For the event, Arnaud chose seven types of cheese from five different countries and carefully paired them with a wine of the same nationality (almost). Here is what he selected for us:
• Brie and Savennières
Brie is a soft-ripened, cow's milk cheese from Brie, a region of France south-east of Paris. With a mild, creamy taste and an unctuous texture, it is a cheese that requires an aromatic wine with some acidity. We tasted the 2002 Savennières Cuvée des Genêts Domaine Laureau. It is a dry white wine from the Loire Valley made from the Chenin Blanc grape. The wine was delicious with the Brie. It had a bright golden with a lively, mineral nose. On the palate, it was crisp with aromas of pear and honey.
• Humboldt goat cheese and Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc
Made in Humboldt county in Northern California, this chalk white Artisan cheese has a firm and dense texture and a delicate taste that offers a good balance between saltiness and acidity. A crisp Sauvignon Blanc is a classic pairing with goat cheese and in order to stay in California, Arnaud chose a Sauvignon Blanc from Napa Valley. The 2004 Honig Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley had a pale straw color and an attractive citrus and floral nose. On the palate, it was crisp with gooseberry flavors. I really liked this goat cheese but I found the wine too fruity for the cheese.
• Manchego and Dry Amontillado
Manchego is a semi-firm cheese from Spain, made from whole milk of the Manchego sheep raised in the high plateau of La Mancha. Traditionally, Manchego is molded with woven esparto grass — a plant with hard, stiff, reed-like blades — strips, which creates a zigzag pattern along the side of the cheese. A red wine like a Rioja or a dry Sherry are usually a good match for the sweet and nutty flavors of the cheese. Arnaud selected a Dry Amontillado Los Arcos from Emilio Lustau. Amontillado is a type of Sherry that is slowly oxidized while aged in porous oak casks. Being slowly exposed to oxygen, the wine gains a darker color and unusual distinctive flavors. From the color — deep amber — and the nose — rich and luscious — it seemed that the wine was sweet. But on the palate, it was surprisingly bone-dry with strong nutty aromas and a long, complex finish. For me, this was the most unusual and complex wine of the evening, although many guests did not like it.
• Parmesan and Brunello di Montalcino
Named after the town of Parma in Northern Italy, Parmesan is a hard cheese made from cow's skimmed milk. It has a granular structure and a fruity and nutty flavor. Like most hard cheeses, Parmesan goes well with red wines. To go with Parmesan, Arnaud selected a Brunello di Montalcino from Tuscany. The 2000 Brunello di Montalcino Poggiarellino is 100% Sangiovese Grosso, a local clone of the Sangiovese grape. The wine had a deep garnet color and a generous nose of ripe fruits. On the palate, it was full-bodied and rich with a peppery aftertaste. Both the wine and the cheese were very tasty.
• Munster and Gewürztraminer
Munster is a strong, pungent cheese, native to Alsace, and made of cow’s milk. It has a sticky, orange, washed skin while the interior is semi-soft, creamy and mellow flavored. In Alsace, it is typically served with spices like caraway or cumin seeds. A classic pairing is Munster and beer but aromatic white wines like Gewürztraminer work as well. The Gewürztraminer grape has strong aromas — Gewürz means spicy in German — that can stand up to the cheese. We tasted the 2001 Jean-Philippe Francois Becker Gewürztraminer Grand Cru Froehn. It had a wonderfully fragrant nose of lychee fruit. On the palate, it was full-bodied and off-dry with a long finish. The wine was a perfect accompaniment for the Munster sprinkled with cumin seeds.
• Stilton and Port
Known as the king of English cheeses, Stilton is a cow-milk cheese with moldy blue-green veins, a rich and mellow flavor and a piquant aftertaste, although it is milder than other blue cheese like Roquefort or Gorgonzola. It is only produced in the three counties of Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire. Sweet wines are known to offer a great counterpoint to the pungent and salty flavors of a blue cheese, and in England, Port is the classic drink to accompany Stilton. With the cheese, we tasted a Tawny Port, which is a wood-aged Port that acquired a lighter tawny color, hence the name, and a more gentle flavor over the years. The Warre's Otima 10 Years Tawny Port was still very young, fruity and lively with rich raisiny flavors on the palate, and a long sweet finish.
• Roquefort and Sauternes
Enjoyed since Roman times, Roquefort is one of the oldest cheeses in the world. It is made from sheep's milk that is exposed to a mold called Penicillium roqueforti. It is then ripened for at least 3 months in limestone caverns near the village of Roquefort in southwestern France. Ripe Roquefort is creamy, thick and crumbly on the inside, with a rich texture and pungent, piquant, salty flavors. Like Stilton, Roquefort pairs well with sweet wines and Sauternes is a classic match. Arnaud selected the excellent 1998 Château Raymond-Lafon. Château Raymond-Lafon is a property that borders Château Yquem. The wine had a bright golden color, a nose of orange liqueur, a rich palate with candied fruit flavors, and a complex finish.
We usually associate cheese with dry red wines. But looking back at the great wine/cheese combinations that we had that evening, it is interesting to notice that six wines out of seven were white and four were sweet and/or fortified.
We had a wonderful time. The cheeses came from Whole Foods Market and were fresh and tasty. The wines, bought at K&L Wine Merchants, were excellent. And if I had to assign some awards, I would choose:
• 1st place in the cheese category: Humboldt goat cheese
• 1st place in the wine category: Dry Amontillado Los Arcos Emilio Lustau
• 1st place in the wine/cheese pairing category: Munster and 2001 Jean-Philippe Francois Becker Gewürztraminer Grand Cru Froehn (with the cumin seeds of course!)
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