Merlot is one of my all-time favorite wines, which is a good thing because I make Merlot every year and have a lot to drink!
The best vegetarian dishes to pair with Merlot don’t have to be difficult. Food pairings that have earthy flavors and rich fat cheese or oil will compliment Merlot’s plump, plummy profile. Mushrooms, bean, cheese, and even tomato-based dishes work well with Merlot.
Here are a few delicious Merlot pairing ideas to get you started.
What Does Merlot Taste Like?
Like all wines, the climate will influence the style of your Merlot wine. Generally speaking, there are 2 distinctive Merlot wine styles to watch out for:
- Cool Climate Merlot (e.g. Bordeaux, France): These Merlot wines will have more structured tannins and crunchy black fruit, and maybe even a slightly earthy flavor.
- Warm Climate Merlot (e.g., California, Eastern Washington, Southeast Australia): These will be jammier Merlot wines, with velvety black fruit, higher alcohol, and a smoother profile.
Helpful Tip: Here’s a 30-second tasting tip on how to taste tannins. This is a great skill to develop as you jump into red wines.
Merlot Pairing Tips: Quick Style Guide
Because of Merlot’s softer tannin profile, rich dark fruit, and medium body, you’ll find that it pairs well with a range of vegetarian dishes, making Merlot a fabulous go-to wine for everyday drinking.
Cooler climate Merlots will pair well with earthy flavors, and even higher-acid dishes that can be problematic, like tomato sauce. Think everything from spaghetti to risottos.
Warmer climate Merlots have higher alcohol and more body, making them a delicious choice for rich, roasted flavors. Grilled veggies, anyone?
The perfect wine and vegetarian food combinations with Merlot will depend on whether your Merlot is from a warmer or cooler growing region. Keep this in mind as you start to explore.
Helpful Tip: Here’s everything you need to know about Merlot wine if you’re just starting out.
Check out these Merlot pairing ideas.
Merlot Vegetarian Food Pairing #1: Truffle Risotto
Any dish with truffle deserves to be well-paired. Truffle risotto matches beautifully with Merlot’s plush dark plummy profile and soft tannin structure.
The earthy aroma of truffles melds effortlessly with Merlot, translating into a symphony of flavors.
Helpful Tip: Love Merlot? Check out this Merlot and Cheese pairing guide.
Refined decadence. What more do you need?
- Pairs Best With: Stick to cooler climate Merlot wines that have more acid and crunchier dark fruit. Think Bordeaux. If you don’t want to buy a Bordeaux, look for a Merlot under 13% alcohol, a good clue to a cooler climate.
Easy Vegetarian Merlot Food Pairing # 2: Margherita Pizza
Pizza is always an easy Merlot food pairing.
You have the simplicity of vibrant flavors in a Margherita pizza that meld with Merlot’s fruit-forward character.
The acid from tomatoes and cream from fresh mozzarella are perfect for Merlot wine.
- Pairs Best With: Again, stick to cooler climate Merlot wines that have more acid and crunchier dark fruit. Look for Merlot wines under 13% alcohol, a good clue to a cooler climate.
Merlot Vegetarian Food Pairing # 3: Grilled Portobello Mushrooms
If you’re a griller, then go find yourself some Portabello mushrooms for your next Merlot food pairing.
You have an earthy, meaty essence of mushrooms, kissed by flames. Drizzle with olive oil before and after grilling to add a layer of fat and depth that will marry with your Merlot.
I love this vegetarian pairing because it works with all styles of Merlot.
The umami in the mushroom, the fat from the olive oil, and the char from the fire make this a versatile Merlot wine pairing.
- Pairs Best With: Any style of Merlot
Merlot Vegetarian Food Pairing # 4: Oven Roasted Vegetables
Oven roasted vegetables are another delicious vegan Merlot pairing recommendation. The natural earthiness of root vegetables, brussles sprouts, onions, even diced sweet potatoes, all work well with cooler climate Merlot.
Drizzle in generous amounts of olive oil and you’ll bring out a sweet side to your roasted veggies, too, making this a great dish for warmer climate, higher-alcohol, fuller-bodied Merlot wines. Yum!
- Pairs Best With: Any style of Merlot
Merlot Vegetarian Food Pairing # 5: Eggplant Parmesan
For a Mediterranean and vegetarian twist, try oven baked eggplant parmesan as a tasty Merlot food match. Savory eggplant marries Merlot’s dark fruit and herbal profile. This is an unexpected comfort pairing.
