Category Archives: Food

Wine and Cheese 2017


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

“Wine and Cheese” by Janet Fletcher

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-

Janet Fletcher

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.

Bollig-Lehnert Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling Spatlese 2012

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.

Montbeliard cows

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

Auteur Chardonnay Sonoma Coast 2013

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

Cowgirl Creamery “Mt. Tam” triple-cream cheese

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

Sea Smoke Pinot Noir “Soutwihing” 2013

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

Domaine Serene Pinot Noir Yamhill Cuvee’ 2012

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.

Monte Enebro cheese

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

Rogue River Creamery “Smokey Blue”

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

Tablas Creek Tannat 2010

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

HALL Cabernet Sauvignon Eighteen Seventy-Three 2103

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,

Abbaye de Belloc

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

Red-nosed Manech sheep

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.




A Tasting in Chateauneuf-du-Pape


The opportunity to experience the extraordinary blends in France’s Chateauneuf-du-

vineyard in Chateauneuf-du-Pape

vineyard in Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Pape is a rare treat for anyone serious about wine.  Blessed with near perfect terroir and climate, the area is always in the discussion of the world’s best appellation.  Nearly all the 280 wineries in Chateauneuf-du-Pape are owned by small families, not the case in Bordeaux or Burgundy.  There are thirteen grapes approved for the appellation by the governing AOC, which also requires that they are all hand-pruned, hand-picked and essentially dry-farmed, allowing two irrigations per season during drought years.  The famous “La Mistral” winds blow 100 days per year, a benefit during wet vintages and a challenge in dry ones.  The production of rose’ or sparkling wine is also prohibited in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, allowing winemakers to focus on the best blend of grapes that most align with the terroir.

Translated “the Pope’s new castle” or “Chateau of the Popes,” Chateauneuf-du-Pape became a significant winemaking region in the 14th Century after the papacy was relocated to the town of Avignon.  The “Avignon Popes” appreciated their

Chateau de Vaudieu

Chateau de Vaudieu

wine and were first to promote viticulture in this area, 10 miles northeast of their palace residence.  It’s esteemed terroir has continued to produce superb local wines for eight centuries and is still revered today. With all the acclaim that Chateauneuf-du-Pape gets, one would expect them to be promoting tourism.  They do not. It is authentic, a relatively small area with family farmers doing what they have done for centuries, create near perfect wines.

October was a busy month for winemakers, following up on the recent harvest.  It was off-season and our time was limited, so we chose Saint Charles Cave,in the heart of the village, for our first tasting. Located in a 13th Century cave, Saint Charles represents

Tasting in Saint Charles Cave

Tasting in Saint Charles Cave

many of the producers and offers selections of the best the region has to offer.  In addition, it also houses the La Cour Des Papes Restaurant that could extend our experience through mid-afternoon. Sitting on wooden benches in the cave, our young, knowledgeable host began to take us through his selection of wines from the region.

The Château de Vaudieu is one of the genuine 18th Century castles left in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, operated by the Brechet Family since the mid-1980s.  Described as “a real mosaic of terroirs,” the vast vineyards of the Chateau represent very distinct micro-climates and elevations. Our tasting at Saint 3efcc0ec2827a487028818f55a178c90Charles Cave began with the Chateau de Vaudieu Blanc 2012 ($32), a mostly grenache blanc and roussanne blend that expressed a complex bouquet and rich citrus and mineral notes on the palate.  The varietals were fermented separately in oak and stainless steel to form a dry wine that would be a perfect pair with seafood or shellfish.

The grenache dominant 2011 Clos Saint Jean Chateauneuf-du-Pape ($35-40), our second pour, is a classic wine from the region, full-bodied, dry, herbal with deep fruit and savory flavors. The grenache is aged in cement tanks while the syrah, clos-saint-jean-chateauneuf-du-pape-rhone-france-10675487mourvedre and bits of other varietals get the benefit of oak.  Brothers Vincent and Pascal Maurel took over the winery from their father in 2003 and have produced very good vintages since.  Robert Parker awarded this one, that I found online at, with a 92-point score.

Covered by the famous diluvial red pebbles that protect them from the dry climate and La Mistral winds, the vineyards at Chateau Maucoil are said to consist of all chateau-maucoil-chateauneuf-du-pape-rhone-france-10293833tChateauneuf-du-Pape soil types.  The 2011 Chateau Maucoil Chateauneuf-du-Pape ($30-40) is an old vine grenache dominant blend that adds 20% syrah, 10% mourvedre and cinsault, very fruit forward and balanced.  This wine is produced only when the vintage is good and the 2011 was a very good one.

Our next wine was a big, earthy release, the only one created by the Barrot Family, long-standing growers producing 5,000 cases annually on 16 hectares in the appellation, divided among 24 different parcels.  The 2011 Domaine Lucien Barrot et Fils Chateauneuf-du-Pape ($50), with 80% grenache, 10% syrah and five percent each cinsault and mourvedre, is made whole cluster, fermenting in large cement vats before aging up to 36 months in oak. Significant aromas of spices, herbs and earth are followed by deep, dried cherries and anise flavors of great length.

Their family has farmed the land since the 17th Century, but Domaine du Pegau was 160164lformed in 1987 by father, daughter team, Paul and Laurence Ferard. The grenache dominant Domaine du Pegau Chateauneuf-du-Pape Cuvee Reservee 2013 ($70), our next wine,is produced whole cluster and was the most masculine wine that we tasted. Aromas of ripe fruits and pepper precede rich, earthy flavors with soft tannins on the finish.  All the major periodicals rate this wine in the 90-95 point range.

