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Celebrate National Wine Day and Cheese Day With Delectable Pairings

National Wine Day is May 25 and National Cheese Day is June 4 – appropriately close since wine and cheese are natural partners. So why not celebrate both days at once with perfect wine and cheese pairings?

According to Maxine Borcherding, Certified Sommelier and Wine Educator at Oregon Culinary Institute, a principle of cheese and wine pairing is that wine can either complement cheese flavors or go in the other direction and contrast aromas and flavors. Either way, when the right wine is paired with the right cheese, each deliciously enhances the experience of the other.

Here are a few of Chef Borcherding’s recommendations for specific pairings that will enable you to explore the wondrous world of wine and cheese.

Pairing #1: Cheddar & Full-Bodied Syrah or Zinfandel

Beecher’s Handmade Cheese Company Flagship – This semi-hard cheddar style cow milk cheese from herds in Duval, Washington, is aged for 15 months,] and has a firm texture that crumbles on the tongue with a hint of the crystal texture commonly found in aging goudas. It is creamy on the palate with flavor that starts sharp and mellows to a nutty finish.

Pairing notes:

Cowhorn 2009 Reserve Syrah – The big, full-flavored Beecher’s Flagship pairs well with a big, fruity wine such as Reserve Syrah from southern Oregon’s Applegate Valley. This biodynamic producer has consistently gotten rave reviews from the national wine press (the Wine Spectator gave it a 91).  The Reserve Syrah has lots of juicy blackberry and plum fruit and the lovely earth, leather, and peppery spice aroma and flavor of the best New World Syrahs.

Seghesio Family Vineyards 2010 Sonoma County Zinfandel – An equally lovely pairing, expect flavors of big, beautiful fruit, dark berry, plenty of leather, tobacco, mocha, sage, and sweet spice. But beware; it goes down so easily, you can forget that this wine clocks in at 14.8 percent alcohol. It is also a wonderful value at about $14.

Pairing # 2: Blue Cheese & Port-Style Pinot or Tawny Port

Crater Lake Blue – A cow’s milk blue cheese from Rogue Creamery in Central Point, Oregon is a perennial favorite for its delicious balance. It’s not too salty, moist without being runny, and the blue mold does not overwhelm the milk character of the cheese, which allows a delicious sweetness and complexity to show through on the palate.

Pairing notes:

Willamette Valley Vineyards Quinta Reserva Port-style Pinot Noir – Made from 100 percent Pinot Noir, this ruby port is fortified with brandy distilled from estate fruit. The pinot character shines in this delicious wine, with plenty of soft, juicy black cherry, strawberry and raspberry fruit aromas and flavors, sweet baking spices, vanilla, and a hint of chocolate. The finish is rich, long, with hints of toasted almond and brandied cherries.

Ficklin Aged 10 years Tawny Port from Madera, California, this port is made from two traditional Portugese port wine varieties: Tinta Madeira, and Touriga National. The long barrel aging and subsequent exposure to oxygen changes the color of the wine from deep red to a deep copper, and imparts aromas and flavors of poached pear, honey, raisins, toasted nuts and caramel that are delicious with the cheese. It retails for around $28. The Crater Lake Blue is at home with a tawny style port.

Pairing #3: Soft Cow’s Milk Cheese & Pinot Noir or Viognier

Mount Townsend Creamery Seastack – This semisoft cow’s milk cheese is crafted from Brown Swiss and Holstein milk from the Maple View Farm in Port Townsend, WA. This is a mold-ripened cheese that has a layer of charcoal ash and salt just under the rind, which helps to dry the cheese. As it ages, the center remains crumbly while the layer between the center and the rind becomes runny. The flavors are citrusy and earthy, mushroom-y and nutty, with a nice briny tang. This cheese was born to pair with Pinot Noir.

Pairing notes:

Elk Cove Vineyards 2010 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir – 2010 was a great year for Oregon Pinots such as this one. Produced from Pommard and Dijon clones, it’s classic ripe red fruit and truffle on the nose, which beautifully picks up the earthy, mushroom-y aromas and flavors of the cheese. The wine is lively with good acidity, polished tannins, and a rich finish.

Stags Leap 2011 Viognier – A lovely wine to contrast with blooming rind and washed rind cheeses is Viognier, a varietal famous in the Northern Rhone Valley which has found a home in the New World up and down the west coast. This grape can easily become over-ripe, alcoholic and bitter, but when grown at the ideal site it is intensely fruity and aromatic, mouth filling, and elegant. On the nose expect peaches and orange blossom, citrus, stone fruit and on the palate expect bright acidity that cuts through the creaminess of the cheese, with a long lovely finish.

Pairing #4: Goat Cheese & Chardonnay or Sparkling Wine

Pholia Farm Elk Mountain- Hailing from Central Point Oregon, this cheese is produced from a herd of Nigerian Dwarf Goats, a breed which produces a very high butterfat milk. The farm is fully sustainable, producing all of its own electricity. The goats pasture most of the year, supplemented with spent grain from the Wild River Brewery, which gives the cheese a hoppy, nutty aroma and flavor.  This cheese is a semi-soft mountain-style raw milk cheese made in the style of aged Tomme from the Pyrenees. The cheese is aged 6-8 months, during which the wheels are washed with Wild River Brewery Honey Wheat Ale that gives the rind a gold color. It is firm, dense, and slightly flaky.

Pairing notes:

Argyle 2008 Knudsen Vineyard Julia Lee’s Block Blanc de Blanc – 2008 was a wonderful year for Oregon chardonnay and sparkling wines from Oregon Chardonnay were equally delightful.  This full-bodied Blanc de Blanc has a fine bead and a delicious aroma of orange blossom, honey, brioche and pear. On the palate, expect crisp pear, melon, sweet citrus and white flower with a long lovely finish.

Non-Vintage Blanc de Noir – A great value in domestic sparkling wines can be found in New Mexico. In fact, New Mexico is the oldest wine-producing region in the United States, and Gruet makes some of the best and most affordable sparkling wines using the traditional method (the method used to produce Champagne) available anywhere.

The Gruet family came to New Mexico from France where they had already been making champagne for 30 years. Visiting the region, they met several European winemakers that were producing wine grapes with good success. Given the lack of opportunity to expand production in France, they decided to try planting a vineyard at altitude (more than 4000 feet in elevation) to take advantage of cool nighttime temperatures to maintain acidity in the grapes.

The experiment was a success, and Gruet has been producing sparkling wines in New Mexico ever since, most of which sell for under $25 per bottle. The wine is a blend of 25 percent Chardonnay and 75 percent Pinot Noir. It shows lovely raspberry fruit (from the Pinot Noir), along with a biscuit-yeasty note from two years of aging on its lees. Additionally, the creamy texture, lovely mousse and pale salmon color makes this a delicious sparkler that you can afford to drink every day for around $15.

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