Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Wine & Cheese Experiment (6-4-08)

In the wine and food world there is a long running debate about what wine and cheese combinations are the best, or in fact do wine and cheese go together. I have found that I can usually find satisfactory to really good wine and cheese pairings if I search long enough. Obviously, I am a believer.

With the growing abundance of wine and cheese available to us these days it can be a confusing or even daunting task to find combinations that work well. There are an almost unlimited number of factors to take in when trying to decide what to pair. With wine it can be: white / red, low acid / high acid, wood aged or not, and on and on. With the cheese: cow/goat/sheep/other milk, raw milk or cooked, aged or fresh (which in the US is really 60 days), country, region, and on and on, again.

There are classic pairings (I have one below) but we as Americans are a bit young in our understanding of the best combinations, and so it is necessary to experiment to find what really works. We are also on the brink of an explosion of locally produced products (both wine and cheese), which means that we have to discover and establish our own traditions (how cool is that!).

I believe, though, that we can establish some basic ground rules as a starting point for learning about what works. I have selected some classic cheese styles and have kept my wines to four very basic themes: no-wood/high acid fresh white, lightly wooded richer white, fresh high acid red, wood aged and complex red. These four wine styles are described below and seemed to form a good starting point for experimentation with the cheese pairings. I have also tried to pick some classic styles of cheese: fresh, soft, semi-soft and aged; as well as a mix of goat, cow and sheep milk. Experimentation is always the key (and fun part) to finding great food and wine pairings. Here is a starting point for that adventure.

The wines on their own:

Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma County, 2006
Very light color – almost crystal clear
Aromatically very light and delicate – floral, white peach
Almost zesty acidity on the palate with a weight that is a bit unexpected
Texturally well integrated and finishes quite dry with wet-stone, rosemary/herb and candied lemon-rind flavors

Chanson Vire-Clesse, 2005
Pale gold in color
Fresh aromas – more pronounced nose of honey-suckle and white bread
Medium-rich, mouth coating style
Finishes just under completely dry, but lovely, light-apple flavors and just a hint of lemon cream

Galarej Barbera d’Alba, 2006
Bright, velvety/ruby red color
Young, grapey, ripe raspberry aromas – quite aggressive and mouth watering
Peppery, medium-lush, rolling tannins with a juicy quality that makes you want to eat
Medium-long finish of ripe fruits and a bit of grip, chalky

Galarej Barolo, 2004
Deep garnet coloring
Super-ripe aromas of raspberries and dark cherries with leathery, dry leaf undertones
Dry and full on the palate, but smooth
Loaded flavors on the finish, which is dry and a bit tannic – complex berry flavors and more woodsy/earthy spices

The cheeses on their own:

Capricho de Cabra (Spain, soft, fresh goat’s milk)
Milky and almost sweet aromas on the nose
On the palate it is quite thick and creamy, but there is a good tang that hangs into the finish
Flavors are quite pronounced and intense due to the fact that the richness of the cheese makes it linger

Petite Reblochon de Savoie (France, soft cow’s milk)
Mild, but with a bit of a pleasant rind “stink”, nutty
Delicate and creamy on the palate – prefer just the inside – the rind is relatively pale
A fresh and quite savory cheese – lovely nut and light gamey flavors – sweet cream, crackers and a bit salty

Fontina Val d’Aosta (Italy, semi-hard cow’s milk)
Aromatically it is a bit delicate with a funk and creaminess
On the palate it is dry, but not crumbly, smooth and fresh – just a bit of tang on the finish
Mild and clean finish with a touch of gaminess and some earthy cream tones

Sankow’s Beaver Brook Farm “Nehantic Abbey” (Connecticut, 6m aged Jersey cow’s milk)
Delicate nose with almost fruity tones and smells of a barn ( a good, clean barn)
A bit sharp on the palate with a dry, tangy texture
Finishes long with more tangy, earthy notes

Sankow’s Beaver Brook Farm “Pleasant Cow” (Connecticut, aged Jersey cow’s milk)
Woodsy and funky on the nose with sweet cream
Texturally dry and a bit crumbly, but maintains its creaminess and complexity
Good intensity of flavors on the finish with gamey earthy notes wrapped around a milky center

The Wines and The Cheeses:

Petite Reblochon de Savoie (France, soft cow’s milk)
After tasting the cheeses on their own I decided to start here as I felt this was the most delicate cheese of the selection. Tough with the SB – just clashes too much. Better, but not great, with the Chard. The cheese seems to have too much acidity for the whites and overpowers them. The Barbera works pretty well – balances with the cheese and complements. Barolo actually is my favorite as the tannins are melded well with the intensity of the cheese. The cheese actually gets much more intense with the wines than it originally appears, and the nutty, cracker flavors really jump out. These blend well with the full flavors of the intense Barolo.
Conclusion: Barolo is great with this cheese- each are made better in the pairing.

Capricho de Cabra (Spain, soft, fresh goat’s milk)
With the sauvignon, this cheese gets peppery and delicate. There are lovely peach flavors that get accentuated with the creamy background of the goats cheese. The acidity in the wine also cuts right through the coating quality of the cheese. The Chardonnay is ok, but gets a bit overwhelmed by the cheese. The acidity in the Barbera works well here, too – the lighter berry flavors are complimented by the cream quality. It brings out the gaminess of the cheese, as well. The cheese overwhelms the Barolo a bit.
Conclusion: There is a reason why sauvignon and fresh goat cheese go together.

Fontina Val d’Aosta (Italy, semi-hard cow’s milk)
With the SB, it kind of just washes the flavors of both away. Brings out a bit of the brightness of the Chard with some apply notes coming through, not the best, though. Compliments the Barbera well enough –good acidity, but still not a great match. The Barolo would get the vote of the round as it really allows the delicate sweet berry flavors in the wine to shine. Not a magical combination, though.
Conclusion: Tough cheese. Need to retaste with another sample from another producer (and more wines, of course).

Sankow’s Beaver Brook Farm “Nehantic Abbey” (Connecticut, 6m aged Jersey cow’s milk)
The cheese overpowers the SB a bit, but I like the combination as the crisp wines cuts through the full flavors of the cheese leaving a good, sharp quality on the palate. Really brings out the full flavors of the Chardonnay. There is enough dryness in the cheese to allow the richness of the wine to come through and blend well. The cheese overwhelms the Barbera a bit, so that there really is nothing coming through. The Barolo holds it own, but is still not a great combo.
Conclusion: The Chard wins the round.

Sankow’s Beaver Brook Farm “Pleasant Cow” (Connecticut, aged Jersey cow’s milk)
The strong flavors of this cheese dominate and wash out the SB. The Chard does not come through as much with this cheese – it does OK, but not as well as with the Abbey-style cheese. The cheese dominates the Barbera, as well. The woodsy, leathery aromas of the Barolo really come through and the dryness of the cheese smooths out the tannins in the wine so that everything just rolls across your palate. The wine and the cheese appear much less dry when paired together,
Conclusion: Barolo.

1 comment:

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