Posts Filed Under The ‘Napa Valley’ Category

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

Pinot Noir, in all its Guises

When we think of noble grape varieties, there are few that surpass the expectations demanded of Pinot Noir. The range in textures found in Pinot Noir is wide, the perfume is variable, yet the typical “Pinot” flavors are a little more predictable, flavors being flavors.

Pinot Noir has been called a sommelier’s grape. This is partly because it makes for a pleasant wine in most cases and it agrees with many foods. To “agree” with many foods is one thing, to “love” a food is quite another. And so it is with cheeses. Pinot Noirs seem to get along fairly well with many cheeses (except for most goats and most blues) yet it rarely falls head over heels with any type. Might it be said that this grape is comfortable in its own thin skin?

Some of the fruitier wines of this grape have greater success with the more assertive cheeses but a Pinot Noir that can stand up to a blue cheese is a rare sighting. I urge caution with that exercise; you will not want to shatter your gorgeous Pinot Noir with a bossy blue cheese. Once you have introduced that blue in the mouth, your wine will never be the same. However if you want to grow your catalog of successful cheese pairings for this varietal I recommend that you experiment with as many cheese types as you can find, keeping in mind that the pairings are more about the synergies between the cheese and the Pinot Noir, and less about the assessment of either partner. Putting cheeses and wines together can dramatically alter one’s appreciation for a cheese or a wine. The pairing principles apply to Pinot Noir no less than they do to other varietals: balance of fruity and savory, harmony of acidities, relative “size” of flavors of each, the complementing textural components, and the confluence of aromatics.

There are some notable cheese surprises to be realized with Pinot Noir. One blue cheese that actually performs rather well with a Burgundy Pinot is Roquefort. Granted, the Roquefort is outstanding and most Burgundy Pinot Noirs are no slackers either. The salt in the Roquefort contributes to the success of this match. Salt has a distinct way of highlighting the fruit in wines.

Another surprise I discovered with Pinot Noirs years ago was how well they paired with cheddars. Some say that cheddar is best paired with beer. Would that be because wines (Pinot Noirs included) did not have successful plantings in cheddar’s native land, southwest England? A little shortsighted, I say.

Pinot Noir marries most successfully with cow cheeses, young to well-aged. The bloomy rinds like Camembert and Pierre Robert can balance this varietal well, and the younger wash rinds such as Epoisses and Taleggio are good matches too. Again, the salt content in these helps flatter the grape. The pressed firm cow cheeses such Le Moulis and Tomme de Savoie find good synergies; Cantalet and the aforementioned Cheddars pair very well. The aged Alpine styles such as Tarentaise, Beaufort, Hittisau, Hoch Ybrig, and Prattigauer; all make good partners. The extra-aged 4 year old Gouda and Sbrinz dovetail nicely with most Pinot Noirs.

There are a number of successes to be found with the sheep milk cheeses, such as the Ossau Iraty, and with the mixed milk cheeses that include sheep milk, such as the Robiola due Latti.

Remember to be careful with the goat cheeses and the blues! These families of cheeses can take the fun out of your Pinot Noir. This likable varietal finds its preferred cheese partners in the middle part of the CheeseClock™.

Max McCalman

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

My First Favorite Red

I clearly recall my first favorite red wine – a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. I still reach out for them; they are my default wines. My first favorite food was cheese and to this day, no other food comes close to satisfying nearly so well. Unconvinced by the pairings I found in print, I took my own detailed notes on how cheeses and wines complemented each other. I thought Cabernet Sauvignon was not recommended often enough; there appeared to be too few cheese partners, and when I found suggestions the pairings relied heavily on the terroir factor, as though the ideal cheese and wine partners would be limited to cheeses and wines produced close to one another.

It is important to note that an acre well-suited for a wine making is usually used for that: producing grapes. Sometimes there is a dairy nearby so parts of that terroir factor may be supported, yet there is so much that goes into wine making, and arguably, there is at least as much that goes into dairying. To say that because they are produced side by side is just a little too easy. The cheeses and wines crafted close to one another can actually clash. As an example of one of those clashes I think of some of the Loire Valley chèvres of western France. There are three white wine varietals grown nearby that marry well with this family of cheeses: Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, and to an extent, the Melon de Bourgogne. You also find one of Cabernet Sauvignon’s parents produced in the area – Cabernet Franc. The Chinon made from this grape is cited as a good partner for those cheeses, yet most people seem to find this pairing to be very disappointing.

When I began experimenting with cheese and wine pairings I wanted to find as many matches as possible for my beloved Cabernet Sauvignon. I branched out to far-flung regions to find suitable cheese partners. From what I found it appears that the Cabernet Sauvignons prefer cow cheeses, which is a good thing since more than 90% of the world’s cheeses are produced from cow milk. The sheep milk cheeses can pair well with Cabernet Sauvignon, as they do with most varietals, and then there are the occasional goat cheese successes.

Some of the standout cheese partners for this most noble red wine include: Andeerer Schmuggler, Appenzeller, Fladä, Gruyère, Prattigauer, Sbrinz and Vacherin Fribourgeois, all from Switzerland; Barely Buzzed from Utah, Tarentaise from Vermont; Thomasville Tomme from Georgia; four-year-old Gouda and Roomano from Holland; Bra and Blu del Moncenisio from Italy; Cantalet and Le Moulis from France; and La Peral from Spain. None of these cheeses come from Napa but each of them makes great partners for these lovely California Cabernet Sauvignons.

Max McCalman