From another family with local roots dating back to the 17th Century, the Chateau de la Gardine was established in 1945 by Gaston Brunel, producing great red Rhone blends and a special roussanne-dominant white, the Chateauneuf-du-Pape Château de la Gardine Cuvée des Générations Marie-Léoncie 2013 ($30).  The 60-year old

The "Gardine Bottle"

The “Gardine Bottle”

vines lay atop limestone soil and, with early rains followed by a warm 2013 summer, the roussanne was allowed to fully ripen, creating a rich, buttery texture and full flavors. Although there is no malolactic fermentation, the wine is fermented and aged in new French oak. Many wineries in Chateauneuf-Du-Pape can be identified by the shape of their unique bottles and this wine is exclusively released in the “Gardine bottle,” broad at the bottom with long, narrow neck. Counter to tasting wine in the States, it is tradition in Chateauneuf-du-Pape to end with a white blend and this one was memorable.  Approximately 70% of the Chateau’s wine is exported, so these wines can probably be found with a little effort.  The group was enamored by all six wines and immediately discussed shipping a case home to the US. Soon, our practical sensibilities prevailed and we settled on a 2011 Chateau Maurcoil Chateauneuf-du-Pape to accompany our lunch.

Lunch at La Cour Des Papes was both distinct and memorable. Firstly, the large dining table is in the chef’s kitchen and guests are welcome to stand, roam and question the chef while he is cooking. The partly set menu in French was intriguing with dishes described as “filet de Canette e au marine au soja et champignons” or “Hachis parmentier d’epaule d’agneau et sa sauce de Chateauneuf-du-Pape” that were translated fullsizerenderto “Filet of female duckling, pickled and raw with soy beans and mushrooms” and “Shepherd’s Pie with lamb and Chateauneuf-du-Pape sauce.” I opted for the raw duckling entree and “Cabillau” or codfish with butter and saffron as my “plat” or main course.  Our chef, Julien, was not only patient with our questions, but serenaded us with song and entertained us with his humor throughout the entire meal that included a rich crème brûlée’ dessert.

La Cour Des Papes also offer cooking classes where patrons can learn new dishes that they prepare for their own meal. Our once in a lifetime luncheon was a bit extravagant but the Browns Valley Fork and Cork Society, six people strong, saved their pennies and were ready.

Chateauneuf-du-Pape and other nearby towns located between the cities of Avignon andimg_3780 Orange boasts nearly 8,000 acres of vineyards and produces as much wine as any other region in France.  Those lucky enough to visit the area will be rewarded with beauty, history and the ability to purchase these remarkable wines at local prices.  They are a bargain as long as you drink them locally.

Wine Pairing Challenge


Pairing wines with a special dinner is challenging, but fun, especially when it supports a good grassroots cause.  Having lived in the coastal community of Pacifica, south of San Francisco in the early seventies, we still have DSCN4282friends there, many of whom are involved in a long-standing  non-profit organization called “Pacificans Care.”  Made up of all volunteers, the group raises funds to support various projects that enhance the city, aesthetically and culturally.  Participating in a wine pairing dinner to support them seemed like a worthy endeavor.

When I was informed that the chefs would be serving a herbed pork tenderloin as one of the courses, several wonderful pairings came to mind.  Depending on sauces and other ingredients, pork tenderloin can be complimentary to a range of varietals, from chardonnay to syrah.

However, this menu flavor profile was so diverse that it made selecting the wine difficult.  For example, the pork tenderloins were wrapped in prosciotto inviting a medium-bodied pinot noir or bolder syrah, but was served with an apple chutney that would normally favor a chardonnay.  With any challenge comes an opportunity to be

2013 Selbach-Oster Zeltlinger Schlossberg Riesling Spatlese

2013 Selbach-Oster Zeltlinger Schlossberg Riesling Spatlese

creative, to do something unexpected, then hope that it all works.  Let’s review what we chose and why.


Cheeses:  Garrotxa (Spain) raw goat’s milk

                    Raclette (Switzerland) cow’s milk

Wine:        2013 Selbach Oster Zeitinger Schlossberg Riesling Spatlese    

                    Mosel (Germany)

Asked to select an introductory wine paired with cheese, we settled on an all European pairing that began with a highly rated, rich 2013 Selbach Oster Zeltlinger Schlossberg Riesling Spatlese from the Mosel region of Germany. A style of German riesling, Spatlese, translated, means “late harvest” but cannot be confused with our late harvest sweet dessert wines.



Among the styles of German riesling, Kabinett is more austere, less fruit forward, pairing well with food, Spatlese is more rich and creamy with a soft minerality and Auslese can be compared to our later harvest dessert wines.  The medium-bodied Selbach Spatlese came to my attention when Wine Spectator magazine rated it 93-points, citing complex flavors of red peach, apple pear and anise.  I felt that the rich minerality and petrol nuances of the wine helped express the creamy Garrotxa from northern Spain and Raclette, the national cheese of Switzerland

1st Course:  Cream of Mushroom Soup, Creme Fraiche, Parmesan


 Wine:            2013 Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc (Russian River Valley)

Creme fraiche, a French cultured cream available at most  markets, adds richness to soups and sauces. In this instance I anticipated enhancement to a soup that was already creamy. Needing to avoid  rich, buttery

2013 Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley

2013 Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley

chardonnay or other acidic white wines, this was actually are easiest choice.

The Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc from the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County is, arguably, one of the good food wines ever produced.  The flavors of the 2013 vintage, fairly austere not to compete with the richness of the soup, still express white peach, pear, citrus and melon on the palate preceded by floral aromas.  Awarded 93 points by Wine Spectator magazine, this sauvignon blanc is a “foodies” dream and was a perfect pair with our first course.

2nd Course:  Shaved Fennel and Herb Salad with Baby Radishes

Wine:   2009 Can Mayol Loxarel “Gran Reserva de Familia” Brut

               Nature Penedes (Spain)


This pairing definitely took some “risk-taking” and was, without a doubt, the evenings most unique. Although a sparkling wine, this is not a Spanish cava produced in the “methode champenoise” because there is no dosage.  Dosage, pronounced with the accent on the second syllable, is a sweet mixture of wine and sucrose added, in small measure, to each bottle designed to enhance the flavor. French champagne, Italian proscecco, Spanish cava and other sparkling wines made in the “methode champenoise” have dosage.  Those with none are known as “brut nature” wines and generally have a more herbal flavor profile that compliments food.

