05 August, 2008

Cheese is my Waterloo

Bringing together my mutual passions of wine and cheese, Solano Cellars http://www.solanocellars.com/did a super job of educating, expanding the palate and, most of all, making it fun. Kirsten Jackson and Jason Lefler teamed up to choose and present a series of cheese and wine parings. First of all, Solano Cellars is a great location on Solano Avenue in Albany. Mediterranean architecture, orderly elegance and comfortable bar stools, plus purse hooks: my personal hall mark of thoughtfulness mark this location. Our class was about 8 people and lively. The first pairing was a Chevrot , Loire Valley, France with an 'o7 Domaine de la Charmoise Touraine Loire Valley, France ($18). The wine and the cheese made an easy going duo. The Cheese had a clean, grassy taste with a goat character without being gamy. Unpasteurized and aged for 2-4 weeks prior to transit, this cheese, though low (well, lower) in fat had a fresh , creamy taste with a slight edge of grassiness that paired effortlessly with the sauvingnon blanc based wine. A suggested pairing for red, would be Cab Franc from the Loire as well. This was definitely a case of terroir in food and wine being complementary. The wine actually paired pretty easily with all the cheese, including some Cashel Blue, which some people in the class (not me) actually loved. The second suggested pairing was an Epoisse from Burgundy with an '05 Domaine Chevalier Bourgone, Burgundy ($26). This pairing was poetry in dairy! Epoisse is a rich, creamy cheese that looks like it want s to turn itself into fondue at room temperature. Delightful. The wine had a spicy, complex character that seemed to sketch out fruit more than present any discrete fruitiness of its pinot noir basis. Normally, I will choose California wine over French however in this case, this burgundy epoisse pairing took the prize. The wine was able to hold its own across the cheese spectrum. The next, was a New World smackdown, pairing a '06 Chasseur Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley ($42) with hometown favorite Redhawk, Tomales Bay cheese. Together, this much lauded Pinot Noir with the local cheese worked well. However, the wine was nasty with the otherwise delectable Epoisse and did not match with anything else particularly well.

After those structured pairings, we started down a more random path of trial and error to see what worked and what we didn't with the rest of the line-up:

'04 Feraud Brunel Cotes du Rhone, France (15.75)
Based on grenache, this wine has a pleasant Black pepper aroma and flavor
'05 Copain L'hiver, Syrah, Mendocino, CA ($20)
Beautiful, subtle oak with blueberries and dark fruit flavors. Weirdest combination was strong taste without sweetness of Kahlua when paired with Carr Valley Benedictine and Gruyere.
'04 Les Hauts Lastours, Quercy France ($10)
If you are putting a wine and cheese plat together, this wine is your friend. At only $10, this blend of Merlot, Gamay and Malbec was a pleasing balanced wine on its own, that paired easily with all the cheese from French goat to Irish blue.
'07 JJ Christoffel Erben "U-W" Rielsing Kabinett, Mosel Germany This cheerful, sweet wine pairs easily with all the cheese. It was meant to pair well with the blues. However, if you know my penchant for Botrytis, this pairing sent me running to Solano Bar and Grill
http://www.solanogrillandbar.com/ for fresh peach ice cream, and the delicious Botrytis infused Semillion.
Cheddar, Safeway If I had more shame, I would not admit that I polished off my waxy, slice of cheese-like product. If you concentrated really hard, you could taste cheese. It made me long for a bean burrito and a microwave ( I didn't have much lunch).
Montgomery's Cheddar, Somerset, English Delightful Enlgish cheddar emanating from the famous Neal's Yard. Salty and delicious. However, caution, easy as it was to pair this delicious cheese, it had a nasty vein of ash that was as shocking and distasteful as kissing a secret smoker.
Carr Valley, Benedictine, Wisconsin A delightful blend of cow-goat-sheep, blending the milks achieved an even, salty taste with lots of dimensions that are sure to please.
Cave Aged Gruyere, Swiss Alps Switzerland Salty, grainy, rich cheesy goodness. This cheese was the standout of the evening. Bring in the Thunderbird! This cheese could make it yummy!
"Danish" Blue - Safeway: As with the cheddar, this product has a pronounced cheese-like taste. Wait a minute! This is supposed to be cheese? Are you sure? Yes, this blue had trouble standing up to the oh so superior examples.
Cashel Blue. Tipperary, Ireland Also from illustrious Neals Yard dairy. Wow! Tart, sharp, creamy blue cheese that was deligtful with many different wines as well as on its own
Ha! Nothing but rind (See "after" photo of cheese plate)
As far as classes go, this rocked!
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