Tag Archives: williams selyem winery

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.

Collecting Wine And Why


Establishing a wine collection is far more than selecting some great bottles from an afternoon tasting but certainly does not have need of the time, money and research to acquire rare vintages. It requires some education of both the mind and palate because beyond the labels, specific varietals and ratings, the crescendo of wine is all about taste and the color, aroma and texture that precede it.

Taste is always upfront in my pursuit of wines, searching for the perfect balance in fruit, spice and earthy flavors. However, collecting is usually constrained by budget and many collectors agree, “Once you’ve gone Burgundy, you can’t go back.” As great as Burgundian wines are, collecting the “grand cru” would, inevitably, lead to bankruptcy for most of us. Fortunately, wines from our local California neighborhood have the quality and accessibility to satiate a collector’s appetite.

The main factor surrounding my collection is that I am an occasional wine drinker. My wife, declaring war on sugar some 15 year ago, no longer takes pleasure in wine and I am not going to open a nice bottle for one glass.  The result is a small collection, quality over quantity that can be shared with others, the best way to enjoy the attributes of wine.

2009 Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast

2009 Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast

Sharing is wonderful, but the goals of any cellar reflect the individual tastes and diverse varietals enjoyed by the collector.  Surprises and opportunities aside, the following guides the search for wine within my budget.

#1:  Explore the finest pinot noir from California and


With few exceptions, the world’s optimum pinot noir is produced in Burgundy France, Oregon and California.  The core of my pinot noir comes from three California producers, Kosta Browne Winery, Williams Selyem Winery from Sonoma County and Seasmoke Cellars from the Santa Rita Hills in northern Santa Barbara County. There are enough diverse releases from specific vineyards and terroir among the three to provide for an impressive array of pinot noir. Among my Kosta Browne pinot’s, the 2009 Sonoma Coast, 2008 Russian River Valley and the 2007 Sonoma Coast were all among top ten wines on Wine Spectator magazines annual list, the 2009 named “2011 Wine of the Year.”

2009 Seasmoke "Ten" Pinot Noir

2009 Seasmoke “Ten” Pinot Noir

My routine is to “lay down” the new vintages for a year, making the older ones available for consumption.  My 2009 Seasmoke “Ten” Pinot Noir is now a prized bottle in the “drink/hold” status waiting a special occasion while the 2010 and 2011 vintages can rest.  It takes patience to receive an allocation of these great wines, but the rewards to your palate are worth it.

Other pinot noir wines are discovered while tasting in other regions, none better than the Willamette Valley of Oregon. In 2012, I acquired two bottles of 2010
Bergstrom Wines “De Lanciotti Vineyard” Pinot Noir
which are drinkable 2012-2022. While one bottle will rest longer, the other, consistent with my goals, is earmarked to celebrate my son’s completion of his MBA in June. In researching ongoing reviews of Oregon pinot noir, I follow the vintages of wineries such as Argyle, Ponzi, Evening Land, Penner-Ash, Archery Summit and others that are all capable of producing memorable

Bergstrom "De Lancelotti Vineyard" Pinot Noir 2010

Bergstrom “De Lancelotti Vineyard” Pinot Noir 2010


#2:  White wines with food.

Although there are an abundance of fine white wines to choose from, chardonnay adds to food like no other varietal and, given that I no longer eat meat, it will receive expanded shelf space in my cellar.  Vintage to vintage, my chardonnay assortment includes bottles of Foley Estate “Barrel Select” Chardonnay, Mt. Eden Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains and, most recently, Seasmoke “Grand Cru” Chardonnay, a superb first vintage from the venerated producer of Santa Rita Hills pinot noir.

Violating my own rule of diversity, these wines are very similar in style and share my highest standard in color, bouquet, oak, flavor, texture and finish. I recently shared my only bottle of the new Seasmoke “Grand Cru” with friends and it immediately became the topic of discussion for the next several

Foley Estate "Barrel Select" Chardonnay

Foley Estate “Barrel Select” Chardonnay

minutes, including the question, “How do we obtain some of this?”  Their answer was revealed, days later, when my annual allocation letter granted me permission to purchase four bottles in 2013. As good as the Seasmoke is, the French “Grand Cru” designation is meaningless in the US.