The 2009 Can Mayol Loxarel “Gran Reserva de Familia” Brut Nature originates from the Penedes region, south of Barcelona, which is the oldest wine region in Europe. It consists of Xarel-lo grapes, common to the sparkling and still wines from Penedes and is aged 51 months on its lees, using the dead yeast to add texture.

2009 Can Mayol Loxeral "Gran Reserva"

2009 Can Mayol Loxeral “Gran Reserva”

In awarding this wine 93-points, Robert Parker described fennel as one of its flavors which was enough for me to take a chance on the pairing.  Our guests were a little surprised at the choice of a sparkling wine, expecting champagne flavors, but the “brut nature” complimented rather than overpowering the salad.

Although this 2009 vintage was the oldest wine we served, it was recently released, six years after harvest.  This is an extraordinary amount of time in comparison to wines produced in the states, that age 20-24 months.  European wine maker’s comfort with extended aging is primarily based on financial reasons. Most European wineries have been family owned for centuries whereas those in the states commonly are owned by the bank and the pressure to get the product to market is higher.

3rd Course:  Herbed Pork Tenderloins, Apple Chutney, Honey-Roasted Carrots

                          with Tahini Yogurt, Potato Stacks

Wine:              2012 Williams Selyem “Foss Vineyard” Pinot Noir RRV

Pork pairs well with a range of wine varietals depending how it is prepared.  This specific recipe was difficult because the pork tenderloins were wrapped with prosciotto, favoring syrah or other deep red varietals, but the apple chutney and honey roasted carrots would prefer a rich California chardonnay.  I settled for a specific medium-bodied pinot noir from the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County that, hopefully, would balance this complexity.

2012 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir "Foss Vineyard" Russian River Valley

2012 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir “Foss Vineyard” Russian River Valley

Williams Selyem is one of the state’s finest producer of Burgundian-style pinot noir and cool-climate chardonnay.  They have estate vineyards, but mostly source grapes from some of the finest vineyards in the Russian River Valley and beyond.  The nearby west-facing Foss Vineyard benefits from afternoon sun after the morning fog has lifted which results in some of the warmest soils in the valley, allowing the grapes to fully ripen for bolder flavors.

The elegant flavors of pinot noir can pair with complex flavors, including prosciotto and chutney if it also has rich texture and solid structure such as the 2012 Williams Selyem “Foss Vineyard” Pinot Noir RRV or equally fine releases from wineries such as Roar in the Santa Lucia Highlands and Loring Wines in the Santa Rita Hills appellation.


Dessert:  Bittersweet Chocolate Truffle Cake

                   Rogue River Blue (Oregon) with sage honey

Wine:       2007 Val du Vino “Opportunity” (Amador County)

                   2009 Longoria Syrah Port (Santa Ynez Valley)

Dessert was the easiest pair of the evening, adding my favorite Rogue River Blue from southern Oregon with sage honey as an option to the chef’s wonderful truffle cake.  Rogue River Blue has a rich and creamy texture that lacks the bite of most blue cheeses and is always a good dessert alternative.  It is exclusively a fall cheese and I had

Rogue River Blue

Rogue River Blue

some difficulty finding it in March.  After some effort, I finally was able to purchased some through a unique online gourmet cheese source call

Our two aged port-style dessert wines spanned California regions, from Amador County in the North to Santa Ynez Valley in the South.  Personal favorites, the 2007 Val du Vino “Opportunity” is a true port, sourced

2009 Longoria "Vino Dulce" Syrah Port

2009 Longoria “Vino Dulce” Syrah Port

from Amador and aged eight years in French oak and the Longoria “Vino Dulce” Syrah Port from Santa Ynez Valley both express rich flavors of dark berries, spices of vanilla and pepper and, of course, chocolate.  They can and did pair equally well with the chocolate and the cheese.

Everyone had fun, a good cause was supported and we all discovered more about the wonderful partnership of food and wine.

Wine and Cheese Pairing, 2016


The idea began with our desire to support “ArtStart,” a local Santa Rosa non-profit that provides opportunities for high school student artists to create and install public art projects.  Our solution was to donate to the auction a wine and cheese pairing for 14 people.  After a successful $1,500 donation, it was now time to create a

The Wines

The Wines

memorable experience that exceeded the donors expectations.  As always, the wine selections would be easier than determining and acquiring the proper cheeses.  Even living in Sonoma County where many fine artisan wine and cheeses are produced, research to find unique pairings would require some effort.

To facilitate the outcomes to 1)discover the aromas and flavors of each wine and cheese, 2)understand their backstory and 3) promote discussion and select favorites, we distributed comments from winemakers and sommeliers that assisted us through “power of suggestion.”  Seven bottles opened, seven cheeses unwrapped, we were ready to start the global culinary journey.


Pairing #1:  Old World vs New World Chenin Blanc

Chenin blanc, originating from the Loire Valley in France, is one of the most versatile wines in the world,

2014 Huet Le Haut-Leiu Vovray Sec

comfortable as a dry, semi-dry, sparkling or dessert wine.  Grown extensively in South Africa, Australia and California, the grape has made a huge comeback over the past few decades. We compared the waxy richness and minerality of the 2013 Williams Selyem Chenin Blanc, grown in San Benito County and fermented in concrete eggs at the Russian River Valley winery with the rich 2014 Huet Le

Williams Selyem Chenin Blanc 2012 San Benito County

Williams Selyem Chenin Blanc 2012 San Benito County

Haut-Leiu Vouvray Sec, a classic semi-dry from France with stone fruit flavors throughout the finish.  No favorites here as the group decided that the two wines were different but equal, experiencing the diversity of the grape.