- Pairs Best With: Stick to cooler climate Merlot wines that have more acid and crunchier dark fruit. Look for Merlot wines under 13% alcohol, a good clue to a cooler climate.
Merlot Vegetarian Food Pairing #6 Vegan Burgers
Vegan burgers have come a long ways in the last 20 years. You can get the savory, juicy qualities that are almost-meat like making them delicious red wine pairing partners.
Personal Note: I’m a big fan of Impossible Burger burgers thanks to my son’s instance that it’s better for the planet. Merlot and my non-burger burger are standard pairings in our household.
This pairing showcases the versatility of vegan cuisine and the ability of Merlot to enhance even the most plant-forward creations.
Drizzle in BBQ sauce or vegan-friendly cheese to add additional layers of satisfaction.
- Pairs Best With: Look for heavier styles of Merlot, especially for vegan burgers that mimic beef’s texture and flavors. Paso Robles, Lodi, Napa Valley – all will go well with your eco-friendly vegan burger life choices.
Merlot Vegetarian Food Pairing # 7: Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
The simplicity of melted cheese embraced by golden, toasted bread finds a perfect partner in Merlot’s plush dark fruit and soft tannin structure.
Mouth-watering goodness right here.
This harmonious pairing lets the sandwich and wine both shine. If you’re into gourmet cheeses, play with aged cheddar, blue cheese, and gouda.
Add some arugula for a layer of spice and earth.
With each bite, you’re reminded that simple pleasures are everyday pleasures.
- Pairs Best With: Opt for a medium-bodied Merlots. Look for Merlots from regions like Central Coast California, Washington, or Chile.
Easy Vegetarian Merlot Food Pairing # 8: Pasta with Tomato Sauce
You may think ‘Chianti’ while you’re prepping your Wednesday Spaghetti, but Merlot works just as well. This is an easy Merlot and vegetarian food pairing idea.
The acid from the tomato sauce along with any aromatic herbs make this a good pairing for cooler climate Merlot wines.
Merlot’s smooth tannins and bright acidity elevate every bite, creating a taste sensation that pays homage to the culinary traditions of the Old World.
- Best Paired With: Cooler climate Merlot wines with higher acidity and brighter fruit. Look for wines from northern latitudes (or extreme southern latitudes). France (and Bordeaux) is a great place to start!
Easy Vegetarian Merlot Food Pairing # 9: Lentil Soup
Nothing says homemade quite like a bowl of soup. Lentil soup is an easy Merlot food pairing.
The earthy flavors of tender lentils, aromatic herbs, and savory tomato-based broth create layers of goodness that will work with Merlot.
Helpful Tip: Stay away from curries or cayenne powders when flavoring your soups. Chili heat will accentuate the burn of alcohol in your wine.
This is a pairing that offers warmth, comfort and a delightful balance of flavors.
- Best Paired With: Any style of Merlot wine.
Easy Vegetarian Merlot Food Pairing # 10: Baked Potatoes
Baked potatoes offer a blank canvas that you can craft to suit your wine (or your taste buds).
Lighter toppings, like cream cheese and chives, or broccoli and olive oil, will work with lighter styles of Merlot wine from cooler climates.
Stick to bolder Merlot wines for heavier toppings, like vegan chili, or blue cheese.
- Best Paired With: Warm climate Merlots include generic “California” Merlot, Southeastern Australia, and Central Valley Chile. Cooler climate Merlots will come from France and Sonoma Coast.
Final Thoughts – Best Vegetarian Dishes to Pair with Merlot
Let the main flavors in your vegetarian or vegan meal guide your Merlot food pairings.
- Rich, savory dishes with fat and oil work well with heavier styles of Merlot wine.
- Earthy vegetarian dishes with bright acidity and herbs are better pairing partners for lighter styles of Merlot wine.
Experiment with the flavors in your dish along with your wines to find combinations that work for you.
Thirsty for More?
Check out this list of foods that work well with Merlot (not just vegetarians) and figure out how the different Merlot wine styles pair up.
Food and wine pairing is something of an art, which is why I put together this quick food and wine pairing guide to get you started.
Check out this post that gives you a good idea of how much you should be spending on your next bottle of Merlot wine.
Love Merlot as much as me? Check out these other wines that are similar (but distinctive and delicious) to Merlot.
I love Merlot because of its versatility, but Malbecs also offer something similar. Check out this post on the difference between Merlot and Malbec wines.