Tag Archives: rhone varietals

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

Valencay

Valencay

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

Garrotxa

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

Ossau-Iraty

Ossau-Iraty

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.


Tablas Creek Winery

 

There are many reasons to like the Tablas Creek Winery other than the high quality of the wines they produce. As a patriarch that introduced Rhone varietals to the region, they continue to lead with sustainable farming and viticulture resulting in an acclaimed palate of wines and a commitment to the community.

When east coast wine importer Robert Haas combined a long-time friendship with the Perrin family of Chateau de Beaucastel and a desire to move west to produce Rhone varietals, he eventually discovered a 120-acre site in the hills west of Paso Robles with the same terroir as Chateaunef-du-Pape, in the heart of the Rhone Valley.  A few years prior, the two families

Tablas Creek Winery

Tablas Creek Winery

formed a partnership and began the arduous task of importing traditional Rhone vines of mourvedre, syrah, grenache, quarantined while they passed multi-year testing by the USDA.

Those familiar with this area realize that as growing season days can be hot, the nights can be significantly cooler and, speaking to local winemakers, one understands their commitment to the rugged, limestone-laden vineyards.  This is the terroir of the Rhone.

Easy to say now, but this partnership took on the risk and the challenge to pioneer the finest region for Rhone varietals anywhere outside of France and the second Tablas Creek generation intends to search for the perfect blend through organic, biodynamic farming and the finest stock they can obtain.  Tablas Creek obtained organic certification for their 120-acre estate vineyard in 2003, began farming 20 acres Biodynamically in 2010 and is progressively converting the entire operation that way.

Jason Haas

Jason Haas

Last month I sat down with Jason Haas, son of the founder, whose first summer job was working for Chateau de Beacastel in France.  By comparison, mine was at IHOP.  These early experiences led to an advanced degree from Cornell, a management stint with a tech company and, eventually, back to the vineyards where he is involved in many facets of the Tablas Creek Winery operation.

Looking quite different since my last visit, the winery site now has a new, contemporary tasting room facility with outdoor porch, solar panels, alpacas and sheep surrounded by those rugged, limestone-laden vineyards.

Tablas Creek blends basically fit into three brands, Espirit de Beaucastel, Cotes de Tablas and Patelin de Tablas, each with a red and white, as well as other Rose’, single varietals and some elite, small productions blends.  Among many impressive wines, it was reviews of the Espirit de Beaucastel in various periodicals that peaked my interest, including numerous Top 100 lists.

2010 Tablas Creek "Espirit de Beaucastel"

2010 Tablas Creek “Espirit de Beaucastel”

The mourvedre-based Espirit de Beaucastel 2010 ($55) is Tablas Creek’s, highly praised, flagship wine, consistently reviewed in the mid-90 point range.  In addition to the richness, mourvedre, in this vintage, contributes the meaty, savory flavors while fruit is expressively delivered by Grenache and syrah, comprising half of the blend, along with a touch of counoise to tame the syrah, a traditional Rhone role.

Both mourvedre and counoise grapes are native to Spain and were imported to the Chateaunef-du-Pape region in the 12th Century, when the papacy was in Avignon.  The Espirit de Beaucastel 2010 from Paso Robles will be a pleasant introduction to anyone seeking to discover why Rhone blends have been coveted for centuries.

While flavors of honey are indicative to roussanne-based white blends, I found a nice minerality on the nose through the long finish with the 2010 Espirit de Beaucastel Blanc ($40), directly attributed to the limestone in the vineyard soils.  Once the roussanne/grenache blanc blend opened up in the glass, the tropical and orchard fruits emerged on the nose and palate. The Grilled Scallops with Grilled Apples and Honey Drizzle, a recipe found on the Tablas Creek Winery website, served as a perfect pair with my bottle.

In the shadow of the Espirit de Beaucastel for years, the

Cotes de Tablas 2009 shared the spotlight when named to the Wine Spectator magazine’s Top 100 Wines of 2011.  As we walked through the 120-acre certified organic vineyard on a cold morning last month, Jason pointed out a slight amount of late season frost damage to the new, delicate leaves. A late-season frost in 2011 ultimately resulted in lower yield and,

2011 Cote de Tablas

2011 Cote de Tablas

according to staff, produced the Grenache dominant Cotes de Tablas 2011 ($30), a wine that rivals the 2009 vintage in richness and the expression of fruit and spice. With over 75% of the blend comprised from Grenache (49%) and syrah (28%), the flavors of deeply ripened fruit and sweet spice were present when my first glass opened up.  This wine reminds me why I prefer Grenache-dominant blends.

Nearly equal parts viognier. Grenache blanc, roussanne and marsanne, Cotes de Tablas Blanc 2011 ($27) benefits from all grapes with a floral nose, rich orchard fruit flavors and a nice minerality throughout, courtesy of the latter two grapes.  Fermentation in stainless steel tanks adds crispness to its complexity.

The winery’s new Patelin de Tablas series surfaced in 2010 with the goal to produce high-quality, value-priced wines based from syrah and Grenache blanc by sourcing some grapes from as many as 15 other local vineyards.  Priced at $20 each, the 2011 Patelin de Tablas ($20) and 2011 Patelin de Tablas Blanc ($20) are both nicely structured, fruit forward wines that have been recognized through the “bang for your buck” they deliver.

2012 Tablas Creek "Dianthus" Rose'

2012 Tablas Creek “Dianthus” Rose’

Not respected for years, the age of new, complex rose’ is well upon us.  The mourvedre-grenache-counoise blend, 2012 Dianthus Rose’ ($27) has a wonderfully complex nose but the vibrant flavors of wild berries, pomegranate and citrus are extraordinary, awarded 90 points by Wine Spectator.

The remainder of the Tablas Creek palate includes special varietal specific wines and low production blends that are both rare and eminent including 2011 Petit Manseng ($35), 2011 Picpoul Blanc ($27), 2010 Counoise ($35) and a premier blend, the

2010 Tablas Creek Petit Manseng

2010 Tablas Creek Petit Manseng

2010 Panoplie ($95) featuring the best, hand selected mourvedre, Grenache and syrah aged together in one 1,200-gallon oak cask to produce 600 cases.  They are all astounding wines, but rarely available to those outside of their Vinsider Wine Club

members who have committed to in-depth exploration

The single varietal that we recently tasted was the 2010 Tannat, a grape predominate in the Pyrenees Mountains of Basque country that is also used with Bordeaux blenders like cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc.

2010 Tablas Creek Tannat

2010 Tablas Creek Tannat

A carnivore’s delight, the 2010 Tannat ($36), at first glance looks deep and dark, like it belongs in a large glass next to your favorite steak.  Expect some tannins, anticipate the full berry flavors, but focus on those earthy, smoked nuances that balances and give identity to the wine.  My next bottle will be given a year to evolve.

The Paso Rhone Rangers offer a great story, bringing old World wines from southern France literally to our doorstep.  There in the beginning, leading for the future, Tablas Creek Winery is continuously striving to achieve success by doing it the right way.

Located deep into the Westside foothills on Adelaida Road, the tasting room is open from 10am-5pm daily and should definitely be a scheduled stop on your next journey to the Paso Robles region.

Tablas Creek Tasting Room on Adelaida Road

Tablas Creek Tasting Room on Adelaida Road