|Ubuntu Sommelier Daniel Sarao
Photo: Michelle Branton
At Ubuntu, Napa Valley's acclaimed vegetarian restaurant slash yoga studio, it falls to wine director and general manager Daniel Sarao to find harmony between the lush bounty of onsite gardens and a vino list sparkling with biodynamic sips.
The son of Italian immigrants who taught him an appreciation for wine, Sarao put himself through college and grad school working at restaurants, cutting short a trajectory towards a liberal arts PhD for the life of a full-time oenophile. We chatted with him about the myths around pairing wine with veggies (yes, you can drink red!), the wonders of caramelizing and five inexpensive summer sippers to pair with grilled veggies.
Are you a vegetarian?
I am not a vegetarian. The chef is not a vegetarian and neither is the owner. But we believe that vegetables can stand on their own. We are breaking the stereotype.
How much of what you serve comes from your garden?
Right now we get about 75 to 80 percent of our ingredients from [our garden]. Our goal is to get almost everything from there. It makes an amazing difference. Squash and peppers are [in season] right now.
What are some misconceptions people have about wine and veggies?
That vegetables are paired only with white wine. That's probably the biggest. Also, that you can't have a bold wine.
Learn more, plus five great wines for under $25 to pair with vegetable dishes, after the jump.
Are there rules to pairing wines with vegetables?
There are fewer rules than people think. If I was painting with broad strokes, I would say you want to look at the fruit component in the wine, second, the weight, and third, the acidity. Acidity is a connector between wine and food. You want something that has enough acidity. The more complex the food, the more acid you want.
How would you go about pairing if you were grilling a basic squash or pepper?
If I was keeping it light and crisp — just olive oil, salt and pepper — I would move to something light like a Sauvignon Blanc or a rosé. [Those vegetables have] a pretty simple flavor. The oak with Sauvignon Blanc adds a little bit more weight since you are caramelizing [by grilling].
So a very light white like a Pinot Grigio wouldn't work?
When you caramelize a vegetable you are adding flavor and bringing out weight. Pinot Grigio is not going to stand up to the caramelization. The food is just going to go over it. Unless you want something to clean your palate, you want something more.
What about when adding spices or say balsamic vinegar?
When I think grilling, if you do a balsamic of something with a little bit more weight or a dense or rich sauce to it, this is where you look for a red. For us here, we use a lot of spices like vadouvan and things that build structure around the vegetable.