Tag Archives: Rogue River Blue

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.

Advertisements

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 igourmet.com 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.