Vegetarian tacos, typically filled with a mix of roasted vegetables, beans, and spices, offer a versatile canvas for culinary creativity, especially when it comes to wine pairing. Pairing these with a Howell Mountain Merlot from Napa Valley introduces an interesting challenge due to the wine’s distinct characteristics. Howell Mountain Merlots are known for their robust tannins, deep fruit flavors, and a hint of earthiness, influenced by the unique terroir of the region. By making thoughtful adjustments to the veggie taco preparation, we can enhance compatibility with the wine, creating a pairing that is both unique and satisfying.

Understanding Howell Mountain Merlot

A bottle of 2017 Beringer Bancroft Ranch Napa Valley Merlot was used as a reference in this exercise.

Howell Mountain, located in the northeast side of Napa Valley, is famed for its volcanic soils and unique microclimate above the fog line, which contribute to the production of intense and structured wines. Howell Mountain Merlots are typically full-bodied with a higher tannin content and complex flavor profiles that include dark fruits like blackberries and plums, complemented by nuances of cedar, spices, and sometimes a subtle minerality. The wines’ robust nature and lingering finish make them excellent candidates for pairing with food that can match their intensity and depth.

Characteristics of Classic Veggie Tacos

Traditional veggie tacos are light and fresh, with an emphasis on the natural flavors of the vegetables. Common ingredients include bell peppers, onions, zucchini, and corn, providing a sweet and sometimes smoky flavor, especially if grilled. These tacos are often topped with lime juice, cilantro, and salsa, adding acidity and zest that can contrast sharply with a deep, tannic wine like Merlot.

Veggie Tacos and Howell Mountain Merlot

Modifications for an Ideal Pairing

To create a harmonious pairing with Howell Mountain Merlot, the veggie tacos need to incorporate elements that will complement the wine’s profile, enhancing both the dish and the drink:

  1. Incorporate Umami Flavors: Introduce umami-rich ingredients such as grilled portobello mushrooms or eggplant to the vegetable mix. These vegetables have a meatier texture and deeper flavors that resonate well with the boldness of Howell Mountain Merlot.
  2. Add Roasted Components: Roast some of the vegetables, like bell peppers and onions, to caramelize their natural sugars. This roasting process enhances the sweetness and smokiness, providing a better match for the wine’s richness and smoothing out its tannic edge.
  3. Utilize Richer Sauces: Instead of fresh salsa, opt for a mole or a smoky chipotle sauce. These sauces incorporate chocolate or smoked jalapeño, which align beautifully with the earthy and spicy notes of the Merlot.
  4. Choose Warmer Spices: Season the vegetables with spices such as cumin, coriander, and smoked paprika, which mirror the spicy undertones of the wine and add complexity to the tacos.
  5. Serve with a Savory Garnish: Garnish the tacos with feta or cotija cheese, which will add a salty richness, enhancing the Merlot’s fruit flavors and managing its tannins.


By adjusting the preparation and presentation of veggie tacos, we can transform this dish into a delightful counterpart to Howell Mountain Merlot. This pairing exemplifies how a thoughtful consideration of flavors and cooking techniques can bridge the gap between a light, vegetable-centric dish and a robust, tannic wine. Such culinary creativity not only elevates the dining experience but also broadens the spectrum of vegetarian cuisine that can be enjoyed with complex red wines, demonstrating that even the most unexpected pairings can be harmonious when approached with insight and imagination.

Veggie Tacos and Howell Mountain Merlot