The two wines were paired with Valencay (Val-on-say), a tangy goat cheese from central France and a



young Mahon from the island of Minorca in Spain, both salty with an appealing creamy, nutty flavor.  Young, as opposed to aged Mahon (mah-ON), is an accessible semi-soft cheese that becomes hard with distinct salt crystals as it ages.  Surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea, locals explain that even the grass and cow’s milk from the island is salty.  My usual preference is for the young Mahon, but the citric tanginess of the of the Valencay, rare to the US, was a unique new discovery for all.

Pairing #2:  “California Chardonnay and Spanish Goat Cheese”

Sonoma County’s Kosta Browne Winery consistently creates, arguably, the best pinot noir in California, earning Wine of the Year status from Wine Spectator magazine with their 2011 Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast.  The winery has recently begun producing a rich, Burgundian-style chardonnay from the Russian River Valley that epitomizes their high

2012 Kosta Browne "116" Chardonnay Russian River Valley

2012 Kosta Browne “116” Chardonnay Russian River Valley

standards.  This pairing features the 2012 Kosta Browne Chardonnay “116” RRV, named after the highway that meanders through the Sonoma Valley, that combines nice aromas of lemon, pears and toast with stone fruits and lemon curd flavors and a lingering mineral finish. To augment these flavors, we chose a pasteurized goat cheese from northeastern Spain.



Garrotxa (gah-ROW-cha), an area in the Catalonia region, north of Barcelona, is home to a collective of goat farmers, many of whom fled urban life to revive the local cheese making trade. The semi-aged, semi-soft cheese has a somewhat sweet, nutty flavor with hints of cooked milk.  We used the rich texture of the wine to compliment the buttery sweetness of the cheese to create a celebration on the palate.


Pairing #3:  “All-American Classic”

One of this country’s most awarded cheeses, Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands Farms in Wisconsin won Best Of Show by the American

2013 WALT Pinot Noir "The Corners" Anderson Valley

2013 WALT Pinot Noir “The Corners” Anderson Valley

Cheese Society in 2001, 2003 and 2010, the only cheese to do so. After careful consideration of pairing this creamy, nutty, caramel flavored cow’s milk cheese with the Kosta Browne Chardonnay, we opted for the earthy 2013 WALT Pinot Noir “The Corners” Anderson Valley, knowing from experience that they would compliment each other perfectly. From the northerly Mendocino County, WALT is owned by the Napa Valley’s Hall Wines team and responsible for the production of their pinot noir releases. This 2013 vintage, awarded 92-pt by James Laube from Wine Spectator magazine, has a floral, clove bouquet with a rich, vibrant cherry-cola flavor that lingers throughout the finish.

Pleasant Ridge Reserve

Pleasant Ridge Reserve

A rare raw cow’s milk cheese in the US, the Pleasant Ridge Reserve comes from a single herd and only from the pasture season, beginning in late spring through the fall.  The evenings most creamy, well-integrated cheese with a young, but luscious pinot noir release was an instant hit with our guests and stood out as the best pairing.


Pairing #4: “The Island Pairing”

Geoffrey and Allison Wrigley Rusack have, for decades, produced quality wines in the Ballard Canyon area of the Santa Ynez Valley, near Solvang.  Through Allison’s family connections, they gained access to five acres on the old Rancho Escondido site on the island where they began, in 2010,

2012 Rusack Zinfandel Santa Catalina Island

2012 Rusack Zinfandel Santa Catalina Island

producing pinot noir, chardonnay and a half acre of a very special varietal.  Geoffrey received permission to excavate some cuttings from ancient vines on Santa Cruz Island, another of the Channnel Islands.  Analysis determined that they were old zinfandel vines, later transplanted to the Rancho Escondido site.

Having an opportunity to secure one bottle of each varietal annually, the scents of cranberries and old leather foreshadowed the youthful maturity of the 2013 Rusack Zinfandel Santa Catalina Island (Bottle #827), fruit-forward with a complex flavor profile strong enough to compliment aged Mahon (mah-ON),

young Mahon, aged Mahon

young Mahon, aged Mahon

a hard, textural cheese, salty with toasted nuts and caramel flavors that thoroughly coat the palate, pairing best with a rich, deep flavored wine like zinfandel.


Pairing #5:  “Nearly French”

Randall Grahm, founder/winemaker at Bonny Doon Vineyards, is one of the patriarchs of the California Rhone Rangers, replicating the famous blends from Chateaunef-du-pape in France’s southern Rhone Valley.  The

2010 Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant Reserve

2010 Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant Reserve

syrah/grenache dominant 2010 Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant Reserve en bonbonne, is a rich, savory red blend with deep berry and tobacco aromas followed by herbal flavors and a long, silky finish.  Awarded 92-pt by Wine Enthusiast magazine, it is uniquely aged in 5-gallon glass bottles, the same ones from yesterday’s water coolers.  The right cheese to compliment this wine was never in question.

From France’s Basque region near the Pyrenees Mountains, the semi-soft Ossau-Iraty (OH-so ear-ah-TEE), a very wine compatible sheep’s cheese, has complex brown butter, caramel flavors that seem to soften deep



flavored wines like syrah, especially one as earthy and savory as the Le Cigare Volant.


Pairing #6:  “Dessert!”

The last and sweet pairing of the evening featured a 2010 Longoria Syrah Port “Vino Dulce” from Santa Ynez Valley with the creamy, buttery Rogue River Blue

Rogue River Blue

Rogue River Blue

from southern Oregon’s Rogue Creamery.  The port-style wine, available in Longoria’s Los Olivos tasting room expressing cherry, vanilla and spice flavors, is often served with chocolate desserts but the Rogue River, lacking the aggressive bite of most blue’s and augmented by sage honey, was a memorable compliment to the wine and the experience.

