Mark Twain once described cauliflower as “nothing but cabbage with a college education.” Well, what’s so wrong with that? While it does belong to the Brassica genus, which includes vegetables like cabbage, turnip, mustard and broccoli, and is often characterized by possibly polarizing pungent aromas and bitter flavors, cauliflower is like the category’s sophisticated, dynamic leader. Its delicacy has made it a favorite of chefs, and its crunchy, crumbly texture and easily amenable neutral flavor keep everyone interested. In turn, cauliflower’s multifaceted nature is easily complemented by a range of wines.
Cauliflower fans extol its softly sweet flavor, a quality lacking in many cruciferous vegetables. It’s why you sometimes see pomegranate and raisins in cauliflower dishes. Pinot Noir features tart red fruit and soft tannins that complement this sweetness without overwhelming its subtlety. It’s especially good with grilled or roasted preparations.
When grilled or roasted at high heat, cauliflower flaunts a delicious, gentle nuttiness. With flavors of hazelnut and almond, Arneis is terrific alongside any cauliflower recipe with nuts. The wine also boasts notes of apricot, pear and honey that stand up to creamy or more full-flavored cauliflower dishes.
Though cauliflower is less blatantly bitter than its fellow brassica like kale or Brussels sprouts, it has a noticeable vegetal note that can be difficult to pair with wine. Grassy Sauvignon Blanc offers a solution. Its crisp acidity will help cut bitterness, while its herbal flavors will complement the cruciferous veg nicely.
Despite its dynamic, subtle flavors, cauliflower tends to absorb whatever seasonings come its way. Falanghina, a flagship grape of Campania, Italy, offers a versatile light body with hints of citrus, woody spice and a minerality that recalls salt flats or wet stone. Its impact on cauliflower is akin to a squeeze of lemon and pinch of salt.