WINE BANTER: Wine & Cheese & More by John Haggard
Wine & Cheese & More
Summer is here, full swing. It’s time to enjoy Sonoma wine country and all it has to offer. Whether you are planning a perfect picnic, just the right appetizer to enjoy on the dock by the River or a delightful ending to a meal to share with friends, here are some suggestions that may help you put some wonderful wines and cheese together.
Oftentimes when a guest is in my store, they ask me to pick a wine then find a cheese to go with it. After years of pairing cheese and wine, I have to admit, it is much easier for me to pick the wine after my guest has selected a cheese – so I do tend to ask “what cheese are your going to be eating”, in order to make a more appropriate wine selection.
Let’s start with blue:
The classic pairing for blue cheese is a vintage port. On its own, rich black fruit flavors in port and a salty blue-veined blue cheese are a perfect pairing. Our local Point Reyes Blue will certainly pair well with a vintage port, however, it will also pair well with many local Zinfandels. CP Monopole Zinfandel Mengale Vineyard, Alexander Valley 2006 (ret $34-37) is a perfect example. This is a higher-alcohol zinfandel made in the style of pinot noir. The red fruit mingles nicely with the oak and integrates the alcohol very nicely. Christina Pällmann, the winemaker and owner of CP Monopole, worked with Michel Rolland at Le Bon Pasteur in Bordeaux, where she learned critical lessons in vineyard and winemaking decisions. Christina then went to Burgundy to work at Domaine Dujac for winemaker Jacques Seysses, working with Pinot Noir – perhaps, hence, the pinot noir influence on this Zinfandel.
Aged Goats Milk:
Sonoma and Mendocino Countys are known for their artisan Goats Milk Cheesemakers. An aged goats milk such as redwood hill farm’s “Crottin” pairs deliciously with a Hook and Ladder Gewurztraminer 2008 (ret $15) or a French Vouvray such as Domaine Le Peu de la Moriette 2008 (ret $17) which has a little demi-sec (semi-sweet) but finishes dry and an abundance of minerality.
When it come to “Fresh Chevre”, one of my favorites is “Purple Haze” from Cypress Grove in Mendocino. Known for the “Humboldt Fog”, Cypress Grove has become a leading artisan goat cheesemaker in the US. The “Purple Haze” chevre, however, doesn’t reveal the true flavor of the pollen (from Lavender and Fennel) until it melts leaving a subtle lemon zest quality on the palate. Spread on a baguette with smoked salmon or tossed onto your favorite green salad, this chevre is a delicious fresh goats milk cheese that should be paired with a crisp dry Sauvignon Blanc such as Puerto Viejo Sauvignon Blanc from Chile 2009 (ret $9) or a stainless steel chardonnay such as Balletto’s Teresa’s chardonnay from 2007 (ret $15).
Salami / Salumi?
A lovely piece to the picnic or appetizer can be a salami. Fra' Mani Handcrafted Salumi, based in Berkeley, California, was founded by nationally-recognized chef Paul Bertolli. The culmination of Bertolli's zeal for authentic handcrafted food, Fra' Mani brings the art of traditional Italian salumi to America's discriminating palates. Fra’mani Dry Salami –(Piccante) – will pair with pinot grigio from Moshin and the Chorizo is a perfect complement to Harvest Moon’s RandyZin 2008 Zinfandel from Russian River Valley (ret $20-$22).
Cowgirl Mt Tam - a great rich buttery organic triple cream brie makes a great pairing with big, dry, even oaky Zinfandels with lots of spice. A Sonoma Zinfandel perfect for Cowgirl’s Mt Tam’s rich buttery flavors is the Marcucci 2006 Zinfandel Russian River Valley (ret $30) or Hayman Hill Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel 2007 (ret $13 ). However, “Red Hawk” from Cowgirl Creamery - Cowgirl’s special select cheese washed in a Brine Solution (in a French Tradition) is really deserving of a more lean, dry austere red like a malbec such as a Dante Robino 2008 (ret $14.99) from Mendoza, Argentina.
John Haggard is owner of Sophie’s Cellars, The Sonoma Wine & Cheese Market in Monte Rio, California. Sophie’s Cellars is open 11am – 7pm, closed only on Wednesdays. www.sophiescellars.com