Pairing Wine with Summer Fruits and Vegetables
Joy! Summer produce begins to fill the bins in grocery stores and farmers’ markets stalls at last!
At Kendall-Jackson, the Farm-to-Table Dinner Series starts soon, with its diverse array of local ingredients that are used to highlight the Jackson family’s California wines. There’s no better time than the summer to “work on” (if we must) loving our veggies and fruits as so many of them blossom into their peak seasons over the next few months.
What’s one of the best parts of this summer eating mindset? Wine is made from fruit, too, so there is absolutely a place on the table for fermented juice!
The rise in plant-based diets is another good reason to investigate vegetable pairings with wine and fruit pairings with wine. Whether we or our family members or friends are eating vegetarian or vegan or even if we’re still accompanying our sides with poultry and meat, fruit and vegetables are occupying more and more real estate on our plates.
If roughage comprises more of our intake, we should think more about how those elements pair with the wines in our glasses. Maybe the sides are as important as the mains? Or, are the sides now the mains?
Let’s take a peek into how to pair wine with summer vegetables and fruits. Pairing wine with summer fruits and vegetables isn’t intuitive. There are almost no traditional wine pairings to syphon off, like pork pairing well with Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon matching up nicely with beef (even if some principles work between proteins and veggies and fruits – see below). That’s due in part to the raw ingredients and in part due to the preparation of fruits and vegetables. Like with proteins, that mid-step can dramatically change what works wine-wise.
Whereas you may simply eat a well-seasoned steak, it’s unlikely that you’re just eating “just” a well-seasoned squash. That squash might be cooked with onions or shallots, and maybe there’s some zucchini or herbs mixed in for contrasting color and flavor. Vegetables and fruits tend to be highly collaborative foods. That makes most of them fairly easy to pair with wine because they show a more diverse range of flavors.
CHALLENGING VEGETABLE WINE PAIRINGS
But, there are always ornery ones. Pairing wine with the artichoke and the asparagus are the top challenges in the veggie world. Both are high in umami and bitter elements, so they often insert an unpleasant contrast to the fruit-driven character of wine. That is especially the case when the wine has been aged with any new oak, which imparts notes of vanilla, caramel and torrefaction.
The good news is that these two difficult-for-wine foods work well with the same wines. Those wines are crisp and crunchy enough to cut through the food on the palate, provide a diversity of flavors, while a number of exotic and far-flung varieties can work, an unoaked, varietal Sauvignon Blanc is always a sure bet.
RULES OF THUMB TO FOLLOW
Aside from the voluble variables, there are some solid rules of thumb to follow. They read a lot like wine rules for poultry and meat pairings. That is to say that “generally this with that“ wine pairings:
- The lighter the color of the produce, the lighter the style of wine should be.
- Mind you, while this doesn’t mean that food and wine colors have to match, usually lighter colored wines do match up better with lighter colored foods. The same goes for the deeper spectrum end of the rainbow.
- The fresher and livelier – and the less cooked – a vegetable or fruit is, the more youthful the paired wine should be.
- Geek alert(!) but important to know: if there is no Maillard reaction (or effectively, cooking) with your food, the fresher and younger you should go with the wines. (Don’t serve sushi with a high-density, super-ripe and ambitiously oaked Cabernet Sauvignon. Skip the well-aged one, too.)
- Similarly, unless the Maillard reaction used in preparing a food, a dish will generally be best accompanied by a wine with less evident oak. Unless roasted or grilled, most produce works best with unoaked or lightly oaked wines.
FAVORITE FRUIT AND VEGETABLE PAIRINGS
We worked with the culinary team and gardeners at the Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate & Gardens to pick terrific vegetable and wine and fruit and wine combinations using some of summer’s most popular produce. Not everyone geeks out over garlic scapes, and even those that do can’t always find them!
This pretty infographic shows inspirations for summer fruits and vegetables. While each is distinct, some have similar flavors. Not into green beans? How about a cucumber instead? Why not substitute black plums in the place of blackberries? If you think in terms of similar flavors – and depth of flavors, you can easily substitute different fruits and vegetables in the recipes below. You’ll be pairing white wines with vegetables and pairing red wines with fruits before you know it! Or vice versa. Fruit pairings with wine are some of the most intuitive combinations around.
Remember that if you’re curious about a new summer fruit or vegetable but aren’t sure how it tastes or how to prepare it, just ask. Your local farmer grows it or your grocer stocks it because she or he thinks it’s good. As the saying goes, they’re not standing behind these items for their health! They’d much rather get you hooked on them by suggesting how to use them rather than haul it all home – possibly to the compost pile – that night!
- Vintner’s Reserve Rosé
- Watermelon, strawberries, red plums and blackberries are flavors frequently encountered in rosés made from any grape variety or combination of them. So, rosé is a killer compliment to salads with fresh fruits, like a watermelon and feta salad. For straight-up salads like a watermelon and feta, I prefer the Vintner’s Reserve Rosé.
