Whether for health, environmental or ethical reasons, a growing number of people are choosing a vegan diet. With the growing popularity of this lifestyle, plant-based eaters are wondering which vegan-friendly wines are on the market and which dishes to pair them with. In the winemaking process, animal products are often involved: many wines rely on proteins like gelatin, egg whites, isinglass (fish bladders), milk proteins or crustacean shell fiber in the fining process, which draws large elements away from the liquid to remove cloudiness. Obviously, when these agents are used in the wine, the wine is no longer vegan. But there are a growing number of wineries using alternatives to make their wines animal product-free.
Vegan wines go through a fining process using clay or carbon, yet have the same quality results as wines that use animal products. Another viable vegan-friendly choice is to drink unfiltered wines, a style of wine that’s trending now. Many retailers and winemakers are thoughtful in labeling their wines if they’re vegan, but sometimes it’s a good idea to do some research on which wines are the best options. One great resource is a website called Barnivore, a directory of more than 43,000 alcoholic beverages that are confirmed to be vegan.
Pairing Wines with Vegan Food
When pairing wines with plant-based foods, the first rule we’re ever taught about wine pairing, “Red wines with dark meat, white wines with light meat,” is thrown out the window, since the dishes are plant-based. “In general, it’s easier to pair whites, roses, and sparklers with food,” says Elizabeth Woessner, a Denver-based sommelier and wine instructor. “Wines should have more acid and sweetness than the foods you are pairing them with. Since red wines generally have less acid and sweetness, they’re more difficult to pair with food.”
But there’s no reason to be intimidated by pairing wines with vegan meals, because the same general guidelines apply: fat, acidity, body, sweetness, tartness and flavor are all components of a dish that will influence pairing. The key to finding a successful wine is simply to match the food’s qualities with the wine’s qualities and experiment with what works for you.
You’ll know when you have a winning combination when the flavors meld together in your mouth. Consider keeping a wine journal of the pairings you enjoyed most for future reference. Robin Asbell, author of several vegan cookbooks including Plant-Based Meats, says “You can pair any wines you like with vegan dishes! The same affinities apply. Mushrooms work with reds; dry whites go with lots of vegetal flavors.”
You can base the way you pair a wine with a dish based on a few different factors. The weight of a dish should correspond with the weight of the wine, so a leafy salad will call for a crisp sauvignon blanc, while a hearty vegan lasagna will likely go well with a fuller-bodied red, like a zinfandel. Another good rule of them is the old adage, “what grows together goes together.” It makes sense that food and wine that share the same climate and soil will complement each other. “What ideally you want to accomplish is for the wine and the food to balance each other,” says Rich Mauro, food and wine writer. “My advice to anyone who asks is to keep it simple. Drink what you like with what you like. And, if that doesn’t work, more importantly, experiment. There is a lot of fun to be had in trying different combinations and seeing what works.”
The best way to pair wines with vegan dishes is to look at the sauces, spices, herbs and fat/oil used in the dish. Within each wine varietal there can be so many flavor profiles and variables based on factors like whether the wine has been aged in barrels or in stainless steel tanks, how long it has been aged, whether it was a good crop of grapes, where the grapes were grown, and so on, making the way a wine “should” taste an unreliable way to pair. Instead, experiment with your preferences to find the right fit.
Rules of Thumb & Wines We Love
In general, dishes with elements of citrus, peanut sauce and curry will go well with smooth, buttery white wines. Tomato-based sauces, chili, salsa and barbecue will pair well with red wines.
Here are some vegan dishes and wines that pair well with them:
Red Curry: White wines like Sutter Home’s Reisling (St. Helena, CA) are the default pairing for spicy Indian food, but Trinity Oaks’ Pinot Noir is a nice variation for a red that plays on vegetables like sweet potato, cauliflower and bell pepper. We love Philipp Kuhn Riesling Vom Kalksteinfels and Lake Sonoma Pinot Noir.
Tempura: Light and crispy tempura-battered veggies will pair well with champagne like Moet and Chandon (France), whose 270-plus years of bubbles-making is animal product free. Michel Gonet Brut Reserve is a gorgeous began sparkling choice.
Vegan Pad Thai: Spicy Thai dishes will pair well with citrusy, floral Honeywood Gewurztraminer (Salem, OR) or Cave de Ribeauville Gewurztraminer Collection from Alsace.
Falafel: Mediterranean dishes like falafel can pair well with a Chenin Blanc, like one from New Zealand’s Loveblock Wines, or Basile Arteteca Vermentino.
Veggie Lasagna: With a tomato-based sauce and dense with vegetables like mushroom and zucchini, it can take the weight of a heavier wine like vegan Pizzolato Chianti (Piave, Veneto) or Castello di Meleto Chianti Classico.
Tofu Tacos with Chipotle Sauce: The spice of smoky chipotle sauce needs a crisp, cold wine with floral notes like the Torbreck viognier from Barossa Valley, Australia or Nicolas Croze Cote du Rhone Les 3 Grains Blanc.
Rebecca Treon is a Denver-based freelance food, travel, and lifestyles writer who has written for publications like 5280, DiningOut, American Bungalow, Reign, Denver Hotel, The Coastal Table, the Huffington Post, Tasting Table, Food 52, Time Out, BBC Travel, Livability, The Cape Cod Travel Guide, Edible Cape Cod, Edible Denver, Edible Lower Alabama, Alabama Journey, The Denver Post, and DRAFT magazine. She is the proud mother of two tiny globetrotters.