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Food & Wine Do some styles of wine go better with vegetarian food?

Generally speaking, certain wines do pair better with vegetarian dishes.

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The question

I'm vegetarian. Are there styles of wine that go better with vegetarian food?

The answer

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That's a broad but interesting question worthy of a book. Generally speaking, I'd say yes. Vegetarian food is a universe, spanning the gamut from light salads to fragrant curries, meatless meat loaf and, not least, Gwyneth Paltrow's excellent kale and butternut-squash lasagna. In the end, the wine that works best for the dish will depend on your taste. But when I think about vegetarian fare in broad terms, I tend to narrow down the field pretty quickly.

Big, tannic reds, though highly popular today, practically beg to be matched with hulking slabs of meat. I'm talking about cabernet sauvignon, syrah/shiraz, merlot and the nebbiolo-based reds of Barolo. Tannins and dense dark fruit go best with fatty, gamy flesh.

A couple of notable exceptions: spicy vegetarian Mexican fare and foods such as tofu coated in sweet barbecue sauce. Here I think there are good grounds for uncorking big reds, particularly California zinfandel, Italian primitivo or Australian shiraz.

For the most part, the relative leanness of most vegetarian dishes is a fine excuse to explore the underappreciated lighter side of the red spectrum. Consider elegant pinot noir, bright gamay or crisp-herbaceous cabernet franc, for example. I happen to think simple, affordable Chianti or montepulciano d'Abruzzo, both usually medium-bodied, work well with dishes based heavily on tomato sauce because of their tangy, almost salty edge. But so do most dry rosés and crisp whites, including pinot grigio.

Anything creamy, such as risotto folded with butter or cheese: Try chardonnay.

If you're a fan of spicy stir-fried food or curries, I'd suggest exploring the glorious world of aromatic whites, particularly riesling and gewürztraminer, specialties of France's Alsace region as well as of Niagara and British Columbia. I love viognier, a Rhône Valley white grape making strides around the world, with Indian curries of all sorts.

For battered, deep-fried vegetables, try a dry, sparkling wine or any very crisp white. And if your definition of vegetarian includes cheese, by all means try gewürztraminer, riesling, pinot gris or sauvignon blanc.

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I've barely scratched the surface.

The Flavour Principle by Lucy Waverman and Beppi Crosariol (HarperCollins) won top prize for best general English cookbook at the 2014 Taste Canada Food Writing Awards.

E-mail your wine and spirits questions to Beppi Crosariol. Look for answers to select questions to appear in the Wine & Spirits newsletter and on The Globe and Mail website.

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