At a recent visit to the Sonoma County Artisan Cheese Festival, we were strolling through the books section. Pointing to a book entitled, “Cheese and Wine: A Guide to Selecting, Pairing and Enjoying”, by Janet Fletcher, I declared it as the best book of its kind on the market.
“So you like that book’” a woman said, as she approached us, “well, I wrote it.”
Janet Fletcher has written for several magazines including Bon Appetit and Food and Wine. She is a food columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle and has written
several books such as the aforementioned. “Cheese and Wine” lists cheeses throughout the world, in alphabetical order. For each, it provides pronunciation, type of cheese (cow, goat, sheep), country of origin, information about the cheese’s history, taste, and texture and, finally, wines that work. It was a pleasure to meet Ms. Fletcher and tell her firsthand how much I appreciate her writing.
Her book was in full use as I prepared for another cheese and wine tasting to support ArtStart, a local Santa Rosa-based non-
profit that supports high school artists by providing work opportunities in creating public murals and other projects. There would be repeat donors participating, so this year’s event must be unique and different than earlier years. The following menu highlights the adventure in store for this years guests.
#1: 2014 Bollig Lehnert Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling Spatlese (Mosel/Germany)
Comte – France (raw cow’s milk)
During a recent visit, I discovered that Comte’ is the largest selling cheese in France. Made from co-operative diaries using milk exclusively from large Montbeliard cows,
I enjoyed the smooth texture and brown butter flavors. Comte’ is a perfect balance between sweet, salty and tart.
I chose a reliable favorite, the 2014 Bollig Lehnert Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling Spatlese, to pair with the Comte’. Don’t let the long, fancy name intimidate you. This rich riesling, from the Mosel region of Germany, is available at some wine shops and on-line for about twenty dollars. My first taste of this wine, over a decade ago, served as an introduction to the mineral/metallic/petrol/wet stone flavor of a fine German riesling.
The German word spatlese (spat-LAY-see) literally translates to “late harvest,” but should not be confused with the late harvest dessert wines produced in California and the Pacific Northwest.
With regard to flavor and richness, Spatlese riesling sits between the more austere Kabinett (ca-bin-net) and sweeter Auslese (aus-LAY-see) styles, the later equal to our late harvest wines. The Bollig Lehnert is always distinctive, but never overpowering.
#2: Auteur Chardonnay Sonoma Coast 2013 (Sonoma)
“Mount Tam” – Cowgirl Cheese Co. (pasteurized cow milk)
This is an all-Sonoma County pairing that features a complex, non malolactically
fermented California chardonnay from respected winemaker Ken Juhasz, with an elegant, buttery triple-creme cheese with earthy mushroom flavors. Cowgirl Cheese Company, maker of the popular “Red Hawk,” dedicates this cheese to Mount Tamalpias in Marin County, a popular place to harvest fresh, wild mushrooms, abundant this year due to heavy rainfall.
Many of the vineyards within the Sonoma Coast appellation are located at higher elevations, above the fog line, producing
distinctive flavors. This chardonnay is austere with mineral elements that did not compete with the creamy cheese, but added hints of orange peel and honeysuckle to the mix.
#3: 2013 Seasmoke “Southing” Pinot Noir (Santa Rita Hills/Santa Barbara County)
#4: 2012 Domaine Serene Pinot Noir Yamhill Cuvee (Willamette Valley, Oregon)
Monte Enebro – Spain (pasteurized goat milk)
Point Reyes Toma -Sonoma County (pasteurized cow milk)
When it comes to pairing cheese with pinot noir, the opportunities are so abundant that
I can’t restrain myself. To show the range of pinot noir, I selected one from the southernmost appellation, the Santa Rita Hills in Santa Barbara County and the Yamhill appellation in the most northern region of Oregon’s Willamette Valley, both premier releases awarded 92-points from Wine Spectator magazine.
Sea smoke Cellars produces three low-yield pinot noir releases
each year, available to a few select restaurants in southern California and allocation list members only. The 2013 “Southing” expresses smokey flavors of red fruit, cinnamon and vanilla that pairs well with both cheeses, especially the dense, buttery and herbaceous flavors of the Monte Enebro.
Equally creamy and buttery, the Point Reyes Toma was new to my palate and a good fit with the caramel and mocha notes expressed on the finish of the Domaine Serene Pinot Noir. The Monte Enebro is available on-line through sites like “Igourmet,” while the Toma is seasonally available at fine cheese shops.
Known primarily for fine pinot noir releases, Domaine Serene
recently received accolades by placing a new chardonnay in the third spot in Wine Spectator’s list of the most exciting wines of 2016.
#5: Tablas Creek Vineyard Tannat Paso Robles 2010
Rogue River Creamery “Smokey Blue” – southern Oregon (certified sustainable cow’s milk)
This was, by far, the most difficult pairing of the event. Tannat is a rare French grape
that is generally used to give texture and deep earthy flavors when blended with other, more fruity varietals. Tablas Creek of Paso Robles, arguably the finest producer of Rhone wines outside of the Rhone Valley, released this 100% tannat that has been in my cellar for five years, softening its harsh tannins. Luckily, I found this seasonal, gluten-free “Smokey
Blue” with with deep earthy flavors of hazelnuts, caramel and candied bacon, one of the few cheeses that could stand up to this aged tannat
#6: Hall “Eighteen Seventy-Three Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (Napa Valley)
Abbaye de Belloc – France/Basque (pasteurized sheep’s milk)
Rutherford-based Hall Wines, in the Napa Valley, annually produce some of the highest rated cabernet sauvignon in California. I knew this wine had been given a 93-point
rating by Wine Spectator, but did not expect that it would be included in their top 100 list of 2106 releases. The “1873” retails for $80 per bottle, a moderate price for Hall Wines whose other cabernets range from $100 to $280 per bottle.
Surprisingly, my research of Abbaye de Belloc, a sheep’s cheese from the Basque region of the French Pyrenees Mountains,
described it to be a good pair with cabernet sauvignon. It is made in the Abbaye de Notre Dame de Belloc by monks and contains milk exclusively from the red-nosed Manech sheep, who look like a round bowl of fuzzy wool with skinny legs protruding out the bottom. This cheese has a rich, buttery, fine texture with caramelized brown sugar flavor. It is
dense with a creamy, off-white color and the wine seems to have a “liquefaction effect” that breaks it down, nicely coating your tongue and throat. It is somewhat difficult to find, but the effort is rewarding.
Thanks, again Janet Fletcher. A desire to support ArtStart is my motivation and “Wine and Cheese,” among other books, gave me the choices to assemble another pairing event. We will do it again next year. Meanwhile, I have discovered some new and unique cheeses to enjoy with my wines throughout the next year.