- Rosé is frequently pale pink, but it can also be richly colored. Remember the color matching principle here, but also remember that just because a rosé is dark in color doesn’t mean its sweet. In fact, fewer and fewer rosés are sweet these days. If you toss some protein into your salad or if you are just looking for some more flavor dynamism, opt for the Grand Reserve Rosé.
- Dry rosés are super food-friendly and do an impressive job of spanning the bridge between white and red wine styles.
- Rosé is excellent at vegetable wine pairings!
- Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay
- Chardonnay can be a real chameleon style-wise. When kissed with some oak, Chardonnay works incredibly well with a Grilled Summer Corn Salad. That’s because corn is inherently sweet and Chardonnay often has some oak barrel aging that gives it a toasty edge, just like the (Maillard) effects of the grill.
- Top that salad up with the additional succulence of sweet red bell peppers and avocado, and you can rev up your match to the Grand Reserve Chardonnay!
- Still, if you prefer your corn straight off the grill – or maybe just boiled if you got caught in a summer rainstorm, stick with the K-J AVANT Chardonnay. It will match your corn’s sweetness and not overwhelm your simple masterpiece with oaky tones.
- Yes, you really can have white wine AND eat your veggies, too!
- Vintner’s Reserve Sauvignon Blanc
- Green produce melds beautifully with Sauvignon Blanc’s herbal tones. Sauvignon Blanc is the unique in the white wine category because it embraces herbals tones in a positive manner. (Cabernet Franc does it in the red grape variety camp. It’s usually included in blends in the US but found as a varietal wine in the Loire Valley of France.)
- Fava Bean and Asparagus Sautée is an excellent pairing for “green things” with Sauvignon Blanc. It also works in the difficult asparagus element, but it does so with ease.
- Other white wine and vegetable pairings to consider include cucumbers, green beans and other “green” tones that lend well to pairing with citrusy elements, especially lemon tones, and salty nuances, too.
- Vintner’s Reserve Pinot Noir
- Pinot Noir often behaves like a white wine in that it meshes best with lighter dishes.
- It is a grape variety that tends to be grown in cooler climates, so its resulting wines can blend nicely with a range of summer garden bounty flavors.
- A favorite here is summer squash noodles with pesto. Similarly, densely green flavors – like kale and collard greens – can work nicely, too. The darker you go with the green flavors, the more important it is to keep an aspect of refreshment or liveliness, like sundried tomatoes.
- As the Kendall-Jackson reds above the Vintner’s Reserve level tend to have more oak, I suggest saving those wines for heartier or meat-inspired dishes for chillier season dinners.
- Vintner’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
- A summer cheeseboard is the best! Also, it seems like so many of us start to appreciate wine pairings with cheeses and fruit served. You get all the goodness of sweet, spring milk cheeses to munch with the bountiful and delightfully ripe fruits of summer. Moreover, in some ways, this is the ultimate farm-to-fork option as there is arguable the least manipulation is fruit use with this pairing. This is also a great red wine pairing for vegetarians!
- Mind you, with a red wine pairing, it makes sense to stay in the flavor spectrum of fruits one would find in red wines, and especially in chunky red wines. Though denser in flavor than their fresh counterparts, candied or jammed fruits that are in the citrus and pit fruit families won’t work particularly well here. Plums, cherries and berries are where this is at!
- Creamy style cows milk cheeses work brilliantly with Cabernet Sauvignon, as they prove to be a foil for Cabernet’s firm structure. Top choices favored by K-J Cheese Guru Tracey Shepos include Mt Tam by Cowgirl Creamery and Saint-André from France. Two of my favorite USA blues include Original Blue by Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese and Maytage Blue Cheese by Maytag Dairy Farms in Iowa.
- Creamy cows’ milk cheeses may work best with fresh fruits, but aged sheep milk cheeses can work nicely, too, assuming they have not become too salty from long-term aging. Alas, goats milk cheeses almost never work (but they totally rock it with Sauvignon Blancs), even when made in an aged Gouda style.
In sum, pairings wines with summer fruits and vegetables isn’t so hard with a few pairing principles in your back pocket. Keep lighter foods with lighter wines, and stay away from wines that see oak influence, unless you are grilling.
Christy Canterbury is a Master of Wine, journalist, speaker and judge based in New York City. In 2014, she was short-listed for the Roederer Online Wine Communicator of the Year Award. Her work has been published in Decanter, Wine Enthusiast, Edible Green Mountains, Wine Searcher, Food Arts, Snooth, Beverage Media, TimAtkin.com, Civiltà del Bere, Wine Business Monthly, TASTED, Selectus Wines and in other outlets.