Perfect Vegetarian Pairings and TOAST CARS to Boot

Are you looking for a few great food and wine pairing suggestions? Vegetarians and carnivores alike will enjoy the suggestions found in the September 2011 issue of Vegetarian Times. The magazine highlights cutting-edge, unconventional vegetarian food and wine pairings, which I think you will really enjoy. The magazine quizzed a few experts, including myself, on which foods they would serve to enhance and highlight the complex flavors of a variety of wines.

The recommendations are not the ordinary fish + white, steak + red suggestions, which bore the heck out of those who enjoy a great pairing. Think more on the lines of Cabernet Franc + endive petals with rosemary chèvre or Grüner Veltliner + collard green phyllo triangles, each accompanied with the hors d’oeuvres recipe.

Also included in the September issue  are some incredible parings from colleagues Jacob Kiel and Steven Kolpan. I bought my copy of the magazine at New Seasons market, which is similar to a Whole Foods market—and if you are thinking about going vegetarian, surf the magazine’s website for a cool little starter kit to kick start your vegetarian lifestyle.

A few additional recommendations that didn’t make the magazine’s final cut (but are equally tasty and place you ahead of the curve for more flavorsome treats) are Marsanne with roasted root vegetables, and Chenin Blanc with rutabagas. The sweetness of the roasted root vegetables bring out the honey characteristics of the Marsanne while the dense textures of the vegetables contrast the smooth Gruner Veltliner + Collard Greenstextures found in the wine. Another great match is an off-dry Chenin Blanc with rutabagas. The delicate sweetness of the rutabagas enhances the implied sweetness of the wine and the light freshness of the vegetable brings out the minerality while it heightens the acidity of the Chenin Blanc.

For reds, try a Torrontes with a plum sauce. The sweet and tart flavors of the sauce enhance the perceived sweetness of the Torrontes while the acidity cuts through the richness of the sauce. Do you love morels? Then try Mouvedre with morels, another flavorful pairing, which will become your new fast and furious favorite—the sweet earthy flavors of the morel mushrooms play up the earthiness of the wine while the nuttiness enhances the stone, spice and black pepper profile of the Mouvedre. Do you love eggplant? Try matching it with Carmenère. This is a great match as the spicy, smoky essence of the wine and the earthiness of the vegetable brings out the black tea leaf and herbal characteristics of the Carmenere.

So the next time you are preparing a dinner party, experiment and liven up the party by having some fun with interesting combinations, flavors and textures.  Just as chefs like to contrast and compliment flavors and textures, the secret to finding your next great match is to contrast and  compliment the flavors and textures of the food with the flavors and textures of the wine.

Equipped with my quick reference TOAST CARS food and wine pairing guideline, you will be ready to amaze and delight your dinner guests. There is nothing official about this reference, its simply an acronym I created years ago to remember some pairing guidelines while planning parties and remembering facts for wine exams I’ve taken over the years.  Use it the next time you need a little help:

Tannins: Pair highly tannic wine with chewy red meats; low tannic wine with white meats

Oak: Pair oaky wine with foods that have been caramelized, grilled, blackened, etc

Alcohol: Avoid salty, peppery or spicy foods with high alcohol wine, which accentuates the heat

Salt: Pair salty food with high acid wine or sweet wine

Taste: Pair food flavor intensity with the flavor intensity of the wine

Contrast or Match flavors of the food with flavors of the wine

Acidity: Pair acidic food with acidic wine

Richness & Weight: Pair rich food with rich, full flavored wine; delicate wines with strong flavored foods don’t match well

Sweetness: Pair sweet wine with sweet food

On a side note, if you are one of those folks who believe that food and wine pairing is voodoo baloney, or that wine should be served primarily as a cocktail, I think it’s a shame for you to miss out on some serious food and wine epiphanies. My first pairing encounter was with Gary Danko of the Ritz Carlton and I’ve been hooked ever since and continuously strive to find the next great food and wine pairing.  Just remove the pretentiousness of it all and I’ll show your taste buds the best damn tantalizing time it’s seen in a long time.

Hit me up with a comment on on a food and wine pairing that rocked your world.  If we get enough responses, we’ll create a book out of it and we’ll all become famous. We’ll, maybe not famous, but it would be fun anyway. Cheers and happy pairing.