Okay. Confession time. I like wine – a lot. Not only is wine delicious, but each bottle has a story. Like many things, some stories are more interesting than others, but each bottle comes from somewhere, is made by someone and contains some kind of grape. I like those kind of stories, just like I like stories about food. I like reading about food, looking at it, talking about it, cooking it and eating it. For most of you, my dear friends and family, this is probably old news. For those of you who may not already know it, as a family, we eat predominantly vegetables, but are known to have fish occasionally and even meat, though very rarely. While our vegetarian lifestyle is relevant to my story, the reasons for our choices are not and so we’ll leave those aside.
What I do want to share with you is how these two loves of mine – wine and vegetarian food – play together. If you’re like me, when you visit a wine shop or read about wine, first you read the description of the wine followed by the recommendations for food pairings. The suggested pairings are often simple at best – meat, poultry, fish or vegetarian. I don’t know about you, but that’s just not enough information for me. Vegetarian (and vegan) dishes offer a very wide variety of flavors and textures and thus wine pairing opportunities.
What I’ve discovered during my food and wine journey is that I don’t always find it very easy to pair vegetarian dishes with wine. I have a lot of respect for those sommeliers in fancy restaurants who can pair a beautiful and mouth-watering vegetarian dish perfectly with a wine so artistically and masterfully that both the food and the wine, each lovely on their own, are elevated to another level entirely. Oh my! To an amateur like myself, that can be both inspiring and pretty intimidating. However, after a conversation with some of the staff during a recent visit to the lovely vegetarian restaurant in Cork, Cafe Paradiso, I decided that I would not be deterred. Wine appreciation is a subjective thing, so why shouldn’t I give it a try? On my quest to enjoy this experience at home, I started keeping a little journal about my experiences/experiments (both positive and negative) and thought it might be fun to share them with you here since I suspect that I may not be alone in my desire to make a nice pairing.
So, for my first pairing, I’d like to show a pairing that was pretty tasty. The dish is one that we eat pretty often with slight variations based on the vegetables in the fridge. The dish is served on a bed of red and white quinoa topped with beet blocks, caramelized red onion and fennel slices, sliced portobello mushrooms, and cavolo nero (also known as black kale or Tuscan kale) and topped with feta cheese made from goat’s milk. I paired it with one of my favorite Pinot Noirs: Snow Mountain, The Mistress 2015 vintage from the winemaker at Nabygelegen. While writing this post, I read a press release on their website that the 2009 vintage of this particular wine was served during the 60th Jubilee lunch of the Queen of England. Now that is a pretty neat story! Although I wasn’t able to find much about the wine itself on their site, I did read some interesting articles about their 2013 and 2014 vintages written by Michael Olivier if you’d like to read more about it.
It is from the Bovlei Valley in Wellington, South Africa and although it is a fruit-driven Pinot Noir, it is subtle, complex and elegant with typical earthy and mushroom-like flavors as well as spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper and a bit of vanilla. The earthiness tasted great with the nutty quinoa and the earthy mushrooms, which I cooked separately on a fairly high heat so that they had a nice smoky flavor, and the red fruits, think raspberry, strawberry and some cherry, paired well with the sweet and earthy beets and also gave a lovely contrast to the creamy and salty goat feta cheese. Overall, a successful pairing!