On location: learning to pair wine and veggies


Ubuntu, Daniel Samao

I spent this morning chatting with Daniel Sarao, General Manager and Director of Wine at Ubuntu, an outstanding vegetarian restaurant in downtown Napa. We did an interview with Ubuntu’s executive chef Jeremy Fox in 2008. Since Ubuntu’s launch 18 months ago, Fox has been noted in every major food publication in the nation including ours, Gourmet and Food & Wine.

Of equal note is Ubuntu’s pastry chef (and Jeremy’s wife), Deannie Fox, whose desserts are worth a trip on their own.

The menus are developed around the restaurant’s organic garden and seasonal produce. The menu changes minorly every few days and majorly every few weeks.


The restaurant’s holistic vision encompasses not only the food, but also other aspects of the dining experience: the restaurant’s interior design and even the inclusion of a yoga studio upstairs.


The food is terrific, but I was in to talk with Daniel about wine. Specifically, about how to pair wine with vegetable dishes. For many it’s an intimidating subject. When you take away the major protein from a dish, where do you start?

Turns out that you start in the same place as traditional protein-based dishes, with the overriding flavor component. Figure out the base flavor, its weight, and then move from there.

Sounds easy, right? Uhm. Yeah. Not really.

Daniel provided a breakdown of a half dozen major categories of vegetables and the perfect wines to pair with them. For example, in the lightweight category you’ve got salad greens, which he’d pair with crispy grassy Sauvignon Blancs. A medium-weight vegetable would be beets and heavy-weights might be legumes or root vegetables for which he would pair Rhone-style whites and Pinot Noirs respectively.

I’m writing this story for our May issue and will provide more examples and detailed recommendations. Some of the other interesting pairings address sunchokes and artichokes, mushrooms and that tricky creature, cauliflour.

Daniel was pretty specific about not only the type of wines, but also the region of the world that they come from. I’ll toss you a red herring and tell you that he’s a big fan of California North coast wines.


It was a fascinating discussion and he threw out a delightful twist on one of the pairings … sake. Turns out he loves sake with vegetarian cuisine and stocks a good selection. I was pretty thrilled to see that you can order a flight of sake for just $17. If you’re not normally a sake drinker, here’s your chance to taste a variety of quality drink for a dime. If you’re nervous you might not like it, share the flight with a friend. Either way, just try it. You might find a new favorite.

Ubuntu, Daniel Samao

All around, a delightful and interesting morning. Thanks, Daniel!

For the full scoop on Daniel’s recommendations, tips and tricks, check out our upcoming May issue.


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