Grassy, herbal nose, with green pepper notes. Rather sweet on the palate though, which lets it down,’ ML. ‘Pale lemon in colour and grassy. A pleasing wine but just a little too thin,’ JS.
£5.50, Broadland Wineries

Sparkling and orange

89 Hattingley Valley, Classic Reserve NV, Hampshire
‘An excellent English sparkling with bright lemon zest and bready, yeasty brioche notes. Its fine bubbles leave you wanting more. Definitely a versatile one,’ KM. ‘Pale and dry, with notes of honeysuckle and a medium-plus finish,’ AA.
£19.80, Enotria&Coe

86 Marto, Rheinischer Landwein Weiss 2017, Rheinhessen
‘This orange wine is cloudy but satisfying, with soft tannins from skin contact. Well balanced and pleasant,’ TC. ‘A peat nose and bone dry, with crunchy fruit. It might be challenging when it comes to selling it, but a good food wine,’ ML.
£14.73, Les Caves de Pyrene

With the food

Grilled rainbow carrots and puy lentils

The day’s plant-based proceedings started with a plate of rainbow carrots and lentils. The carrots were dressed and seasoned with lemon, olive oil, salt, pepper, mustard seeds and coriander seeds, then chargrilled. They were served on a lemony, peppery bed of puy lentils and garnished with parsley. The result was a marriage of smokiness, sweetness and citric brightness.

A few somms immediately reached for the Sauvignon Blanc – but alas, it wasn’t quite right. ‘It brought out the charred notes of the carrots, which worked, but when I went back to the wine it brought out a certain bitterness,’ said Timothy Connor. Other panellists eyed the reds. Martin Lam proposed the Valpolicella, but he ended up finding it overpowering. ‘Perhaps another, lighter Valpolicella would work slightly better,’ he mused. Overall, our judges found this dish to be a tough one to pair.

‘It’s such a positive dish: you’ve got mustard seeds, the vinaigrette, the lovely charred flavour, but there’s no wine where you feel it’s a complete marriage,’ said Lam. In the end, the panel found the Hattingley Valley English sparkling to be the best bet with the dish’s mix of acidity and smoke. ‘You could really feel the tartness of the lemon on the lentils, so it takes a very acidic wine to balance it out,’ explained Aurore Anguenot.

BEST MATCH: Hattingley Valley Classic Reserve NV

Sweet potato Laksa

Next, panellists were treated to a bowl of sweet potato laksa – a rich broth of coconut milk, lemongrass, ginger and turmeric, filled out with soft chunks of sweet potato, rice noodles and bean sprouts – all finished with fresh chilli, coriander and a kiss of lime. ‘Indian and South-East Asian food is easy to make vegan because it’s not typically made with dairy,’ said Joe Stokoe, co-owner of Ceremony. ‘But you can’t use fish stock or sauce, so it’s all about getting different umami flavours.’ The soup did pack an umami punch, so our somms looked for wines that would work with its savoury character.

The Sauvignon Blanc was deemed an ‘inoffensive’ pairing: ‘Its sweet notes dulled the soup’s spices,’ said Connor. ‘The same with the Fiano – its richer style didn’t protrude with the food.’ The group decided to take the orange wine for a spin, hoping that its dryness and body would support the sweet, creamy soup. It didn’t quite hit the mark. ‘It’s an interesting wine, reminiscent of cider, but it fights with the flavours,’ concluded Sylwester Piasecki.

But the panel did agree on a few standout wines. Connor chose the PolOpuesto Qué Grande Sos, while Anguenot plumped for the Gewürz. ‘I have a 0% tolerance for chilli heat. [This] has a bit of sweetness to cool down the palate,’ she said. Lam, too, cast his vote for Gewürz. ‘The roundness of the coconut in the soup kind of softens everything, so you need something to cut through it.’

BEST MATCHES: Dopff Gewürztraminer; PolOpuesto Qué Grande Sos

Cauliflower rice tagine

Proving the innovation of modern veg-based cooking, this dish swapped couscous for grated cauliflower to great textural effect. The cauliflower rice was lightly cooked with apricots and chickpeas, then seasoned with garam masala and coriander. Flaked coconut rounded off the plate. It was a wonderfully aromatic main.

