The wine guy: V-plates

by Andy Clarke

04 January 2018

Andy's put together a special wine match for Veganuary, with a recipe from the awesome Root in Bristol...

Standing in a veg garden in Provence in the summer [way to make us hate you in 10 words, Clarke – ed] of 2016, I had a bit of a revelation. I was at the Michelin-starred La Chassagnette – a restaurant where the produce from its huge organic garden is the star – filming for a series all about French food and drink. The restaurant, run by Armand Arnal, was not strictly vegetarian, but it was the first restaurant I’d been to where animal and fish protein was an optional side, as opposed to the main event. It really changed the way I think about meat.

Later that year, on my travels to the USA, I found myself in Philadelphia, with absolutely no knowledge of the city or its culinary culture. As I love an excuse to talk to strangers (not surprised, are you?), I quizzed the locals about where to go to eat and drink – and the same answer came up time and time again: Charlie was a Sinner . This is a vegan cocktail bar and restaurant, with innovative and exquisite food, and cocktails that are off the scale (butterbean froth was even used instead of egg white in some concoctions!). I loved it so much, I went back to film there in 2017. I wanted to give this unique dining concept some well-deserved airtime on UK TV screens.

The fun, creative vibe of the Philadelphia restaurant scene reminded me of the spirit you see here in the West Country, particularly in Bristol. And, more specifically, on the first floor of Cargo. Root is the latest from the Eat Drink Bristol Fashion camp, and has quickly begun exciting the palates of inquisitive foodies. Head chef Rob Howell has curated a symphony of small plates and specials that encourage meat lovers like me to put aside the animal protein and get jiggy with the veg. His beetroot dish with hazelnut, blackberry and seaweed is pretty legendary. It was, though, the warm cep and crispy Jerusalem artichoke salad with mushroom duxelle that stood out the most for me when I went in for dinner recently. A vegan plate of winter warmth, it encompasses all the flavours and textures that you need at this time of year.

So I thought I’d better find a mouthwatering vegan wine to go with it, then.

Cue Great Western Wine’s Librandi Cirò Bianco Greco, 2016 . An awesome force in Italian wine, Greco is a fine example of a grape that is designed for the food lover. Its sunny stone fruit nose is bold enough to cope with all the earthy aromas of the salad. When you taste the wine, it has an instant tang that makes your mouth water, as well as a generous texture, which is great with the thyme. Sipping this is like biting into a ripe pear, and that will work brilliantly with the savoury (and difficult to pair) artichoke and mushroom duxelle. Finally, there’s a fresh finish that excites the palate and cuts through the texture of the cep.

But this recipe is also a winner with a red. Pinot Noir loves mushrooms in this form, and there are a lot of great German varieties out there to choose from. But if you want something a little bit different, then Austria is the place for you. Höpler, Blaufränkisch 2013 , although not a vegan wine, has the subtlety and presence to join with the dish. This is made from Blaufränkisch grapes and it isn’t overtly fruity when you smell it. There’s a hint of damson with freshly cracked black pepper, which is just fab with the artichoke. The wine is soft on the tongue, with a hint of spice and has a surprisingly light finish. It’s not overtly juicy, more subtle and restrained, making it great with wintery mushroom treats that like this, which don’t involve red meat. (Use the code CRUMBS for 20 percent off your first purchase of either of these wines on the Great Western Wine website!)

If you’ve been considering going vegan, it really seems like there’s never been a better time to do it. With Root discretely shining a light for vegan food on Bristol – along with a host of others – and an exceptional wine shop in Bath offering up great vegan sips, you’ll hardly feel like you’re missing out on anything...

Get the recipe for Rob Howell's artichoke and mushroom salad here...