Of course, there were no winner or losers, just some of the world’s finest cheeses carefully matched with fine wines, a culinary delight beyond reproach.  Many of these cheeses are available at various gourmet markets, often providing personalized assistance with selections.  As a

2010 Longoria Syrah "Vino Dulce" Santa Barbara County

2010 Longoria Syrah “Vino Dulce” Santa Barbara County

backup, there are many reliable websites that can offer the most rarest of cheeses.  I also often consult food columnist Janet Fletcher’s “Cheese and Wine – A Guide to Selecting, Pairing and Enjoying” and “Cheese Course” by Fiona Beckett as resources for our pairings.

Syrah and Cheese Pairing




A well-known “wine sage’ recently told me that California consumers don’t respect syrah. I disagreed, highlighting its adaptability to our diverse regions and, of course, the great Rhone blends coming out of Paso Robles. Then, my friend asked me how much syrah I actually drink.


Admittedly, eliminating meat from my diet has minimized syrah as a food pairing choice, but a quick inventory of my cellar confirmed that wineandcheesetasting1some very good wines have been waiting too long for attention. The pride in my collection of syrah wines was not making it to my palate.


I quickly resolved to share my finest syrah, pair it with some world cheeses and host a tasting event to support a local high school art project. Contrary to the fairly uncomplicated selection of the wines, the cheeses would require more research.


As fate would have it, weeks after deciding to host the event, I received, as a D.E.W.N. member, a bottle of 2011 Bonny Doon Sparkling Syrah ($36), another Randall Grahm experiment. This was a wonderful coincidence that resolved the issue of our welcoming toast in a very unique way. Pairing it with a cheese creates a new thorny issue.

2011 Bonny Doon Sparkling Syrah

2011 Bonny Doon Sparkling Syrah


Pairing cheese with syrah is difficult because the grape is so diverse and a limited number of cheeses will stand up to its earthy, spice flavors. Another small disappointment is that the popular triple crème and brie cheeses are out of the question even though they are generally excellent pairs with sparkling wine.


Taking a bit of a risk, I chose the Rogue River Blue from the Rogue Creamery in Southern Oregon to pair with our sparkling syrah. As a

Rogue River Blue from Rogue Creamery

Rogue River Blue from Rogue Creamery

blue cheese, the Rogue River lacks the aggressive bite and has an exceptionally creamy texture. The fact that the cheese is wrapped with syrah grape leaves soaked in brandy was novel, but would it balance the smoky, candied fruit flavors of the sparkling syrah. The answer will come from the tasters.


My desire to showcase the breadth of syrah demanded that we include, in addition to my California selections, examples from Australia and the northern Rhone Valley in France where it originated. My resources at Monopole Wine in Pasadena recommended a syrah/Grenache blend from the Barossa Valley in South Australia and a Northern Rhone syrah. We are ready to complete our pairings


Generally, semi-firm cheeses with intense flavor profiles are the best matches for seasoned syrah. Old World cheddars, blues and Spanish sheep cheeses with forceful flavors seem to balance the wine on the palate and add a global perspective.


Our guests were reminded to judge each wine for color, texture, bouquet and flavor. The cheeses were unique and were rated individually as well as their compatibility to the wine. Of course, the progression is always a sip of wine, a taste of cheese and a second sip of wine.


To my previous point, I was relieved that our “welcome pairing” of the 2011 Bonny Doon Sparkling Syrah and the Rogue River Blue cheese from Oregon worked and was one of the day’s favorites. I typically serve the Rogue River Blue covered in honey as a dessert. Its darker color, buttery texture and more austere creamy flavors make it approachable even for those who avoid blue cheeses. The deep violet color, atypical for a sparkling wine, delivered a blend of candied berries and savory flavors. Aside from 17% Grenache, all of the remaining syrah grapes (83%) were sourced from the Jespersen Vineyard in San Luis Obispo County, a nice transition to our next pair.

2010 Bonny Doon Syrah Jespersen Vineyard

2010 Bonny Doon Syrah Jespersen Vineyard


Since the 2007 vintage, Bonny Doon’s Randall Grahm has introduced four 100% syrah wines, each sourced from hand-selected vineyards throughout the state. All of the grapes for our next wine, the 2010 Bonny Doon Syrah “Jespersen Vineyard” ($45) come from the same vineyard as the sparkling syrah. I matched the wine with the smoky Idiazabal, a semi-firm, raw sheep cheese from the northern Spain Basque region near the Pyrenees Mountains.


Idiazabal ewe cheese from Spain

Idiazabal ewe cheese from Spain

The “Jespersen” syrah is more fruit forward then others with slightly pronounced berries and plum flavors supported by an earthy mouth-feel. Idiazabal is best when it is mature, but not over-aged. The smokiness and buttery texture are subdued enough to enhance, not deflect the flavor of the wine.

Carrying on with fruit forward syrah, our second pour was the luscious 2007 Halliwell Syrah/Grenache ($30) from the Barossa

2007 Halliwell Syrah-Grenache

2007 Halliwell Syrah-Grenache

Valley in South Australia. Syrah and Grenache are two grapes whose flavor profile is significantly changed by the heat from “down under.” The fruit flavors in syrah emerge to the surface more than in the moderate Rhone Valley climate. In fact, the unblended syrah wines are

such distinctive “fruit bombs” that the Aussies renamed them Shiraz.


Staying within the continent, I selected the Windsor Blue cow cheese from New Zealand, a full-bodied 2006

Windsor Blue Cheese from New Zealand

Windsor Blue Cheese from New Zealand

Supreme Champion that remains creamy, buttery and as delicate as blues come. This was, possibly, my favorite paring of the day.


Destined to be the challenging pair of the tasting, the 2008 Twisted Oak Syrah/Viognier ($32) from Calaveras County and the English Barbers 1833 Vintage Reserve Cheddar became the overwhelming

favorite of the group. Always big and earthy, this particular wine has some age to it and, fearful of its tannins, I decanted it for a few hours. The result was a big, earthy wine, boasting flavors of both bacon and caramel that was perfectly balanced throughout.