Our somms looked to the light reds in our selection. None fitted the bill better than the zippy Palmento di Salina from Sicily, with its understated tannins. ‘It was the winner for me,’ said Lam. ‘It held up to the robust flavours of the food, but the match gave the wine a life too.’ The Valpolicella also got an honourable mention here. Stokoe found ‘nice vegetal notes coming through from the wine, marrying well with the cardamom’.

However, Piasecki couldn’t fully support the match: ‘The wine has good fruit but it’s challenging the dish.’ The panel found fuller-bodied whites to work, too. As an uncharacteristically robust example of Fiano, the Larry Cherubino finally had its day. ‘This dish is very earthy with good spicing, and the Fiano makes good work of lifting up the food,’ said Connor. ‘A nice simple Chenin with a touch of new oak would also work really nicely.’

BEST MATCHES: Caravaglio Palmento di Salina; Larry Cherubino Fiano

Lemon tahini broccoli

This side dish was a real crowd favourite: crisp tenderstem broccoli was simply dressed in a sauce of tahini, lemon juice and a touch of maple syrup, then sprinkled with nigella seeds for a pleasing bitterness and crunch. The Palmento di Salina (again) seemed to work here, as did the Hattingley Valley. Both managed to cut through the nuttiness of the tahini, thanks to their acidity.

But this dish also produced the most unexpected match of the day. ‘I thought the Bilbao Rioja worked best with the broccoli,’ said Andrés Rangel. ‘The food didn’t make the wine harsh, which you can get with green dishes.’ He attributed the match to the nuttiness of the tahini, as it mellowed some of the wine’s tannins. Connor also supported the match. ‘You get a smokiness out of the Bilbao when you pair it with the nigella seeds.’

BEST MATCH: Ramón Bilbao Rioja Viñedos de Altura

Conclusions

  • Many consumers don’t know that all wine isn’t vegan, but awareness is growing as the trend for vegan food becomes more mainstream. If you’re not well-versed in what ‘vegan’ means in the context of wine, now’s the time to learn.
  • In terms of food matching, our somms agreed that a sparkling wine like the Hattingley Valley is a ‘safe bet’ to get a table with both vegans and non-vegans onto a bottle.
  • Consider pairing leaner vegan dishes with a fuller-bodied white. The roundness of a wine like an oaked Chenin Blanc or the fleshy Fiano here can add richness to the food.
  • If you’re itching to list a natural vegan wine with a slightly unusual appearance, like the cloudy orange Marto Weiss or the light red Palmento di Salina, consider putting it on by the glass to ease customers in.
  • Make sure to mark vegan wines on your list with a symbol.

Panel comments

Aurore Anguenot ETM Group

To be honest, I hardly saw a dish I would pair with a big red wine here. I do usually reserve those wines for game and meat, because they would lose their flavours with other dishes.

Timothy Connor Heddon Street Kitchen

I would always have vegan wines on my list just in case: one entry-level, one fine, to cover the bases. The Qué Grande Sos was, for me, the highlight – it’s a red, and it added an unexpected element to many of the dishes.

Martin Lam consultant

The trend for vegan food and wine isn’t going away. For me, vegan production doesn’t affect wine flavour. It would be interesting to have the same wine in two different tanks to see if we could tell the difference.

Kate Malczewski Imbibe

We ended up reaching for the same wines again and again because of their versatility with lighter flavours. I’d like to try these wines with a heavily umami-driven dish – perhaps we’d see a different side to the reds.

Sylwester Piasecki Zuma

Customers are growing in terms of their perception, but generally speaking don’t have an interest in vegan wine as much as vegan food. They don’t know the techniques used behind the label.

Andrés Rangel Gymkhana

Rosés and sparkling wines are a good call when you get one guest ordering a vegan dish and another ordering meat. You want something with light or no tannins that doesn’t really compete with the food.

Joe Stokoe Ceremony
We’re a vegetarian restaurant, but our vegan dishes are some of our most popular, so it’s important for us to have wines that are our workhorses with vegan dishes – mostly aromatic whites and some light reds.

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