Plant-based cuisine is on the rise. Nearly 40 per cent of British Columbians aged 35 and under now say they follow a vegan or vegetarian diet; with environmental factors seeming more pressing by the day, that number is likely to increase. Vancouver was recently recognized as a global leader in veganism and the city's restaurant menus are more and more devoted to plant-based dishes.
Meat eaters are also making definitive dietary changes: whether eating less meat, meat from more ethically raised animals, or reserving meat only for “special occasions”, the way Canadians are eating – especially on the West Coast – has and continues to change.
From a wine business perspective, does this mean an evolution in how wines are presented with plant-forward dishes in restaurants and how people pair their meals at home? You bet it does!
Last summer I had the privilege of cooking along Chef Brian Skinner (now of Kelowna’s Frankie We Salute You!) at Joie Picnique. Working exclusively with produce from Penticton’s farmer’s market and Canadian heritage legumes and pulses from Vancouver’s Eat Grain (now called Flourist), Brian and I created some magical dishes from a local bounty that was entirely plant-based.
As much as I enjoyed cooking these creative dishes with Brian, pairing wines with them was a whole new challenge – the classic foundations for food and wine pairing suddenly no longer applied. A charred, well-marbled steak or dishes made with bacon, butter, or cream can comfortably provide the richness to soften the impact of a wine’s tannins and also contain the fat that complements acidity. Vegan and vegetarian foods, however, typically don’t provide much fat or tannin…
In lieu of protein-based fats and grilled red meats we had fun creating alternatives, like using charred alliums ground into powders, nuts as fats, and nori elements for umami. It was an entirely different approach to cooking with umami-driven flavours but it shined the JoieFarm portfolio in a light I had never really seen it in before.
I realized I had been using “textural pairings” as a crutch when pairing my wines with food (read: relying too heavily on fatty, butter-driven French classics). That summer, I re-trained myself to emulsify sauces instead of mounting them with butter for texture. I reached for miso or mushroom powder instead of animal products when wanting to add depth and complexity. And I learned that wines like Riesling work just as well with Indian pakoras as they do their traditional European pairings.
I also learned the freshness of Joie’s aromatic whites is fabulously suited to vegetable forward dishes – whether complimenting a crisp fennel salad with our Un-Oaked Chardonnay or using the juicy acidity and bubbles in our Brut to contrast the fried crispiness of tempura.
Red wines, especially those rich in glutamic acid (the long chained amino acid that makes umami so delicious), were especially fun to work with. We accented the earthiness in our Gamay and PTG by using seasoning heavy in cumin, chili and clove. We also found that all things smoked really worked a treat. For our Reserve Pinot Noir, we found great success with coastal mushrooms as well as less conventional pairings like jackfruit and lentil-based curries.
Interestingly, I also learned that completely dry wines are hard to pair with ripe fruits and sweeter summer vegetables like tomatoes and peppers. Wines that are ever so slightly off-dry were always the better pairings; that touch of residual sugar really made both the dish and wine sing. This is an essential plant-forward cuisine food and wine pairing hack.
As a professional chef, trained sommelier and winemaker of 16 vintages I had never been so humbled. It’s funny that it took “going back on the line” after 20 years to learn how to properly pair plant-forward cuisine with wine. Last summer’s experience filled me with new vigour to learn how my wines can be enjoyed outside of their classical European inspirations and cannon. After all, the JoieFarm portfolio is made for West Coast living and its modern cuisine.