Which wines to choose to accompany vegetable recipes?

This is the keel for those who have embarked on the experience of an entirely vegetable diet on the occasion of the “veganuary”. As the “dry January” comes to an end, these new consumption habits at the table pose another problem: which wines to choose when there is neither fish nor meat on the plate? We asked Jeanne Suscillon, the sommelier of the restaurant who in 2020 obtained the title of best vegetarian restaurant in the world. It’s called Culina Hortus, and it’s located in Lyon.

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Isn’t it more difficult for an amateur to find the right combination for vegetable cooking?

Giovanna Susillon: Generally the focus is on aromatics and one often imagines associating a white wine with fish or a red with red meat. With vegetable cuisine we are interested in other parameters to which an amateur usually pays less attention, in this case acidity, bitterness, roundness and substance in the mouth. You can also look for tannins that can carry bitter flavors, a very interesting framework for working with plants. However, be careful with this choice because many vegetables can themselves be bitter and become too astringent in the mouth.

In sommellerie there is this rule of color combinations, which consists in relying on the tone of the dish to choose the bacchanalian nuance that comes closest to it, red on a beetroot for example. Is that a good clue for vegetarian cooking?

This rule is great! It is very practical when you are an amateur. However we must not abuse it, otherwise we will end up choosing many white wines.

Given its mineral and/or floral structure, white wine really is the obvious choice, isn’t it?

Currently, at lunchtime, we serve a starter around nasturtium and kumquat. The first is worked in root and leaf. It brings a lot of acidity, with a nice bitterness and some texture in the mouth. For the second, we are clearly on bitterness. Here we propose an accord that plays with acidity, or a young Riesling to obtain freshness that combines well with bitterness and acidity. This rinses out the palate, which isn’t unpleasant considering the intoxicating side of nasturtium. Conversely, the next dish consists of crosnes and mushrooms. It’s an earthy pairing, requiring a red wine. However, I am careful not to choose a tannic bottle, to avoid bitterness.

What are the plants that can be associated with red wine?

When I’m looking for an indulgence, like in a pumpkin-based dish, I opt for full-bodied, juicy wines. You can choose wines from Languedoc, Collioure, basically wines from the south that have kept their fruit and give this sweet/salty impression.

Is it an opportunity to bring out our fine wines in the cellar?

The aged tannins of a red wine lend themselves very well to vegetable recipes. For one of our previous smoked lentil and truffle dishes, I whipped out a Côte-Rôtie wine in the 2012 vintage. The flavors of this juice over leather and cocoa worked very well.

When the sun returns, what kind of rosé can we choose to marry the vegetable?

It is necessary to prefer processed rosés. I am thinking in particular of the Hauvette estate, located in the Alpilles, and whose cuvée Petra is partly based on saignée rosé (the juice is extracted from a vat intended to produce red wine, ed), which adds structure. It can therefore be used very well in accordance.

Are natural wines, if not bred biodynamically, better choices as their structure is obtained without too much human intervention and therefore where nature offers more than its taste?

Not necessarily. A beautiful vintage that has a good trace of aging and draws one of its aromatic properties from the wood, this can be useful for marrying certain plants. In Burgundy, buttery-scented white wines are perfect to serve with roasted salsify, for example.

And the pairings with vegan dishes?

When our kitchen team creates a menu, they strive to use as many non-animal ingredients as possible so that we can more easily offer a vegan version to customers and make it easier to adapt. Consequently, the combinations we propose work in the same way as vegetarian cuisine. Having said that, many customers who opt for the vegan menu do not question the wine to find out if the pairings are too much… Consumers are not really informed about whether the wines benefit from a fishtail or bone-in refinement phase ( the aging phase helps to clarify the wine, ed).

And to taste the dishes and wines of Culina Hortus, go to 38 rue de l’Arbre sec, 69001 Lyon

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