Aside from these wines, I am always looking for a good bargain on an authentic “Grand Cru” from Burgundy where chardonnay is the only white grape permitted to be grown.

2005 Vincent Girardin Clos Vougeot Grand Cru Vielles Vignes

2005 Vincent Girardin Clos Vougeot Grand Cru Vielles Vignes

Burgundian white wines are elegant and fruit-forward, distinguishing themselves with a soft minerality on the finish.  My current prized bottle is a 2005 Vincent Girardin Clos Vougeot Grand Cru Vielles Vignes.  A brief review on reading French labels tells us this wine comes from grapes within a walled-in (clos) vineyard in the village of Vougeot, they are old vines (vielles vignes) and Vincent Girardin produces it.  Actually, the vineyard, at 125 acres, is a very large “clos” vineyard, the only one in the village.

Other “pairing” white wines that consistently have shelf space in my compilation are the Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc, the Fiddlehead “Goosebury” Sauvignon Blanc and well-reviewed sauvignon blanc from the Marlborough region of New Zealand, when nice, pungent flavors of lemongrass are needed to enhance a dish like well-prepared, rare hamachi.

#3: Rhone Blends and Value Cabernet Sauvignon

The great blends of France’s Rhone Valley, featuring Grenache, syrah, mourvedre and other varietals are being replicated by California “Rhone Rangers,” free to add their own creative twist to centuries of tradition. New and established wineries, such as Tablas Creek Vineyard, Linne Calodo Cellars and Terry Hoage Vineyards

from the Paso Robles region offer great Rhone blends to choose from. An annual favorite and a consistent reflection of the local terroir is the Adelaida Cellars “Version” Rhone

Adelaida "Version" Red  Rhone Blend

Adelaida “Version” Red
Rhone Blend

Blend, legendary to the area.


Not being the main varietal focus of my collection, budgeting for the Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is, with few exceptions, not an option. I enjoy exploring value-priced Cabernet from other regions.  The best example of stand-alone great flavor for under $35 is the Eberle Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from Paso Robles’ eastside.  Of course, the pricier Eberle Reserve Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is a good collectible to age for a special occasion.  With 10-15 cabernet sauvignon and Bordeaux varietals, vintages 2002-2006, in my cellar, acquiring new ones before enjoying current inventory is a low priority.

Eberle Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Bottled

Eberle Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Bottled

#4:  Discoveries

Allowing flexibility in my collection for special wines that I come across at tasting events, classes, winery tours etc. is a must.  Generally, these wines fill in varietals like merlot, petite sirah, syrah, zinfandel, riesling and others that comprise one-third of my collection.


Let me end with a story that has bought laughter and tears for two decades.  Several years ago, our family hosted an exchange student from Germany; just about the time my interest in wine in its adolescence.  The next year, he returned as our guest and presented me, from his parents collection, with two bottles of 1990 Chateau Latour and a 1990 Chateau Margaux.  I knew they

1990 Grand Vin de Chateau Latour

1990 Grand Vin de Chateau Latour

were nice French wines, not realizing that these Bordeaux giants are, vintage to vintage, arguably the world’s finest wines.  The 1990 Chateau Latour was Wine Spectator’s “1993 Wine of the Year” with a 100- point rating.  To give some perspective of the value of these wines, the recently released 2009 vintage sells in the range of $1500 per bottle. We managed to drink them all, my only memory is sharing the Chateau Margaux with my wife on our anniversary at the old Downtown Bistro on Lancaster Blvd, not completely understanding its complexity, but agreeing it was “liquid velvet” to our palates. The irony of the tale is that, knowing what I know today, I would be reluctant to ever open them, facing the reality of no longer having two of the world’s great wines.  Ultimately, wine collections are to enjoy with others, not displayed on a shelf.