Recipe: Creamy Roasted Squash & Crispy Mushrooms (Vegan)
Bottle: 2016 The Hilt Estate Pinot Noir (NB: unknown whether animal-based fining agents are used)

The Food

As the weather has finally started to get a bit colder here in California and the leaves have started to change, the craving for cozy, filling dinners has begun to set in. I came across this recipe for Creamy Roasted Squash & Crispy Mushrooms from Lily Diamond's website, Kale & Caramel, and it looked too delicious not to try. I am happy to report that it was absolutely as delicious and decadent as it looks on the recipe page! For any fellow lovers of squash and 'shrooms, be sure to check out this easy and completely moreish vegan dinner.

The Wine

Ever the contrarian, I really enjoy trying to pair red wine with vegetarian dishes, and hearty recipes such as this one work tremendously well with certain varietals of red wine. That is not to say that this dish will not pair well with white wine for those diehards out there - trust me, there are also some amazing combinations to be had with the lighter-colored juice (see the "Other Great Choices" section below for some examples).

My Recommendation - California Pinot Noir

Though this meal probably could support a wine with even further tannins than a California Pinot Noir (think Cabernet Franc or even a Chianti Classico), the mushroomy notes and medium-to-high acidity common to the pinot noir grape varietal really accentuate this mushroom-forward dish and help to add some complementing brightness to an otherwise heavy meal.


So, why California over Burgundy Pinot Noir?

Well, in my opinion, wine from both regions would complement the dish nicely, but the added acidity common to California Pinot Noirs really helps bring a lighter side to this meal. Additionally, the aromas of thyme and sauteed shallots in the dish are a key part of the flavor profile of the meal, and the less floral nose of a California Pinot Noir allows these aromas to take center stage. Finally, the pinots from California tend to have a more rich, jammy red fruit aroma and palatel flavor that adds an element of Thanksgiving dinner that I personally prefer with roasted squash.

Why this bottle in particular?

There is a vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills near Santa Barbara called Radian Vineyards that consistently produces amazing pinot noir grapes. Radian is perhaps my favory vineyard for California Pinot Noir, due to the perfumed aromas and rich fruit flavors typical of the grapes from the vineyard. There are several producers that source grapes from this vineyard, including The Hilt, which sources a portion of the grapes in this Pinot Noir blend from this vineyard. The pinot portion of the vineyard is roughly 95 acres and sits in a somewhat sheltered basin. What makes the vineyard very unique is the presence of diatomaceous earth. This type of soil is characterized by its soft, powdery, almost moonlike consistency. This soil forms as the result of follization diatoms (a type of single-cell algae), and is composed almost entirely of silica. The diatomaceous earth, combined with the other layers of rocky soil, provide excellent drainage and heat retention that lead to ripe fruit aromas and flavors in the final juice. Further, the high altitude of the vineyard and cold coastal breezes which lead to increased acidity, a key factor in pairing this particular wine with this dish. Ultimately, the richness of aroma and flavor mixed with the high-altitude acidity make this particular California Pinot Noir a great match for this meal.


Other Great Choices

As with food in general, pairing preferences are, to a certain extent, subjective. While certain rules of thumb like pairing high acid wines with fatty dishes are tried-and-true, there are a vast range of varietals and terroirs that can provide this acidic brightness with a different range of aromas and palatel notes that may be more to your personal taste preferences. That is the beauty and joy of wine - there is something for everyone and numerous delicious pairing combinations to be had!

Reds: Cabernet Franc, Chianti Classico
Whites: Falanghina, Grüner Veltliner, Viognier, Alsace Riesling
Rosé: Dry Sancerre Rosé, Italian Rosato
Sparkling: Blanc de Noirs (with fried mushrooms...OMG)