Why Are Cruciferous Vegetables So Challenging To Pair With Wine?

You don't have to be a great sommelier to understand the power of pairings. Any kid who's ever made the mistake of drinking orange juice after brushing their teeth knows that some flavors simply do not mix. But the nasty surprises don't stop at childhood. Sometimes, they crop up in unexpected places — like when you make the mistake of ordering Brussels sprouts with your favorite Cabernet Sauvignon. The result? A mouthful of rotten eggs.

Like broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, and bok choy, Brussels sprouts are cruciferous vegetables. Vegetables in this plant family are healthy, flavorful, and chock full of nutrients like vitamins C, K, and E. They're also full of organosulfur compounds, which contain a large amount of sulfur. When these compounds react with wine, they give it a metallic, sulfurous taste.

Cruciferous veggies aren't the only ones that can mess with wine. Artichokes aren't cruciferous and they don't contain a lot of sulfur — but they do have cynarine, a chemical that dulls your ability to taste bitter, salty, or acidic flavors. This means they'll remove the nuances of your wine and leave it tasting flat and overly sweet.

Which wines pair with cruciferous vegetables?

Ask a sommelier for recommendations on which wines to pair with these veggies, and many will give you a pretty direct answer: don't even try. Some people love a challenge, though, so if you're stubborn, adventurous, or just really love wine, feel free to give it a go. Generally, dry, low-acid white wines will be your best bet. 

And, since cruciferous vegetables often have a distinct "green" taste, they tend to work well with wines that have a strong herbal note. You'll have the best luck with Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Vermentino, or Cabernet Franc. Keep in mind that the specific dishes you're serving matter, too: Vegetables cooked with meat can stand a heartier wine pairing than a plate full of nothing but greens. 

Remember, many people are sensitive to bitter notes. A pairing that tastes good to you won't necessarily resonate with your guests. But if you're willing to embrace the bitter, don't hold back. Sometimes, pairing broccoli or bok choy with a bitter, high-tannin wine will cancel out the bitterness in the veggies — so bring out that bottle of Malbec if you're feeling brave.