How to create your own plant-based wine-pairing dinner party
I was a thrilled to be profiled in San Diego Home and Garden Magazine's feature story that documented a dinner and wine pairing party like no other I put together. We brought the best of the best together - including Jackson Simon Vineyards and Chef Robert Gaffney - to provide a wine pairing experience amalgamated with delicious vegan food all set around a sophisticated yet simple decor.
Below I highlight key takeaways and tips to help you host your very own plant-based dinner party, including decor DIYs, menu ideas, wine tasting must-know knowledge and more.
Tip 1: Kick-off your dinner with some great dairy-free 'cheeses' or nut-based spreads.
It's always great to have a little something for guests to nibble on when they first arrive and enjoy along side their starter wine or cocktail. There are so many dairy alternatives these days; choosing a high-quality vegan cheese is important to wow your guests. I recommend artisanal and So-Cal-based Reine, a company that makes small-batch artisanal vegan rounds out of Ventura, California. They use high-quality, organic ingredients without any soy, GMO, dairy or gluten. Based on an Old-World process, their traditional cheese-making technique is authentic and yields a nutritious, delicious product. (You can find Reine in markets, listed here, or purchase online.) Recommend are the Fauxgonzola and Chipotle Cheddar, but really, you can't go wrong with any of their flavors. It's fun to allow your guests to taste, pull out the flavors in each, and discuss their favorites! (You can also do a 'BYOC' and ask guests to bring their favorite vegan cheese to share with the group.) For crackers, try Hu, which has a line of new gluten-free vegan crackers that not only look pretty but are a great bite size clean cracker to go with your cheese. You can find at a local store or on the growing number of online vegan shops like the recently launch PlantX which has tons of plant-based goodies and offers fast delivery. You also can't go wrong with crackers from Real Food From the Group Up, on of my favorite snack brands—and trust me I have tried many—which has a wide selection of crackers, chips, etc. that are always vegan and also gluten-free.
Tip 2: Serve a starter that's light, simple and can contrasts with your wine pairing.
At the dinner I hosted, Chef Robert Gaffney whipped up an incredible multi-course meal that guests -- from both ends of the food spectrum -- were amazed by. The starter was this incredible beet hummus with edible seasonal flowers and warm pita. Chef Gaffney let us in on his recipe below so you can try it out yourself. Following that course was a Szechuan eggplant over jasmine rice gnocchi followed by the dessert course, a rich and moist chocolate beet cake with raspberry sauce -- recipe here! PLUS, and this is a tip for any and all dishes: use edible flowers to create beautiful food art and bring in pops of color.
SMOKED BEET HUMMUS
1 large red beet (about 12 ounces) 1/3 cup tahini 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling 1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained but liquid reserved 1 large clove garlic, coarsely chopped 3 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 1-2 lemons) 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt 1 tsp. smoked paprika 1 tsp. ground cumin Fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped for garnish
Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 400°F. Pierce the beet in several places with the tip of a sharp knife, wrap it completely in aluminum foil and place it on a baking sheet. Roast until tender, about 1 hour. (If you have a smoker, smoke for 15 minutes.) Set aside until cool to the touch.
Peel the beet and cut it into large chunks. Place it in a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Add all ingredients except the cilantro. Process, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary, until a paste forms. With the machine running, slowly pour in between 1/4 and 1/3 cup of the reserved chickpea liquid and continue processing until the mixture is smooth and creamy, 2 to 3 minutes. Taste and season with more lemon juice or salt as needed. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with cilantro and serve. (Recipe from Chef Robert Gaffney.)
Tip 3: Create thoughtful wine pairings, plus drop some wine tasting tips.
Here are some quick tips from Ryan Scott, former winemaker at Jackson Simon Vineyards:
1. People tend to swirl the wine in the glass very aggressively; try to refrain. Instead, slowly let the liquid circle the glass and put your nose inside while it’s moving.
2. “Trying to taste with your tongue just gives you sensation flavors,” Scott explains. For a deeper taste, take a sip and put the wine at the back of your palate. Then blow through the wine at the back of your throat to bring it into your sinuses and get the full sensory experience. Careful doing this maneuver; some people tend to choke a bit while attempting, so practice first!
Jackson Simon Vineyard's winemaker poured a 2018 Picardan to pair with the first course, the beet hummus. “The Picardan has a lemon and melon character on it, which gives a bit of complexity and mingles well with the smoky beets,” Scott notes. You might think like flavors need to be paired, but sometimes contrasting flavors can make for a surprising and enjoyable pairing.
Recently Jackson Simon opened a wine tasting room in Oceanside, Calif. You can now sample Jackson Simon wines while soaking in some wine education from their experts. More info at www.jacksimonvineyard.com.
Tip 4: Spice of your table with easy-to-make DIY napkins.
A beautiful napkin can bring your entire table and pull everything together. Spoonflower is a great on-demand fabric printing site where you can upload an image and have it printed onto a fabric of your choice. Or you can choose one of their many fabric prints from artists around the world. The print used here is an Art Deco print that complimented the geometric vase pattern, and black cutlery. The napkin rings are simply shower hooks I spray pained gold! (To make the napkins, simply cut two 16x16 inch squares for each napkin. Put the right sides of the fabric together. Sew all the way around - but leaving a 1 inch gap to turn right side in. Then finish sewing the gap from the outside. And there you have your napkin!)
Check out some additional photos from the dinner and magazine article below. I hope this inspires you to create your own veg-inspired dinner party!
Photo credit Gary Payne.