2008 Twisted Oak Syrah Viognier

2008 Twisted Oak Syrah Viognier

This wine needed the oldest cheddar in the United Kingdom, known for intense, deep flavors and the “Barbers 1833”

Barbers 1833 Vintage Reserve Cheddar

Barbers 1833 Vintage Reserve Cheddar

pushed the pair over the top.


Next, we went all French with the 2009 Crozes-Hermitage Syrah ($35) from the northern Rhone Valley and Ossau-Iraty,

an ewe cheese from the southern Basque region north of the Pyrenees Mountains. While the 92-pt wine and cheese both expressed diverse flavors from black olives and pepper to currants, licorice and caramel, they were exceptionally composed with a healthy earthiness.


In an appellation that takes its name from both the Ossau Valley and nearby Iraty Forest, local producers have

Ossau-Iraty cheese from southern France

Ossau-Iraty cheese from southern France

perfected a cheese that is nutty and salty enough to enhance the right bottle of wine. In reverse, the wine augmented the caramel notes of the cheese. This was also one of my preferred pairs of the day.

2009 Crozes-Hermitage Syrah

2009 Crozes-Hermitage Syrah


From one of the best and most respected vineyards in California, Bien Nacido in the Santa Maria Valley, Randall Grahm sources grapes for, arguably, his best single vineyard syrah. Those who are familiar with California syrah and pinot noir know that the Bien Nacido Vineyard has been sourcing grapes to top winemakers for years. It is an honor and a good marketing tool to display their name on your label. I chose another French cheese, Tomme de Savoie to pair with the 2007 Bonny Doon Syrah Bien Nacido Vineyard ($55) because of its earthy, meaty qualities that were compatible with

2007 Bonny Doon Syrah Bien Nacido Vineyard

2007 Bonny Doon Syrah Bien Nacido Vineyard

this powerfully elegant wine, sensible and spicy.

Tomme de Savoie

Tomme de Savoie


We concluded the tasting with the 2011 Longoria Syrah “Vino Dulce” ($23), a dessert wine fortified with brandy that was aptly paired with chocolate. We recently discovered this complex, yet yummy port-style wine while visiting the well-known Santa Barbara County winemaker’s Los Olivos tasting room and it served as the perfect ending.


I asked each participant to evaluate each wine independently. Of course, with 15 tasters, conversation played a role in determining 2010-Syrah-Port-web-2everyone’s top two preferences. While not the diversity of opinion I expected, the overwhelming choice for top wine was the 2008 Twisted Oak Syrah/Viognier from Calaveras County. I had tasted this wine a few years ago and found it a bit young and acidic, but with good potential. As a precaution, I decanted the wine for nearly two hours before serving which enhanced a syrah that had already evolved into power and elegance. The 2009 Longoria “Vino Dolce” dessert wine was a distant second place followed by the Halliwell Syrah/Grenache from Australia.


As for the cheese, the Rogue River Blue and the Windsor Blue, both moderate flavored cheeses with exceptional creamy texture and balanced flavors were the top choices followed closely by the Barbers 1833 Vintage Reserve Cheddar, the top release from England’s oldest cheddar region.


As for me, I created the pairing and am, obviously, partial to all of them. However, amidst the busy tasting, I did feel a connection between the 2009 Crozes-Hermitage Syrah and the Ossau-Iraty, both from France and with the most diverse flavor profile.?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????


I order most of my gourmet cheeses from that delivers huge selections with high quality to your doorstep on a designated date. With some research, good syrah can be found at larger outlets, but if you get serious about the grape, there are shops like Monopole that can walk you through those, foreign and domestic, that will give you the “best bang” within your budget.






Food and Wine of the Hitching Post


                      Photographs:  Karen Norton



The Hitching Post II Restaurant was a local legend long before the film; “Sideways” exposed it to a much larger audience.  Today, it is a must stop for those in town enjoying wine tasting or the many other attractive features in the north San Barbara County area.  While the

Frank Ostini Jr. and Gray Hartley

Frank Ostini Jr. and Gray Hartley

waitress, Mya, is still good for business, locals have appreciated open red oak BBQ grilling, “Santa Maria Style” since the Ostini Family opened the original Hitching Post Restaurant in nearby Casmalia, CA in 1952.  The in-direct open fire grilling method, rather then closed smoker, seems to generate great flavor in everything from filet mignon to salmon. The Hitching Post II also has its own house wines with a much different story than one might imagine.

Several years ago, I met Gray Hartley at a tasting event when he was promoting Hartley-Ostini Hitching Post Wines.  Experience tells us to be cautious when restaurants, especially BBQ restaurants, begin to make their own house wines, especially Pinot Noir.  Fortunately, we can all throw caution to the wind.  Beginning as a hobby, Hartley-Ostini Hitching Post Wines is a long-term business and personal partnership between old friends who are now serious winemakers creating fine wines from many of the top vineyards in the region.

As with most wineries in north Santa Barbara County, the harvest was taking place and the Hitching Post  staff was in fourth

new juice

new juice

gear,  moving  fresh grapes from trucks through the initial crushing process.  Hartley oversees the production of 17,00 0cases annually, but he was as excited as we were to watch the grapes come off the trucks and to visit the scales before the fruit was loaded onto conveyor belts, drawn through crushers and de-stemmers before resting in holding tanks awaiting a winemakers touch.

When asked what makes him a good winemaker, Hartley pauses for an instant before responding, “Frank.”  High school friend, Frank Ostini convinced him in 1979, to leave his fishing business in Alaska to pursue the dream of creating pinot noir and other varietals that people would want to drink, inside or outside the restaurant.  A self-described romantic, Hartley depicts his partner as analytical and pocessing scientific approach, providing a good balance.

