Photography by Deborah Melman-Clement

Mastering the Art of Wine and Food Pairing

a conversation with Jennifer Huether, Master Sommelier.

I’ve always been a foodie, and my work in the wine community over the past eight years has turned me into quite a wine lover as well. At first I never really gave much thought to what was in my glass, let alone in how to pair it with what was on my plate so being surrounded by sommeliers and wine agents for the better part of a decade has been a much appreciated education.

Not only has my entertaining been taken to the next level, it has now resulted in collaboration with Jennifer Huether, Canada’s first female Master Sommelier. (One of under three hundred in the world.) Together we are writing the world’s first book on vegan food and wine pairings. With fall and harvest upon us, I thought this was a perfect time to share some of her tips so you can make the most of the local fruits and vegetables of the season.

I often joke that I like to think of choosing a wine pairing as being similar to choosing a friend or a romantic partner in that there are two main approaches: ‘opposites attract,’ and ‘like pairs with like’. Let’s get to the nitty gritty and see what Jen has to say.


Priya: Let’s start off with the basics. What would you say are the general principles of wine and food pairing?

Jen: This is a HUGE question. It depends on which side you’re approaching from…wine before the food or vice versa? What is the star going to be? If you have an amazing wine you want to crack open you would want to make a dish work with it and be sure it would not be overwhelmed.
Once you have a special dish then it becomes an issue of matching the wine to the dish. You have to understand all the flavors in the dish, including any umami, or ‘savoury’ notes and also salt level, acid levels, and whether the dish is predominately tart, bitter, sweet, sour, or fruity.
Also, where in the progress of a meal is this course going to be? What is the season? A few general rules are: consider a dry wine before a sweet one, a white before a red, build in terms of the richness of the wine if you’re having multiple courses.  

Priya: In terms of progression what you’re saying is you don’t want to have a big, bold red as your appetizer wine as you’ll have nowhere to ‘build’ from.

Jen: Exactly right. Start with a lower alcohol white or a light red and amp it up from there so that each wine and each pairing can really shine without being overpowered by what came before it.

Priya: What do you say about matching wine and food by their country of origin?

Jen: We often say that what grows together generally goes together and this is particularly relevant in the Old World i.e. France, Italy, Germany, Portugal, Spain. We are fortunate in Canada to have food and spices from all over the world and access to wines from new and newer wine regions. I would encourage folks to support local whenever you can as we are now making amazing wines in Canada!

Priya: How do things change when dealing with vegan food?

Jen: I’ve experienced firsthand that while many of the same rules apply, it can be challenging to match vegan food with heavy, rich tannic wines outside of mushroom and earthy dishes. With vegan food, the fats change of course as do the proteins. Delicate wines and higher acid, fresher, less tannic reds tend to work well with most vegan dishes.

Priya: What about dessert? How do we pair wines with sweet dishes?

Jen: Personally I love dessert wines on their own as dessert, or a dessert wine with vegan cheese and nuts. But if you want to match a wine with an actual dessert the general rule of thumb is to make sure the wine is around the same sweetness level as the dessert. Think also about acid in the wine because the sweeter the dessert the more freshness you would ideally like the wine to have so it does not all become one big cloying mess…unless you really love your sweets! 
Priya: What wines work best with spicy foods?

Jen: This is where off-dry wines like some Rieslings (not all are sweet) work really well in balancing off the heat. Depending on how spicy your dish, you’ll want to be careful about how alcoholic the wine is. The spicier the dish, for the most part the lower alcohol content you’ll want. A wine from a warmer region such as a pinot noir from California is a juicy, plush softer red wine which can work nicely. Also consider Pinot Grigio or another white varietal with a few grams of sugar.


Shepherd’s Pie

This is pure comfort food, something to share with good friends on a cold evening. It’s basically a one-pot meal however a green salad or some sautéed kale would make a great side dish. It’s a meal that will please all the diners at your table, vegan or not, and leave you with a lot of satisfied smiles.

If you aren’t a fan of faux meat products then you can replace the ground ‘beef’ with finely chopped mushrooms or brown lentils, or a combination of both. Either way this dish has a good amount of protein. I like to mix things up by using a mix of cauliflower and potatoes for the mashed topping—it’s healthier and has a lighter, fluffier consistency!


The Filling
1 large onion
1 medium carrot
2 stalks celery
(Try to dice the above three vegetables the same size for consistency)
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup dry red wine (optional but recommended)
1 tbsp oil
1 tsp Herbs de Provence
¼ cup vegetable broth
½ cup steamed or canned corn kernels
1 cup canned or cooked lentils (brown lentil are the best for their softer consistency)
1 ½ cups vegan ground beef
2 tbsp low sugar ketchup mixed with 2 tbsp vegetable broth (you can substitute tomato paste for the ketchup, but be sure to add a half teaspoon of agave or maple syrup to balance the tang of the paste)

Heat oil and cook onions, carrots and celery for 5-7 minutes. Add garlic and wine and cook until veggies are soft and wine is absorbed, 8-10 minutes. Add lentils, ground ‘beef’ and/or mushrooms, vegetable broth, Herbs de Provence and ketchup/broth blend and cook 3-5 minutes. Add corn, stir until well-combined and pour mixture into an 8” square casserole.

The Topping

3 large potatoes diced
½ large cauliflower roughly chopped
½ tsp salt
Salt & pepper
¼ cup almond milk (or non-dairy milk of choice)
1 tbsp vegan margarine

Add salt to about 1 inch of water in a medium pot and bring to a boil. Add potatoes and cauliflower and steam for 8-10 minutes until vegetables are tender but not mushy. Drain. Add margarine and almond milk and mash together. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon over the filling and run a fork along the top, simply for presentation’s sake.

Bake at 375 for 25-30 minutes.

Jen’s Wine Pairing

I grew up on my grandma’s Shepherd’s Pie, so successfully transforming this classic meat dish into a delicious vegan one makes me extremely happy. It calls for a large glass of something red and delicious. The delightful and approachable Grange of Prince Edward County Almanac red blend of Cabernet Franc, Gamay and Pinot Noir is juicy and fragrant with ample acidity to balance the depth of flavour in this heart warming fall dish. For a mere $18.95 and available at the LCBO, this wine over delivers and retains a sense of place displaying The County’s famous structure. My splurge wine would be Karlo Estate’s 2017 Cabernet Franc. At $39.00 this is a delicious, complex and earthy wine driven by delicious acidity and freshness. In a word, it’s yummy and will easily age ten years developing further layers of complexity.


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