Wine and cheese, almost as good as peanut butter and chocolate. I mean, who doesn't love a good cheese and wine pairing right? Chop up a few hunks of cheese, throw it on a plate then pop a few wines open and viola!! Sometimes yes, sometimes no depending on the occasion and the overall picture of what you want to achieve or present to your guests. Yes, there are guidelines to follow as far as what wines pair with what cheeses, what order to serve them in, but experimentation is half the fun of learning. Usually, the first thing someone grabs to pair with cheese is a red wine. Again, if we're following rules then red wine is a no-no for most cheese. Too much tannin, too high in alcohol on and on. Don't let that stop you. If you like a hunk of provolone with a Chianti then dive right in. For most of the cheese world, believe it or not, white wine and beer...yes BEER!!...are best for cheese pairings. Why? Low alcohol, low tannin and most importantly with beer is the bubbles, BUBBLES!! Sparkling wine for that mater is better for pairings as well. Bubbles make the hidden flavor locked up in the cheese pop open, acidity cuts through the fat. If you have your heart set on a red then try something generally softer like a Beaujolais or Lambrusco. Much like everything we discuss here in this classroom, do what makes you happy. After all...you're talking to the guy who drank a beautiful premier Cru white Burgundy with an omelette. Awful pairing, but there was no other food in the house and dayumm was that wine good! When pairing keep in mind the body of the wine to "weight" ofwhat ever you're pairing it with. Lighter foods will get buried underneath a full bodied Cab while a Prime Rib would mask anything a SauvBlanc had to offer.
On August 3rd sales person extraordinaire Geoff Troup threw down the gauntlet to do a little cheese and wine pairing. Geoff selected 6 wines from his portfolio and I proceeded to work through some cheese pairings and see what was available from my suppliers, what was in season, what was ripe, etc. A few days before the pairing Geoff gave me a heads up that one of the wines we had tried a couple of months back had indeed changed vintages and with that an entirely new flavor profile which changed plans in a whole new direction. These things happen, so keep in mind to taste the wines prior to presenting the cheese plate.
Onto the lineup!
Round 1: Zonin Prosecco vs Fresh Chevre
Usually with fresh goat cheese I'll pair it with a Sauv Blanc, but in this case I wanted the bubbles to cut through the creaminess of the cheese. Fresh Chevre while not known to be ultra creamy like a triple creme brie, does have a certain dense body. We used the La Bon Vie since it is was lighter in style, almost with a whipped consistency and less of that classic "goaty" flavor. The Zonin is a lighter style Prosecco with that classic green apple skin flavor and medium effervescent. The cheese coats your palate in a nice airy layer while the Prosecco swoops in to cleanse it all away. The acidity in the cheese, goat cheese does have some acidity, compliments the slight tartness form the green apple notes in the wine. Neither of the two flavors clash and we're off to a good start!
Round 2: 19 Crimes Chard vs Cave Aged Gruyere
!9 Crimes over delivers each and every time for a $10 wine. Here we have their newest entry to the lineup. This is a huge butter bomb Chardonnay layered with oak and a whopping 15%ABV. WAaaaaaayyyy too much alcohol, but the challenge has been cast. I pull out the Mifroma Cave Aged Gruyere as a contender. This raw cows milk Gruyere is aged 2 to 3 months then shipped to Mifroma's caves for an additional 8-11 months to pick up more nutty, sweet flavors. The cheese has some backbone to hold up against such a powerful Chard. When you take a bite of the cheese, let it melt in your mouth then hit it with the wine. Butter and oak flavors mix with the sweet nutty flavors balancing out the Chard where it's becoming approachable, almost taming the butter beast. Chards are funny. You either love them or hate them. You would not expect a $10 Aussie Chard to come out swinging like this one.
Round 3: Minuity Rose vs Jasper Hill Gose washed Willoughby
Munity is a traditional style of Rose from Provence. Crisp, clean ocean air with some salinity and very faint hints of cranberry and tangerine. Billed as the Whispering Angel Killer in Europe, the wine is very elegant and affordable when compared to the Angel.
