I’m writing about creating magical pairings of two of my favorite things – vegetables and wine. Sipping on a wine, made with grapes picked at their prime, and pairing it with peak-season vegetables is such a capture of nature’s timing. A palpable rhythm you can taste and feel. I’m also sharing a story and photo-series from one of the most memorable evenings of last summer, a late-season asado we co-hosted with the Forage Sisters here in the North Fork Valley, impeccably captured by Irene Durante Photography.
You know that rhythm and feeling of timelessness. When you experience that perfect pairing, time truly stops, your senses awaken, and your subconscious mind immediately begins to stitch together the sounds, sights, smells, and surroundings at that specific moment.
You notice the music. You slow down a bit and take a breath. You glance over and witness the shared expressions of your dining companions. You remember the aroma of clipping fresh herbs with your grandmother, perhaps. You smile. You swirl the pink wine in your glass. You close your eyes and forget, thankfully, for a moment, that your phone is in your lap. You allow your bodily senses to record it all.
And you do your very best to feel it fully and permanently imprint it upon your mind.
You want to remember it.
Last summer, we co-hosted a wine dinner with two of our favorite culinary artists, Nicole Carrillo and Mirasol Gomez of the Forage Sisters. These two creative and intuitive chefs are such an incredible joy to work alongside, and, like we do, they choose to work with nature’s ebbs and flows, letting what’s in season shine. Letting the ingredients and base products take center stage.
I’ll get to the meat (haha, this is a veggie post, after all, but it just came out) of my shifting friendship landscape, but let’s talk veggies and wine. I’m sharing some modified words from a post I wrote for the Kitchn in 2014. The takeaways are still pertinent, so I’m sharing updated versions of them with you here in this space. We all know that gone are the days when vegetables were relegated to the role of a side dish. Parsley is no longer just a garnish, and kale has escaped its position as a mere salad bar prop.
When a three Michelin-starred restaurant like Eleven Madison Park shifts its entire menu to a vegan offering, we know that times have changed.
I always feel like calling out chefs, who veer on the meat-centric side. It’s so easy to do, so I see it as a crutch. It’s the same as covering something with butter or cheese or ranch dressing. Vegetables already have SO much inherent flavor, texture, and depth, and since we’re all trying to squeeze more veggies into our diets, learning to pair wine with vegetables makes the process even more delicious.
All of this said, here are a few of my favorite tips on matching vegetables with wine.
QUESTIONS TO ASK WHEN PAIRING VEGETABLES WITH WINE
1. Which vegetables are you serving?
Consider the wide spectrum of flavor intensity amongst vegetables.
- Lighter, vibrant vegetables, such as peas, celery, fresh greens, or green beans, pair well with sparkling wines or crisp, un-oaked white wines.
- Savory, earthy vegetables, such as mushrooms (technically a fungus), sweet potatoes, Swiss chard, or lentils, pair well with richer white wines, rosés, or even light red wines.
2. Are your vegetables raw or cooked?
In general, a crisp white wine is your go-to when serving raw vegetables; however, various cooking methods change the flavor and texture profile of a vegetable. How different does a crisp, raw carrot taste, compared with a rich, roasted carrot? Think about it. Would you like a big glug of Cabernet Sauvignon after a bite of raw celery?
When pairing wine with cooked vegetables, you can opt for a bolder style of wine. Cooked vegetables yield more savory, caramelized, richer tones. Most of the time, cooked vegetables are well-seasoned, which makes them even more versatile. If you’re serving raw vegetables, you’re more limited with your choice of wines.
3. What is your cooking method?
Once again, think about a spectrum of cooking intensity: poaching being the least intense method, and grilling being the most aggressive method. Similar to pairing wine with animal proteins, more delicate preparations require lighter wines, while smoked, grilled, or braised preparations can stand up to the boldest of red wines.
I love the char of grilled asparagus, when paired with a savory Grüner Veltliner that has a richer texture to it. In a raw presentation, one of my favorite pairings is a caprese salad, with a solid dose of olive oil, a healthy squeeze of lemon, and cracked pepper, along with a crisp, mineral-driven Greco di Tufo.
4. What about the sauce?
Sauces can change an entire dish’s characteristics.
- Is your sauce rich or cream-based? Consider a complementary rich California Chardonnay or a contrastingly crisp Oregon Pinot Gris.
- Does your sauce pack a spicy punch? Reach for an off-dry (semi-sweet) German Riesling from the Mosel region.
- What if your sauce is herbaceous, like pesto? Try a rosé from Provence or a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand.