Hartley Ostini 2012 Hitching Post "Pinks" dry rose

Hartley Ostini 2012 Hitching Post “Pinks” dry rose

Speaking of balance, Gray pours a glass of the new 2012 Hitching Post “Pink’s” Dry Rose, comprised of valdiguie (48%), Grenache 47% and Pinot Noir (5%).  Valdiguie, also known as Gros Auxerrois is a grape native to the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France, near Provence, that is producing fine rose’.

While the “Pink’s” in the name refers to the salmon that Hartley used to fish in Alaska, the flavors and texture of this rose’ would pair nicely with the Hitching Post II BBQ Sautéed Mushrooms or Grilled Artichokes with Smoked Tomato Pesto.

The most popular Hitching Post wine is the “Highliner” pinot noir. The 2007 Hitching Post “Highliner” Pinot Noir ($40), named for the “great men of the Alaskan Salmon Fishery, combined the best barrels from four of north Santa Barbara County’s

Hartley-Ostini Hitching Post "Highliner" Pinot Noir

Hartley-Ostini Hitching Post “Highliner” Pinot Noir

extraordinary vineyards.  It expresses complex fruit flavors and should drink well for 5-6 years. The popular “Highliner” and other Hitching Post Wines are exported to 12 states, Japan, Denmark and Canada.

While most Hitching Post wines spend 18-20 months in the bottle before release, the 2008 Hitching Post “Hometown” Pinot Noir ($20)) was released after only 10 months, appealing to those who prefer the flavors and texture of young, value-priced pinot noir.

Frank and Gray both emphasize the need to keep flavors in balance; the flavors must be strong, but not dominant.  They aspire to create the Burgundian-style, food friendly pinot noir that can accompany all food including beef.

While Frank recommended the 2009 Hitching Post “Cork Dancer” Pinot Noir ($29), I opted

Frank Ostini

Frank Ostini

for the 2008 Hitching Post “Perfect Set” Pinot Noir (55) to pair with my fresh Grilled Salmon.  This pinot represents the best barrels from Fiddlestix Vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills appellation.  As with grapes for her own Fiddlehead Cellars, owner/winemaker Kathy Joseph’s meticulous work in the vineyard has put her stock in demand by winemakers throughout the region.  The “Perfect Set” is aromatic, earthy wine with full fruit flavors, living up to its name.

The Hitching Post Wines portfolio include single vineyard pinot noir from four of the area’s renown vineyards including the Fiddlestix and Cargassachi Vineyards in the Santa Rita Hills and Julia’s and Bien Nacido Vineyards in Santa Maria.  Research will show that many of California’s fine pinot noir releases source fruits from these vineyards. The 2009 Hitching Post “Bien Nacido Vineyard” Pinot Noir ($42) expresses luscious, deep flavors with fully ripened, concentrated fruit.

Although they claim to not make wine for food, nor food for wine, this Hitching Post team, with their unique blend of

Barrel Tasting

Barrel Tasting

experience, were at the forefront of food and wine pairing.  With “no pretense,” they continue, since the first vintage in 1984, to use a “holistic” approach to winemaking and food preparation that helps maintain a healthy balance with each.

For those seeking heavier wines to pair with the wonderful open-fire flavors of beef, lamb and pork, the 2010 Hitching Post “Big Circle” Syrah ($24) and the 2007 Hitching Post Syrah “Alisos Vineyard”($30)  are both good alternatives.  The “Big Circle” expresses complex, balanced flavors and an acidity that makes it very food friendly.

One of the fascinating features of California wines is the multitude of human stories of people, their passion, desire and commitment to perfection.  Although the winemaking passion of Gray Hartley and Frank Ostini has become a $2 million annual operation, luckily they still see themselves as two friends making wine in their garage. Their allegiance to “trust the vineyard, trust your senses and share knowledge” is what makes everything about the Hitching Post operation especially appealing.


The Hitching Post Restaurant II in Buellton

The Hitching Post Restaurant II is located on Highway 246, less than a mile from the Buellton exit of Highway 101 and the nearby wine tasting room is in the ultra-modern Terravant Wine Company, shared with other local winemakers.  Stops at both should be part of any excursion to the breathtakingly beautiful wine region of north Santa Barbara County.


In Pairing Wine and Cheese, “Honor the Wine”


Traditional party favorites in the States, wine and cheese are daily staples for most Europeans.  In most instances, they both begin and lengthen the meal.  Through the emerging interest in fine cheeses from American culinary consumers, the need for suitable wine and cheese pairing becomes as natural as the two are companionable.

For centuries wine and cheese have been part of every hearty meal in many parts of the world.  Both are examples of “delayed gratification” and good planning to turn cow’s milk into cheese for the winter and grapes into future wine.  More than the history, they are similar and often described by their mild or robust flavors, creamy or firm textures or acidity.

Each of us, on average, eats nearly 35 lbs of cheese annually, but, on whole, are becoming more discriminating in our taste. Today, we choose from the milk of cows, goat’s, sheep and in rare instances, Water Buffalo, asking if it is raw or pasteurized and if the end product is soft or hard with a natural or washed rind. There is reason to be so discerning.

As an experiment, next time you have a recipe calling for Parmesan cheese, substitute with fresh pecorino-toscano, an ancient Italian cheese from sheep’s milk, often available in local markets.  Developed through a lengthy process and always aged, pecorino-toscano flavors are fresh and simple with a nutty, buttery texture. It will enhance the flavor of food and pair well with a sangiovese such as the local 2009 Leona Valley Winery Sangiovese, one of the best that I have recently enjoyed.

As a starting point to begin to enjoy wine and cheese pairing, the following European cheeses are recommend jas delicious individually and good “vino” partners.



