This question came to me recently through the Free Range on Food chat on The Washington Post’s website. The chat runs every Wednesday from noon to 1 pm for those who need help with recipe questions, cooking conundrums or even wine advice.
“So many of the wine-pairing guidelines I see pertain to meat, which is pretty useless for me since I’m a vegetarian,” the chatter lamented. “I usually stick to fail-safe whites such as sauvignon blanc. However, we’re hosting a pretty big event where an all-veggie dinner will be served, and I want to offer at least one white and red wine each for guests. Any suggestions for some nice wines (especially red) that won’t overwhelm veggie fare? Maybe pinot noir?”
Your instinct for pinot noir is right on the money. Pinot is food friendly and goes especially well with mushrooms, so if they figure prominently, go for pinot. Pinot is also good because it is relatively high in acidity (though that can depend on where it’s from), making it refreshing and palate-cleansing. That’s why your sauvignon blanc works.
On the whole, I’d say don’t sweat it so much and feel free to experiment. You might find success with Beaujolais (the 2009s and 2010s are excellent), which is a lighter red similar in body to pinot noir. But an earthy nebbiolo might surprise you, too. In fact, I’d recommend having fun with a variety of Italian or Greek wines, both red and white. These cultures have veggie-rich cuisines, and their wines should complement your menu well.