Want to keep it simple? If you’re in a bind, and you don’t know what the host of the party you’re attending is serving, dry sparkling wine is always the answer, followed closely, in my opinion, by dry Riesling. Both are brimming with food-friendly acidity and are extremely versatile in pairing situations.
5. Is there dairy involved?
Combining the palate-coating tendencies of cheese, butter, or cream with vegetables allows for a much broader range of pairing options. Crisp whites are still an excellent choice; although, richer, oaked whites and light, dry reds, such as a Chianti, become options, as well.
This example might be a little heavy-handed, but think about creamed spinach. There is a solid vegetable component going on, but it’s heavy on the rich-and-creamy texture. I love pairing dishes like this with a light, spicy red, like a Tempranillo from Rioja, Spain. Want to keep it white? Try a Chenin Blanc, which oftentimes has the perfect marriage of texture and acidity.
6. What should you do with those “impossible pairings“?
Asparagus, Brussels sprouts, and artichokes — oh, my! These vegetables are exceptionally challenging to pair with wine. Certain chemical compounds within these vegetables can actually change the perception and enjoyment of the accompanying wine. Beer is always a viable option, but if you’d rather sip wine, give these suggestions a try:
- Asparagus – Grüner Veltliner or Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre
- Brussels Sprouts – Dry Sherry or Chenin Blanc from Vouvray
- Artichokes – Champagne or a dry rosé
4 OF MY PERSONAL FAVORITE WINE + VEG PAIRINGS
1. Pinot Noir + Mushrooms – The savory and earthy flavors inherently found in Pinot Noir are considered by many to be the perfect match. In particular, try a Pinot Noir from Burgundy, France.
2. Chardonnay + Corn – The sweetness of corn, especially when grilled, served with a rich California Chardonnay is one of my favorite pairings, both in texture and in complementary flavor profiles.
3. Riesling + Beets – I like to experiment with both dry and sweeter versions of Riesling for this classic pairing. Germany and Austria are great sources of this grape variety. At our winery, Riesling is our speciality, so I personally suggest a Colorado-grown version!
4. Sparkling Wine + Tempura-Fried Vegetables – This is a perfect texture pairing. The bubbly effervescence of sparkling wine, combined with its bright acidity, are perfect with the delicate, crispy tempura batter.
So, back to the friendship conversation and how seasonality applies there, too.
Although I equally love both Mirasol and Nicole of the Forage Sisters, I’ve had the opportunity to grow closer to Nicole. She is also a farmer, who lives just 12 minutes down the road from me. She and her husband, like I and mine, farm together, live together, and run a business together.
I’ve had the pleasure of cultivating a deep and reciprocal relationship with Nicole over the past three years. Our lives have seemed comfortingly parallel, both in proximity and in trajectory. One of my fondest memories with her is our driving home from an overnight trip to a local hot springs, and as we sped over rolling, alpine hills, we drifted into an hourlong conversation – almost a free-association duet of thoughts – on food.
We teared up, as we shared stories on making our favorite dishes; on savoring singular, specific food items, like noodles or croissants; on sharing moments in our gardens spent digging up planted treasures and transforming them into plated masterpieces; and on divulging details of how certain vegetables, flowers, fruits, and fungi have led us and grown us to where we are in our present lives.
Nicole is moving away in just over a week.
I’ll truly miss having her nearby to compare precipitation levels with or drop everything to grab a plate we mutually spotted on a local café’s Instagram post. But I also have to apply the rule of seasonality to our friendship, as I do with creating dishes, making wines, and pairing them together.
Nicole, I wish you the very best on your family’s new adventure. From farmers in the country, to entrepreneurs in the city, you’ll take with you everything you’ve learned over the past five years. I can’t wait to see how you grow.
Hug your friends and cherish them. And just as we give our plants room to grow and provide them the best environment to thrive, let those friends blossom where they choose to take root. Embrace the seasons and fleeting moments you have with the people in your lives. And when a comforting, favorite dish is the only thing grounding you, don’t feel that it is basic or unworthy.
“It (writing about pairing wine and veggies) totally is vapid, when you think about other things happening, but then (you) remember life is all we have in front of us – opportunities for joy and veggies and wine and friends! So, it’s actually the antidote to the rest!”– Nicole Carrillo, to me, as I wrote this post
Much love to you all!
And many more veggies and moments and wine!
PS – We are throwing another wine-release asado with the Forage Sisters this May, and if you’re local, I’d love for you to attend! We’ll be hosting it here at our winery, overlooking the North Fork Valley and sharing a few of our just-bottled white and rosé wines, paired alongside Mirasol and Nicole’s hyper-local cuisine.
Stay in the loop on the details and ticket-release dates here.