And so, the cheese and wine tasting.
Both last and this year I attended this seminar. I must admit, it is always my favorite part of the whole weekend. The winemakers (or, in this case, ambassadors) form a panel at the front of the room. Whole Foods are given samples of the wines to pair beforehand. The ‘fromallier’, as I have heard such cheese experts called, did an incredible job. She supplied each of the six wines with two very different cheeses in order to illustrate just how much it changed the flavor profile.
We were instructed to taste the wine first—without dairy interference (taking bread and water between wines to reset our palates). Then, we were to observe the effect of cheeses in the nose, palate, and over texture/structure of the wine. The results were so interesting.
The first was the 2008 Edgebaston Sauvignon Blanc ($14). On its own, it was akin to Chilean SB—bright, acid, and not without the likely culprits of herbs, grass, and grapefruit, but it wasn’t quite so aggressive as New Zealand. Nor was it melon-driven like so many in California. Tropical notes were evident, and it was even a little fuller bodied than many I am used to. The Dubliner Irish Cheddar was yummy on it’s own—aged and salty. It brought out the apple notes in the nose of this wine. However, it stole the stage when it came to the palate. The wine was left in a watery, thin state.
With the Campo de Montablar (a Spanish cheese, sort of like Manchego), the SB faired quite well. The cheese itself was quite nutty, really bringing out some nutty characteristics in the wine whilst enhancing some of the citrus tones.
The next was the 2008 Savanha Chenin Blanc ($10), or ‘steen’ as they refer to this grape in South Africa. The nose was oozing with honey with a hint of white flowers. Often, I get honeysuckle, but this was much more rich honey with some floral and earthy (almost fungal) components lingering in the background. It actually smelled a bit like Brie, which happened to be our first pairing—a triple crème (so good). This really gave the wine a facelift. It seemed more youthful and vibrant. Honey spread across the tongue, but a deeper minerality surfaced, giving it an fascinating depth of personality for a $10 wine.
When paired with 3 year aged Tillamook Cheddar, the Chenin was certainly not distasteful, rather it was neutralized to how it showed on its own. The cheese did not hurt or harm it.
The first of our reds, the 2008 Paul Cluer Pinot Noir ($20), comes from Elgin—the coolest and highest winegrowing region in South Africa (3,000 feet above sea level). It reminded me of New Zealand Pinot, as it wasn’t quite earthy enough to be Oregon, nor full-bodied and fruity enough to be Cali. And it certainly lacked the seriousness and minerality of Burgundy. It was cheerful and straightforward. Clean and controlled.
The Pinot was paired with a Danish Blue Castello and a French Comte (pronounced ‘Kompt’). I don’t like blue, so that was already doomed (I know—what’s wrong with me?!), and the Comte amazingly brought out this wine’s flaws. Namely, a sulfur imbalance, as in, too much. Sometimes winemakers add a bit more to disguise the flaws in their wines. It can be quite obvious, displaying loud scents of matchstick. Or, it can be subtle—almost unnoticed, such as this one was until it married poorly. Even with cheese and wine, divorce is sometimes the best option. They are both fine and well on their own. But together…
The 2008 Savanha Pinotage/Shiraz ($10) was nasty on the nose. For me, that is. It smelled like stinky feet having just walked through a field of smoky fruit. Ick. Ah, but then, you see… sometimes a lonely hunter really does just need a mate. For this wine, it was the Perrano Aged Dutch Gouda. This cheese was much like a Robusto or Parmesan—aged, salty, delicioso. Suddenly, a rush of fresh fruit was released and the palate was smooth. Gone were stinky feet. Hooray! It was very yummy.
With the Fontina cheese that followed, this Pinotage/Shiraz blend returned to a more earthy, dirty state of being, but it wasn’t off-putting as it was without the cheese altogether. In fact, in emanated a nice ‘terroir-ish’ personality…if you’re into that sorta thing.
Okay, I’m moving. Stay with me!
We then tried the 2008 Edgebaston Pepper Pot ($12), and what a hit that was! This blend of Syrah (58%), Mourvedre (32%), and Tenat (10%) did a wonderful job integrating new world fruit with an old world earthy style. With a porcini mushroom Brie, this wine was packed with mushroomy flavors, which I loved… Other people, however, had different opinions on this match. Just like that intense couple in high school who always made out in the hallway between class periods, this wine and cheese pairing were super hot and heavy. The Killaree Cheddar, on the other hand, expanded the mouthfeel and enhanced the fruit. Both were fine pairings.
Finally, the 2005 Sadie Family Winery ‘Sequillo’ ($30) concluded the match-maker. This wine was fantastic—a blend of Syrah (60%), Mourvedre (30%) and Grenache (10%), a classic trio that is often referred to simply as a ‘GSM.’ Oodles of raspberries, spices, pepper and dried violets fell from the nose and translated well on the palate. It had a generous mouthfeel. It was a serious wine. A great synergy of new world and old, as it maintained a brightness of fruit with the grounded wisdom of minerals, dried herbs and tea leaves. It was dense but somehow not heavy. Layered and elegantly smooth.
The Truffle Tremor cheese killed it. Holy truffle. After I resurrected my palate with some bread, I tried it with a handcrafted Spanish goat cheese with South African red peppers. That was a nice pairing. Not remarkable (actually quite noteworthy with the Pepper Pot), but very solid. To end on a sweet note, we gave it a go with dark chocolate. As suspected, it muted the nose. But both were so darn tasty on their own.
If you can, try and participate in a local wine & cheese pairing. You will be surprised at how much you learn! Check out http://www.localwineevents.com. That’s a great source for events such as these.
Next up: The South African wine that blew me away.