Mahon (Sp)          cow’s milk      Spanish red/syrah

Manchego Sp)          sheep’s milk     tempranillo

Mimolette (Fr)          cow’s milk     buttery Chardonnay

Asiago (It)          cow’s milk     pinot grigio/merlot


Raclette (Fr/Swiss)     cow’s milk     dry riesling

Taleggio (It)          cow’s milk     spicy white wine

Tomme de Savoie (Fr)cow’s milk     dry riesling

Gruyere (Swtz.)     cow’s milk     buttery Chardonnay


Camembert (Fr)          cow’s milk     buttery chardonnay

Brie (Fr)               cow’s milk     unoaked white wine


Stilton (Eng)          cow’s milk     port

Valdeon (Sp)          cow/goat milk     port or sherry

As the wines of southern Europe were role models for our wines, American cheese makers are following established Old World methods, but putting a New world stamp in their process.  Reminiscent to the 1976 Paris Tasting, some American cheeses are outscoring their mentors in global competitions. One example is the Rogue River Blue, produced by the Rogue Creamery in Oregon.  Designated “World’s Best Blue Cheese” in 2003 at the World Cheese Awards in London with several “Best of Show” from the American Cheese Awards, the Rogue River Blue, wrapped in grape leaves and expressing a brownish hue, lacks the sting and saltiness than some find difficult in blue cheese. Recently near the Rogue River Valley, I acquired and served some Rogue River Blue with honey and marcona almonds and a polished Sauternes from France.  You must try it because I could never explain how good it was. The following is a brief list of American boutique cheese that I have recently enjoyed.

Red Hawk (Ca)               robust/soft cheese     sparkling wine

Rogue River Blue (Ore)     mild/creamy blue          dessert wine

Plesant Ridge Reserve (Wi)     rich and nutty          dry riesling

Camellia (Ca)               creamy goat cheese     chardonnay

Humboldt Fog (Ca)           semisoft goat cheese      sauvignon blanc

Vermont Shepherd (Ver)     hard; sheeps milk     viognier



Research can be so arduous, but I made the sacrifice to contact Zina Miakinova, designated Cheese Lady from Le Vigne Winery in Paso Robles to arrange for a wine/cheese pairing.  Located in the northeast quadrant on Buena Vista Drive, Le Vigne specializes in semi-rare gourmet cheeses along with fine wines and creative blends.  Nothing enhances an experience more than exploring it with an expert.

A “cardinal rule” of pairings is that, in all instances, the cheese augments, but never distracts from the wine. Supporting this end, the process begins with a sniff and taste of wine, then the cheese, finishing with the wine. Although Le Vigne changes its pairings regularly, ours left us understanding that we had discovered something unique. The textures and flavors were perfectly balanced or counter-balanced and made each other better.

Pair #1:  Kiara Private Reserve Sauvignon Blanc with

          Chaubier (Fr). Chaubier is a semi-firm cheese made from half cow’s milk, half goat’s milk. Its mildly robustflavors and rich texture balanced well with the zesty and citric sauvignon blanc, aged in a variety of oak barrels.

Pair #2:  2008 Kiara Reserve Rose’ with Cranberry Le Roullee (FR).  One would expect pairing a sweet cheese with a rose’ to be a bit excessive.  However, this rose’ is a very dry, complex wine that consists of a blend of cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, syrah, merlot and cabernet franc, representing the Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhone Valley regions of France.  With this rose’, the brain needs a few moments to overcome the anticipation of sweetness and focus on the dry flavors.  It needs something sweet and the Cranberry Le Roullee, a sweet, soft cheese infused with dried cranberries made this a decadent pair.

Pair #3:  2007 Le Vigne “Cuore della Vigna” with Casatica di Bufala (It)  Comprised mostly of cabernet sauvignon with a blend of petite sirah, cabernet franc and zinfandel grapes, the “Cuore della Vigna” assumes the characteristics of a Super Tuscan, earthy, while creamy and elegant.  Originating from the milk of Water Buffalo, apparently contributing the richest, sweetest milk of any dairy animal, this soft, ripened cheese coats the palate, fostering our ability to enjoy the richness of the wine. The obvious question still without an answer, “How does one milk a Water Buffalo?”

Pair #4:  2004 Le Vigne Syrah with Tipperary (Ire)

Seemingly an odd couple, we paired an aged, soft, jammy, fruit-forward wine with a biting, extra sharp Irish cheddar.  Both flavors have long finishes and, in some unexplainable way, they counter-balance each other perfectly.  The syrah was the best wine that I tasted and the extraordinary pairing experience prompt me to bring some of each home.

Pair #5:     2007 Le Vigne “Ame de la Vigne” with Valdeon (Sp)

Because, common practice is to pair a sharp, pungent blue cheese with a dessert wine such as a French Sauternes, I was anxious to find how the Valdeon, an esteemed Spanish blue wrapped in walnut leaves, would coalesce with this Rhone blend expressing rich fruit and spicy, herb flavors. Of course, the wine tamed the Valdeon and the results were wonderful.

Pair# 6:     2010 Kiara Bella Moscato with Cherry Gourmandise (Fr) Learning as I go, Zina surprised us at the conclusion of the pairing, with a sweet, melon flavored Muscat of Alexandria with the Cherry Gourmandise, a buttery, soft cow’s milk cheese, infused with kirsch, a liqueur distilled from cherries. Apparently, pairings such as this are common, popular because they impart a variety of rich, sweet flavors that are pure decadence.

Le Vigne Winery is a wonderful environment to enjoy cheese and wine tastings and is open to the public.  For those inclined, they have a wine/cheese club and also offer a “Decadent Flight” that pairs wine with fine chocolates.

When pairing wine and cheese, do some research on the texture and concentration of flavors of both and avoid letting the intensity of one overpower the other. Counter-balancing acidity and sweetness, such as a powerful blue cheese with a sweet dessert wine, is also important.

When serving cheese as a pre-dinner appetizer, think diversity of shape as well as texture and flavor, something easily done with cheeses from a specific country or region such as Sonoma County in northern California. Whatever you decide, always remember the essential rule to honor the wine.