The best wine for goat milk cheeses is Sauvignon Blanc, right?
To lump all goat milk cheeses into the Sauvignon Blanc fiefdom is not something to assume as a given. There are many variables to consider beyond species. The choice of cultures employed in cheesemaking plays a prominent role, both the starter and secondary cultures. How those cultures help influence the pH level, the cheese texture, and more importantly, the aromatic flavor profile, will have major implications for the cheese’s synergies with different wines.
I was reminded of these cultural affairs at our Cheese & Wine 101 class this week. The secondary culture on the rind of Garrotxa, glaucum, leaves an indelible imprint on the aroma within. The Garrotxa lacks the typical tart flavor of the better known cheeses of France’s Loire valley. The coating of geotrichum and/or alkaline ash on those styles influences synergies differently from the way candidum (as on Humboldt Fog) does. There is the glaucum on the Garrotxa, and the roqueforti in the rare goat milk blue, as well as many other combinations of cultures for a cheese maker to use.
During our 101 we tasted a perfectly ripened Garrotxa with a Sauvignon Blanc and everyone seemed to agree that it was a “nice” pairing. After a water rinse and a palate-cleansing bit of baguette we tried the cheese with a Chardonnay. The group thought it was a better matching. One woman said that she does not usually care for Chardonnay but the Garrotxa pairing improved the wine.
These are the types of pairings that are especially illustrative: when either the wine or the cheese is “elevated,” and even better, when both are.
We must admit that not all Sauvignon Blancs are the same. One of the main differences in how this varietal pairs with cheese is determined by the type of barrel in which the wine is aged. A Sauvignon Blanc aged in oak (as in Fumé Blanc) will better balance certain cheeses than one aged in stainless steel.
Early in my cheese career I took particular note in how well Garrotxa paired with Chardonnay compared to how well the cheese paired with the goat-to varietal, Sauvignon Blanc. The cheese finds synergies with many other varietals, reds included. This is partly due to its mild flavor; Garrotxa is always pasteurized. This has the effect of neutralizing aromatic conflicts with many wine players.
All this is intended to convey: beware of pairing dogma, such as goat always pairs best with Sauvignon Blanc.
- Max McCalman