Ask a Sommelier

We ask top somms across the country for their wine-related advice.

Ask a Sommelier: How to Pair Vegetables With Red Wine

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[Photographs: Shuttestock]

In chilly weather, many folks crave robust red wines, but not of us all eat a ton of meat. A nice juicy steak might be the perfect foil for Cabernet or Tempranillo, but what options do we have in the vegetarian zone? Are there certain red wines that are especially veggie-friendly? Certain ingredients that can help vegetarian dishes work well with bolder wines?

We spoke to sommeliers from across the country and asked what vegetable dishes work best with red wines. Here's their advice.

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"Bringing vegetables to the party with big reds is all about upping the umami quotient of the dish. Mushrooms, dried tomatoes, beans, and aged cheeses are all naturally high in glutamic acids, the flavor components that make meat and other foods taste savory and intense. Add umami bomb seasonings like soy sauce, nutritional yeast, dried seaweed, miso, smoked paprika, or ume plum vinegar to those ingredients to give your vegetarian recipes to give them a red wine-friendly depth of flavor. Dishes like baked pumpkin stuffed with red quinoa in a miso vinaigrette or roast mushrooms with braised celery and smoked paprika would be beautiful alongside a juicy red on a cool day." —Steve Bowman (Fairsted Kitchen)

"When you prepare your vegetables, think about keeping them in a larger size instead of cutting them up into smaller pieces. You can grill a big plank of broccoli or cauliflower and the smokiness of the grill will impart a meatiness to it that will be wonderful with red wine." —Jessica Brown (The Breslin) and (The John Dory Oyster Bar)

"Cold weather stews with root veggies. Go to the farmers market and pick out some veggies. Start decanting wine. Simmer potatoes with onions in broth. Add veggies at the end. Serve with bread and a snuggie." —Josiah Baldivino (Michael Mina)

"One my favorite go-to dishes is Truffled Egg Toast. I totally follow the 'Ino recipe. The truffle and asparagus with gooey cheese, fatty brioche, runny yolk is so perfect with Dolcetto or Barbera D'Alba." —Sarah Egeland (Smallwares)

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Add mushrooms to your pizza. [Photo: Kelly Bone]

"Cabernet Franc has a natural 'green' characteristic that makes it very veggie-friendly. Whether it's part of a full-bodied blend from Bordeaux, or a medium bodied 100% style from the Loire, Cabernet Franc is usually a very safe bet when there's a lot of green on the plate. Tomatoes love Sangiovese, so bust out the Chianti when you have a tomato based stew or soup! Veggie chili, pizza, and baked pasta are all delicious with red wines, especially if you go heavy on the mushrooms and always add cheese when you can; those are two ingredients that will bridge the gap between vegetables and red wine!" —Theresa Paopao (Ribelle)

"With a great woodsy Burgundy, one could really enjoy ingredients such as Matsutake mushrooms, celeriac, sunchoke, parsnips, etc. One could roast them, sauté them, make them into a really earthy soup." —Joe Camper (DB Bistro Moderne)

"If you're hosting a vegetarian, but would still like to serve a great red wine that people crave in the wintertime, I would recommend pairing it with a vegetarian Moussaka, a casserole layered with potatoes, peppers, eggplant, spiced wild mushrooms, rich red wine, cinnamon, clove and allspice, topped with yogurt and béchamel." —Kamal Kouiri (Molyvos)

"Stay away from some veggies that could just make the wine taste unpleasant. I think of Brussels sprouts, broccoli, green bell pepper or some leafy greens. It's not the end of the world if they're served anyway but with a big red wine, but I prefer the sweeter stuff. Butternut squash is my favorite. Chestnuts, red peppers, and sweet potatoes work well too." —Edouard Bourgeois (Café Boulud)

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[Photo: Kumiko Mitarai]

"Big red wine doesn't have to mean fruit bomb; it can be tannic, structured, earthy and iron-y, and pair well with vegetarian meals. Dishes with beans, bitter greens like kale or rabe, cabbage or cauliflower create earthy flavors, while mushrooms most certainly can create complexity and interest. A few wines to complement those flavor profiles include Loire Cab Francs (Bourgueil, Anjou or Chinon) and most definitely the big Italians (Rosso di Montalcino to Brunello, Langhe Nebbiolo to Barolo and Barbaresco, Montefalco Rosso to Sagrantino.)" —Liz Vilardi (Belly), (The Blue Room), and (Central Bottle Wine + Provisions)

"Any red wine risotto (I like it with cranberry beans and grilled chicories) is a hearty winter entrée that is a natural pairing for a big red wine. For a winter celebratory meal, I often think of braised short ribs or oxtails with polenta. Substituting roasted wild mushrooms with winter greens and grana is a great vegetarian option that will stand up to a big red as well." —Corin Weihemuller (Comal)

"Rioja has classically been paired with asparagus, which can be one of the hardest vegetables to pair with. I've had Riojas hold up to things like pesto, where the dill flavors from the American Oak really help." —Brent Kroll (Neighborhood Restaurant Group)

"One of my favorite vegetable dishes to pair with a big red wine is a wild mushroom red wine risotto with shaved parmesan. The earthiness and full-flavors of mushrooms and the savory creaminess of the risotto match perfectly with a lot of full-bodied and hearty reds." —Eduardo Porto-Carreiro (DBGB Kitchen and Bar)

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[Photo: Kristen Swensson]

"The keys to vegetarian dishes that work well with red wine are texture and fat; especially with something tannic like Barolo or Bordeaux, you need to give the tannins something to latch onto! Mushroom or caramelized onion risotto are absolutely fantastic with red. I also love caponata as a red wine pairing; the warm spices and soft velvety texture of the eggplant work well with wines like Spanish Tempranillo from Rioja and Ribera del Duero." —Mia Van de Water (North End Grill)

"Vegetable dishes that pair well with big red wine include vegetable cassoulet with beans and spinach, risotto with mushrooms, or vegetable torta with grilled eggplant and zucchini wrapped in layers of puffed pastry. Think hearty mushrooms (like portobello or porcini), charred or stewed vegetables and tomatoes, as well as preparations that include cream or richer cheeses." —Chris Baggetta (Quince)

"Roasted sweet potatoes and beets are perfect with Spanish Rioja. Toss them in olive oil, cumin, coriander, black pepper, and fennel seed. Or try delicata squash—it's perfect with Beaujolais. Delicata squash has a hint of meatiness that plays perfectly with the overt fruitiness of a Beaujolais Nouveau. If you can find Bow and Arrow's Gamay Nouveau snatch it up and serve it with pan fried delicata squash. Crazy good." —Brent Braun (Levant)

"Our chef makes a pumpkin lasagna, with layers of roasted pumpkin, tofu, ricotta, savory herbs and fresh garlic-infused noodles and it's phenomenal with Sangiovese." —Angela Roman Aspito (The Signature Room at the 95th)

What's your favorite red wine and vegetable pairing?

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