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How to pair wines with vegetarian food

There are many ways to pair wines with vegetarian food by following the same rules as you would when paring wines with meat dishes. The key is finding the right balance.

I was a vegetarian for a year, I was curious to know what it was like to live without eating meat. One of the key differences in a vegetarian diet is that it takes more imagination in order to make dishes that have the textures and flavours that we associate with meat dishes.

A simple mediterranean dish that I really enjoyed making was char grilled peppers, aubergine and tomatoes, in a bowl of pasta with pesto sauce, grated parmesan cheese and a glass of Chianti Classico.

In my tastings and classes I often refer to wine as an ingredient in the dish. The taste and flavours of each wine varies as does the level of acidity, bitterness, dryness, spiciness and body. So these elements need to be taken into consideration when choosing the other ingredients.

Instead of the protein and animal fat, which would reduce the impact of the tannins in a full bodied red wine, in a vegetarian dish the sauces and other ingredients such as pulses can have the same affect on the wine.

I have found that the lighter, crisp whites, earthy red and dry rosés go well with vegetarian food. One of the key differences in vegetarian dishes is that the flavours are more subtle so you need to bear this in mind when choosing a wine ensuring that the wine does not overwhelm the dish.

How the dish is seasoned is an important factor. Tofu adds texture to the dish but not flavour so if a savoury sauce is added then a wine with mature savoury wine such as a Croze Hermitage. Alternatively if the dish has a spicy character then an off dry Riesling or Gruner Veltliner would counter act the heat of the dish.

Try to match the flavours of the dish with the flavours in the wine. For example, a Pinot Noir in addition to the black cherry character can also have earthy and mushroom flavours, which will match well with a vegetable dish with mushrooms.

A pizza with tomatoes, cheese needs a red wine with good acidity to match the acidity in the tomatoes and has the body to match the richness of the cheese. A Nero d’Avola from Southern Italy or a Mencia from Bierzo will work well together.

When choosing a wine for a vegetarian you need to be aware how the wine has been fined or clarified, to remove the tiny particles that can make a wine appear cloudy and make the wine more stable.

Most wines are filtered using a product called bentonite, which is clay based. However, although rare nowadays, some wines are clarified using isinglass, made from fish bladders, egg whites, milk protein or gelatine. Alternatively the wine may not be fined at all, as is the case with many biodynamic or natural wines, increasing the possibility that the wine may have a slightly cloudy appearance.

So if you are planning to eat more meatless dishes, the key is to match the textures and flavours with those of the wines.

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I am a Northern Irishman based in Valencia. My career in wine began more than three decades ago, in London. I am the founder of TheWinePlace.es, an online store, where wine enthusiasts can enjoy a selection of international wines and Verde Marte, a company dedicated to exporting Spanish wines. Also, Thewineplace.courses, an "approved program provider" of the courses of the prestigious WSET. I share my passion for wines through my media work writing weekly columns for the Spanish newspaper El Mundo and 5 Barricas, an online wine magazine.

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