The Willoughby has been washed with Lost Nation Brewery's Gose beer. Gose is a style of beer that has been fermented with salt and coriander, usually tart, dry and refreshing. The Willoughby on itself is a washed rind cow's milk cheese that picks up some fruity, floral and sometimes funky notes. A little tangy, but the paste is thick and creamy. I'm hoping the Rose brings out some fruity notes, but I think the game changer was the Gose wash. Coriander, salt and a few other notes don't work well with the Rose. It's nothing unpleasant, but it's not the result that I was hoping for.
Round 4: Cosentino's "The Cab" vs Reypenaer 1 Year Gouda
This was the wine that changed flavor profiles that Geoff had cautioned me to. Cosentino draws from Lodi, CA for it's "The" series. As soon as you see Lodi you may think fruit forward, but not in this case. Cosentino has really taken control and shown some restraint in over extraction of fruit flavors in their Lodi series. The Cab was also aged 18 months in new French oak. Considering that this is a $15 Cab Sauv, it's drinking beyond that price point. The actual blend is 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, and a proprietary blend of Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc. Dark and inky with aromas of black currant, kumquat, sandalwood and baking spices. Medium body with good tannin structure and layers of flavors like dried cherries and dark roast coffee that continue to evolve and linger. The Gouda, while not super aged, has some of those nutty, roasted flavors and the sweet crunchy "cheese crystals' that are more dominate in more aged cheeses. The combo of cheese and vino work well together. As a last minute change up from Geoff's courtesy call, this would've otherwise been an aged Manchego with a more fruit forward Cab.
Round 5: Trapiche Broquel Malbec vs Santori Espresso Bellavitano
I know...Coffee and cheese, two things that don't sound like they should go together. That is until you try this cheese. It wow's so many people that we had to find other producer to keep up with demand. Creamy yet nutty "sweet" like an aged Parmiggiano with chunks of those cheese crystals. The Malbec has an intense purple red color with ruby hues. Aromas of fresh red and black fruits, floral notes, and earthy minerals, with an elegant touch of smoke that help compliment the coffee tones from the cheese. Great pairing and honestly the first cheese I thought of when Geoff suggested the wine. The smokiness from the Malbec held up perfectly to the espresso.
Round 6: Cocobon Dark vs Ama Cave Aged Blue Cheese
Blue cheese is the catalyst for every bad wine and cheese pairing. When you screw up this pairing it'll let you know. Blues are usually recommended to pair with ports, Sauternes or even Barley Wine (beer). In England during Christmas it is tradition to bring home a half wheel of blue cheese and carve out a crater in the middle of the wheel, pour port wine into it and then scoop out the cheese incorporating the wine into the serving. With no sweet wine in the line up, but wanting to attempt to hit this pairing I thought the deep inky, fruit forwardness of the Cocobon Dark would work. Cocobon Dark is a blend of Merlot, Zinfandel, and Petite Sirah with a touch of Petite Verdot. Deep dark and inky..,.what could go wrong right? The Ama Blue cheese is aged in sandstone caves carved from the river bluffs. Faribault, MN is on nearly the same line of latitude as Roquefort, France. The atmosphere within our caves is ideal for the curing and aging of blue cheese. The cheese is aged 75 days keeping a pleasant flavor profile with some tangy notes and hints of the caves mineality. While the fruit forwardness of the Cocobon makes an attempt, I think the cheese was just too powerful to make this a symbiotic pairing. Nothing foul, but in this instance the cheese is dominating over the wine and some students are picking up some metallic notes. Not what I was hoping for, but again Blue cheese is tough.
What is your favorite cheese pairing with either beer or wine? Email us or hit us up on all of social media, Facebook, Twitter & Instagram @wine101hamden.
If you took part in this class please let us know which pairings worked well for you and which ones were not for you. It's totally okay not to like something. It's more important to understand why you don't like it so that you don't replicate the same thing again.