After vying with 2016 for the dubious honor, 2020 has just snagged the top spot as hottest year on record. Yet another accolade to what has been the strangest year in anybody's lifetime, and a hallmark of both current and impending climate change.
It's worth looking at the wine industry's own contribution to this hot mess. Looking at the whole picture may be a touch ambitious, but tackling it in tiny bite-sized pieces seems like as good a start as any and what could be more tiny and bite-sized than food and wine pairings – or more specifically red wine pairing?
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Red wine has nearly always traditionally paired with meat, from beef, lamb and pork (or humans if you're Hannibal). Steak has always been the bedfellow of Cabernet. However, times are changing – rather too quickly it must be said – and cows are at least partly to blame.
According the to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization, livestock is responsible for roughly 14.5 percent of all global emissions and people are taking note. As a result, people are increasingly choosing to live meatless and, according to the Vegan Society, "vegans and vegetarians look set to make up a quarter of the British population in 2025, and flexitarians just under half of all UK consumers". So for cows, it's only good news, but where does this leave red wine?
Go to the website of many a posh (or not so posh) winery and there’s a good chance the suggested pairing of their signature red is an indulgent platter of charcuterie or a marbled ribeye. After all, unless you’re Gandhi or Brad Pitt, who doesn't love steak with a dirty Shiraz?
From Aussie goodtime winery Yellow Tail to Italian powerhouse Bruno Giacosa, red meat is considered not just the perfect but – in all honesty – the only real accompaniment to statement reds. For Yellowtail, "steak" and its various iterations – peppered, and so on – are listed as the obvious food match for their Shiraz, Malbec and Big Bold Red and for Giacosa, red meat and wild game is the go-to for their Barolo. Spain’s famous Viña Tondonia goes one step further by declaring their Vi?a Tondonia Red Reserva the perfect partner to a wildly indulgent leg of new season Welsh lamb stuffed with garlic, rosemary and anchovies.
So what's going to fill that lamb's shoes and provide the giddy mix of salt, fat and protein perfect for soaking up all that Rioja? When looking at Wine-Searcher's own guide to food pairing, we are as guilty as the next for suggesting – as we routinely do – pairing lavish Bordeaux and Burgundy with beef and venison, or Rhône wines with pork, lamb, duck and game meats. What are the genuine alternatives that don't rely on sad lentil burgers from the 1970s?
Well, excluding our dairy and seafood suggestions – which are going into the naughty bin along with meat and poultry – we offer the follow titillating categories of salads and green vegetables, root vegetables and squashes, mushrooms,tomato-based dishes and chilis and hot spicy foods. Now at this point, if anyone's going gaga over the prospect of pairing their favorite Napa Cab Sav with a squash, we salute you. However, there maybe some genuine tasty matches that don't diminish your beautifully cellared red or make you longingly pine for flesh.
Salads and green vegetables is an almost automatic write-off for reds as they pair best with the white wines of the world, but the other categories look more promising. For mushrooms, lighter reds like Beaujolais call for the common chestnut mushroom, but for richer reds like Chianti, Barbaresco and Sangiovese, enter the porcini. It would be a challenge for anyone to suggest that thick indulgent mushroom risottos and woodfired pizzas bedecked with earthy fungi aren't just as satisfying an accompaniment to your Montepulciano or Chianti Rufina as the classic meat and two veg.
For tomato-based dishes, the options get even more exciting with pastas drenched in intense sun-baked tomato or passata sauces offering the perfect veggie partner for your favorite Barbera or Barolo. Like the ever-versatile tomato, root vegetables and squashes also offer a cornucopia of rich, hearty dishes that will do just fine with any Mediterranean red. Sweet potatoes and spicy vegetarian chili stews are ideal companions for Australian Grenache or fruity Merlots from the New World, and anything involving meaty eggplant is going to be just magic with Primitivo and Sangiovese. Although the more tannic wines like Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz may offer more of a challenge, again, it's worth looking to the "meatier" dishes like vegetarian lasagne, bolognaise or stroganoff, of which there are a wealth of recipes available online.
It's also worth checking the websites of wineries for inspiration, as much as many automatically default towards meat as a pairing, a growing number are bucking the trend. Take Australian winery d'Arenberg, a prolific producer of both reds and whites with its reds focusing heavily on Shiraz and other Rh?ne-style blends. However, the on-site restaurant, d'Arry's has a strong focus on both vegetarian and vegan offerings. In the 2021 summer A La Carte menu, red meat only appears twice – once as beef carpaccio and again as fillet, while poultry also only appears twice – as chicken and duck dishes – with four dishes then focusing on seafood. In contrast, there are a whopping five dishes that are purely vegetarian and that's not including all the extras, sides and desserts to finish.
In addition to their veggie-leaning a la carte menu, d'Arry's also offers a vegetarian degustation menu along and the option to make it vegan. They suggest both their GSM blend or a Pinot Noir to accompany their heirloom carrots and dirty lentils and their Cinsault or Mouvèdre to go with king oyster and enoki mushrooms. For the main event – their roasted miso eggplant – their Mencia or Sticks & Stones Tempranillo Grenache blend are the go-to wines.
From consumers to producers, the world is slowly turning its back on red meat and, as roasted miso eggplant proves, all is not lost for red wine and its pairings. However, if rich roasted eggplant still doesn't float your boat and your need for steak with a glass of Shiraz overrides all thoughts for our dying world, help may still be at hand. With various companies like Memphis Meats, Artemys Foods, Aleph Farms, Future Meat Technologies and Mosa Meat all in the race to create a large-scale commercially viable production of cultured meats, it may not be too long before you can have your steak and red wine guilt-free.
But, until, then try pairing your top-drawer Cabernet with a lovingly home-made veggie lasagne – you never know, you might just like it.