Preparing for my in-store tasting last night featuring Bordeaux, I thought to pair them with a few cheeses, when it occurred to me that I had no idea where to start. Nothing came naturally to my palate’s memory that quite made sense.
I apparently was not alone, as I learned when I decided to ask Google, an exercise I often perform when I am confused (Dear Google, What is nucleosynthesis? What is the meaning of life? And where did I leave my keys, yet again?). I garnered a few ideas. Though it seemed this was no cinch for anyone, rather an experiment with significant trial and error.
I picked up one cheese that many chimed in was decent: a youthful Gouda. I also grabbed a salty, hard Parrano by Uniekaas, a Ptit Anjou (ironically, a variety that Google actually needs its own Google for—does anyone have information on this stinky little cheese that is reminiscent of Epoisses, just a touch less gooey?), and believe it or not Bucheron—a semi-hard, yet still soft goat cheese that gets quite dry as it gets closer to the hardened rind that surrounds it. I had this with a cru Beaujolais last autumn and thought it would probably have great potential with other lighter, tannic fruity reds.
My theory proved correct with the 2007 Chateau Lagarde St. Emilion ($17)—a musky scented, friendly sipper from the Merlot-dominant right bank. Without any cheese, this wine was very earthy, almost moldy, with dried plums, cherry and wet forest floral notes. Spice was singing on the palate and the tannins were getting much smoother after slumbering all summer in the bottle. Paired with the Bucheron, it was a young spritely thing, boasting ripe berry fruit, cranberries and juicy cherries.
The Parrano deepened its voice a bit with chewy cherry tobacco and moist soil. It was a suddenly Bordeaux with the change of a cheese. This Dutch gouda-style cow’s milk cheese is much like parmesan in its nutty, salty elocution.
They young Gouda, however, was a disaster. It made the Bordeaux taste thin, almost watery, and weightless (damn Google).
And the imitation Epoisses with no identity? It overwhelmed the wine a bit much, making the flavors more pungent and tangy.
The same drill was applied to two other wines: a white 2007 Chateau Thieuley ($17), a sensational terroir driven blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon (50/50) as well as a red with Kermit Lynch’s hand-picked 2005 Chateau Aney Haut-Medoc ($32). I wasn’t surprised that the former did so well with many of the cheeses. Whites often do fare better with cheese pairing as it is.
On its own, the Thieuley smelled of just snipped asparagus, sweet peas, fresh green herbs and a twist of lemon—no grapefruit as you might find in several other Sauvignon Blancs. The Semillon does a lovely job of softening the acidic edges and delivering a sweet tune.
The Parrano dampened the fruit on the nose but sent a surge of zesty citrus racing to the sides of my tongue once on the palate. The reaction actually made me crave the Bucheron which then, as expected, calmed down the acid a little bit and zeroed in on the rich, creamy texture of the dry goat cheese.
The young Gouda once again…failed. It caused all the citrus as found in the Parrano, but didn’t feature the zesty acid that so stunningly held the backbone securely in place.
And finally, the most complex wine of the night taken from the famed ’05 vintage, the Aney alone was the most severe in temperament. It held a high chin and spoke in austere, hushed tones. I was able to extract some earthy elements of bark, cedar, tobacco anise, savory herbs, cherries and raspberries, but they were hardly audible and properly buried as good Bordeaux will do when not ready to drink.
With the help of cheese, it began to speak up a bit.
The Parrano stole some of the earthiness from the nose, although it managed to kick up very loud notes of fennel, wet violets and blueberry.
The young Gouda, which was such a miserable fail in the last couple, reclaimed its name with this one, as it managed to restore the dirty terroir that makes a Bordeaux so singular in scent. It was back to its musky old self.
And the Ptit Anjou? Surprisingly, this stinky old, rotten piece of cheese gave the Bordeaux a facelift. It was a toddler, really. It shouted with ripe berry fruit, vanilla bean, oak and ‘drink me now!’ demands. The old Bordeaux funk was hardly to be found, except on the finish when olives on the dirt-encrusted rocks came through.
I was amazed at how much these wines changed with a little fromage. I actually made thin k of a decanter differently. Maybe all a youthful Bordeaux needs is the right pairing in order to coerce its character a couple years before its optimum suggested debut?
This tasting also demonstrated to both my customers and me how un-prohibitive some Bordeaux can be. We were all very impressed by these selections, two under $20 and one just around $30 (which, I might add, seems highly capable of ageing a good 15-20 years—not a bad investment for someone looking to start a little cellar on a budget).