It shouldn’t be a surprise that humble mushrooms, fungi that feed on decaying matter, are such a popular ingredient throughout many of the world’s cuisines. After all, mold and yeast, two basic fungi, are responsible for turning milk into blue cheese, wheat into bread and, of course, grape juice into wine. Mushrooms can have a similar transformative effect on food, lending a deep savory character to all sorts of dishes. This intangible quality is often called “meaty,” but mushrooms have several distinct flavor components that make them a natural partner for wine.
Few foods are as earthy as mushrooms, which often taste like the soil in which they grow. If this quality appeals to you, pick a wine that will tease it out, rather than overwhelm it. Red Burgundy from the Côte de Nuits is a great earthy expression of Pinot Noir with mushroom-like undertones.
Many mushrooms, especially when raw, have a subtle peppery, throat-tickling quality akin to that of radishes. Tannins can accentuate this sensation in an unpleasant way, so try a rich white wine to smooth it out. As it ages, Rioja Blanco develops nutty, caramelized aromas and an almost creamy texture that match beautifully with mushrooms.
The so-called “fifth taste,” umami describes an intense savoriness found in cured meat and aged cheese, as well as cooked and dried mushrooms. Washington State Syrah boasts ripe black fruit along with umami-rich notes of bacon, olive, leather and game that play well with concentrated mushroom flavors.
Many varieties of mushroom, particularly porcini and matsutake, have gentle notes of pine tree and underbrush. Off-dry in style, with woodsy, dried-fruit and citrus-peel flavors, Verdelho Madeira is both a good match for mushroom dishes and an excellent ingredient in mushroom-dominant recipes.