The Wine-With-Vegetables Challenge It may be challenging to find wines to pair with vegetables, but it's not impossible. It's especially worth the effort at this time of year. Plates laden with the harvest's abundance will only be enhanced by the right glass of wine.
NPR logo The Wine-With-Vegetables Challenge

The Wine-With-Vegetables Challenge

About The Author

Natalie MacLean is the author of Red, White and Drunk All Over. Try her wine-and-food matcher with thousands of pairings. At the World Food Media Awards in Australia, Natalie was named the World's Best Drink Writer for the articles, wine picks and humor in her free newsletter at

The taste of fall for me is a sun-warmed tomato or roasted root vegetables. But what some of my friends call "rabbit food" can be challenging to pair with wine. So, as many of us change our diets to include more greens and less meat, finding veggie-friendly wines is an increasingly frequent quest.

Let's start with wines to avoid: the robust reds such as cabernet sauvignon and shiraz that go so well with hearty meat dishes. Such full-bodied wines overwhelm vegetables, and their tannins clash horribly with them. Proteins in steak bind with tannins in wine so that they both taste richer and smoother in combination. Protein-free veggies, though, just taste bitter and metallic with red wine.

My favorite reds for greens are soft, smooth, fruity wines such as pinot noir and gamay. Also good is Tuscan chianti, made from the sangiovese grape, which can stand up to tomatoes and tomato-based dishes such as pasta sauces and pizzas. With tart flavors and high acidity, tomatoes are one of the biggest challenges for wine. But chianti's own notes of dried fruit and sun-dried tomatoes are complementary.

White wines generally pair better with vegetables than reds, as they often have complementary herbal, grassy aromas. My favorite white for veggies is sauvignon blanc, especially from New Zealand. Its aromas of asparagus, canned peas and citrus dance with greens.

Rich dishes such as vegetarian casserole, eggplant parmigiana, scalloped potatoes or spinach lasagna pair best with full-flavored whites or medium-bodied reds, such as chardonnay and merlot, which tend to be more supple and less tannic than cabernet and shiraz.

With strong-flavored foods such as onions, leeks, scallions and green peppers, choose bone-dry whites with vibrant acidity: pinot grigio, pinot blanc, muscadet, dry rose or sparkling wine.

For salads, match the wine to the dressing. Creamy mayonnaise-based dressings highlight the fruitiness of wine, but their high fat begs for wines with acidity, such as riesling from Washington, New York or Alsace, Germany.

Roasting vegetables such as zucchini, eggplant, turnip or potatoes intensifies their flavors just as it does with meat. Their smoky taste needs either a lemon-bright wine such as riesling, or a smoky red like Spanish tempranillo. Italian brunello di Montalcino also works; like chianti, the wine is made from the sangiovese grape, but it tends to be more full-bodied.

Whether you saute broccoli or green beans in olive oil, or smother them in butter, they pair nicely with Californian or Chilean sauvignon blanc, both lightly oaked.

While most vegetables can work with wine, asparagus and artichokes are particularly challenging. Both contain the organic acid cynarin, which makes everything taste sweeter than it is. With these veggies, choose bone-dry whites such as chablis and aligote from Burgundy, and chenin blanc from the Loire Valley and South Africa.

It may be challenging to find wines to pair with vegetables, but it's not impossible. It's especially worth the effort at this time of year. Plates laden with the harvest's abundance will only be enhanced by the right glass of wine.

Roasted Root Vegetables With Onion Confit

Natalie MacLean for NPR
Roasted Root Vegetables With Onion Confit
Natalie MacLean for NPR

Tracey Black, who owns Epicuria Fine Foods and Catering in Ottawa, created this wine-friendly dish with root vegetables. This is a perfect make-ahead dish that re-warms beautifully. I'd pair it with an unoaked chardonnay or a pinot noir.

Makes 4 servings

Onion Confit

2 medium red onions, julienned

2 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup red wine

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Roast Vegetables

3 carrots cut into long roll cut*

3 parsnips cut into long roll cut*

1 sweet potato, cut into wedges 3 to 4 inches

1 cup onion confit

1 to 2 tablespoons canola oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/4 cup chopped parsley

Start with onion confit, as it will need to cook while vegetables are prepared and roasted.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, cook onions in butter until soft, stirring occasionally. Add sugar and cook, stirring occasionally, over medium-low heat until caramelized.

Add red wine and balsamic vinegar and cook at medium-high heat until reduced and dark in color. Season with sea salt and black pepper. Set aside and reheat when ready to serve.

Meanwhile, cut vegetables, ensuring they are similar in size so they will cook at the same rate. Keeping vegetables separate, toss each vegetable with just enough canola oil to lightly coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Place each vegetable on its own parchment-lined baking sheet, and roast until soft. Some vegetables may take slightly longer than others. Remove cooked vegetables, but return them to the oven to re-warm prior to serving.

When everything is ready, toss vegetables, reheated confit and parsley together, season and serve.

*Place on cutting board and take a diagonal slice from the tip. Roll a quarter turn and cut without changing angle of knife. Continue cutting and turning to end. Pieces will have a triangular appearance. This gives the maximum number of cut surfaces for quicker cooking and better penetration of flavors.

Butternut Squash And Ginger Puree

Natalie MacLean for NPR
Butternut Squash And Ginger Puree
Natalie MacLean for NPR

I'd pair this Tracey Black recipe with an oaked chardonnay or an off-dry (slightly sweet) riesling. Riesling styles range from bone-dry to dessert sweet.

Makes 4 servings

1 medium butternut squash

1/4 bunch thyme, finely chopped

4 tablespoons canola oil

1 clove garlic, left in peel

1/2 medium onion, halved

3 tablespoons grated fresh ginger

2 tablespoons butter

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice squash in half lengthwise, scooping out and discarding all seeds. Place face up on cooking sheet, sprinkle with thyme and canola oil. Put garlic and onion inside squash. Roast until tender, about 45 minutes.

Once soft, squeeze out squash, onion, garlic (removed from skin) and thyme into food processor.

Add grated ginger, butter and salt and pepper to taste. Pulse in food processor just until creamy. Do not overprocess.

Quinoa And Heirloom Tomato Salad With Garlic Pesto

Sliced heirloom tomatoes are the star in a quinoa-based salad that pairs nicely with a Tuscan chianti. Natalie MacLean for NPR hide caption

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Natalie MacLean for NPR

The tart flavor and high acidity of tomatoes present one of the biggest challenges for wine. A Tuscan chianti would be great with this dish.

Makes 4 servings

1 cup cherry, grape or currant tomatoes, cut in half

2 to 3 larger firm heirloom tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch chunks

2/3 cup crumbled feta cheese

1 cup quinoa

2 cups water

3-4 tablespoons lemon juice

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste


1 cup packed fresh basil leaves

2 cloves garlic, peeled

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/4 to 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

For Pesto

Pulse all ingredients (except salt and pepper) in food processor until smooth. Remove to a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Pesto will keep 1 week in an air-tight container.


Rinse quinoa well under cold water. Set quinoa in heavy-bottomed saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes.

Strain in a fine colander and cool. Combine quinoa, feta and tomatoes and toss with just enough pesto to coat. Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste.