Sunday, March 23, 2008

A Plethora of Pairings

Food and Wine pairing is a scam. Just ask Alder Yarrow over at Vinography. And yet I could not resist diving in for the first time. Over three nights, I tasted the same 5 cheeses with three different wines. Here are my findings.

The Cheeses:

1. Petite Basque
One of my favorite cheeses. A very nice, delicately perfumed aroma of wood and earth, with hints of apples. Medium-firm, with a sublimely smooth texture.
2. Pyrenees Brebis
Similar to Ossau-Iraty, a beautiful, delicate, elusive flavor. The texture on this cheese wasn't that great - a little grainy.
3. Pecorino Ginepro Stelvio
Dry without being sharp, lovely sheepsmilk aromas reminiscent of oil-aged manchego, but without the oily sharpness, and with greater clarity. An excellent cheese.
4. Gruyere, Cave Aged
Lovely deep flavors of nuts, creamy honey, and crushed rocks. Notable burnt/charred flavors. Creamy and quite hard, with small crystals similar to XO Beemster.
5. Blue Cheese soaked in Sauternes
Soft, smooth, rich, and impressively flavorful, with explosive fruit overtones. A riot of intense color in the mouth, with a beautiful lingering finish. The sauternes really smooths out and sweetens this cheese.

The Wines:

1) 2006 Bodegas Ostatu Rioja - (White Rioja) $14

NOSE: Hints of apple and raw pear, with tones of fresh bread.

PALATE: Slightly off-dry. Good acidity, not razor-sharp. Slight nuttiness on the midpalate, with hints of champagne. Bitter finish, but not too bad - slightly piney, like good hops. 84-RA.

2) 2005 III Somms Amitie - (Napa) $19.5

NOSE: Somewhat dusty, with hints of menthol and a clear note of stinkiness - Brett? Definitely a little old-world funk in there, but not really "barnyard." Some black raspberries, hints of cassis.

PALATE: Medium bodied with soft tannins on back end. A pretty wine. Good finish. Nice Bordeaux style on the midpalate. A little more black raspberries and cassis as the wine opens up. Good overall. Not as much fruit or tannins as I'd like, but the Brett is interesting. Pretty neat old-world wine from CA. A little hot on the alcohol (14.5%). 86-RA.

3) 2007 Corte Gardoni Bardolino Chiaretto - (Rose) $14

NOSE: A little apple, nice light strawberry notes. A little dry hay.

PALATE: Slightly off-dry. Good acidity, though not razor-sharp. Light-body. A little nuttiness on the midpalate. Faint suggestions of honey. Finish is a litte bitter, but the acidity takes over after a bit and cleans the palate. 79-RA.

Pairing Scale:

The scale ranges from -2 to +2, with -2 being an inedible pairing, and +2 being a sublime one. For excellent pairings I'm looking for new flavors to emerge, for existing flavors to intensify, and for the individual flavors of the wine and cheese to complement each other. Indifferent pairings are scored 0.

Summary of the Pairings:

Chris at the Corkscrew knows his stuff. He suggested the Ostatu to pair with the Blue Sauternes, and sure enough, they formed an outstanding pairing (+1). The cheese carried the wine and extended the finish on and on for perhaps 2 minutes. The wine didn't magnify the flavors, but clarified and extended them. His second suggestion, the III Somms, paired phenomenally with the Pecorino, as he had predicted (+1). It's hard to articulate all the nuances of what happened, but put simply, the earthiness of the wine greatly complemented and enhanced the earthiness of the cheese. The Ostatu also went beautifully with the Pecorino, enhancing the earthy sheepsmilk flavors, and evoking a completely new tone of blackcurrant! (+1). Chris's third suggestion was a Rose, which he thought would go nicely with all the cheeses. He was right - all the pairings were good, though none was stellar (+.5 all round).

The worst pairing was the Blue Sauternes with the III Somms (-1). Because of the low acidity, the sweetness of the cheese was enhanced by the wine, and both cheese and wine seemed to become cloying. The wine devolved to resemble a cheap, flabby cabernet. Other unfortunate pairings included Gruyere with III Somms (-.5, the charred aromas of the former were incongruous next to the earthiness of the latter), and the Petite Basque with the Ostatu (-.5, the wine enhanced the bitterness of the cheese).

Complete Pairing Notes:

'06 Bod. Ostatu White Rioja:

Petite Basque: -.5 increased bitterness
Pyrenees Brebis: 0 meh
Pecorino: +1 fleshes out the sheep aromas. Faint cassis emerges!
Gruyere: +.5 enhances smoked/charred flavor a bit more than the others
Blue Sauternes: +1 Excellent pairing. The cheese carries the wine and extends the finish on and on and on. Perhaps 2-3 minutes. Doesn't magnify the flavors, but slightly clarifies and extends the sweet finish.

'05 III Somms Amitie:

Petite Basque: +.5 Enhances flavors all round.
Pyrenees Brebis: +.5 Enhances sweet and salty flavors.
Pecorino: +1 Earthiness of the wine complements earthiness of the sheepsmilk flavors.
Gruyere: -.5 The sweet, creamy, bitter, burnt/charred flavors of the gruyere are incongruous with the wine's earthiness.
Blue Sauternes: -1 Not enough acidity. The wine ends up tasting flabby - like a cheap, over-sugared cabernet. Funny that the sweet, flavorful cheese enhances the sweetness of the wine.

'07 Corte Gardoni Bardolino Chiaretto Rose (tasted at cellar temperature):

Petite Basque: +.5 Enhances flavors all round.
Pyrenees Brebis: +.5 Enhances flavors all round.
Pecorino: +.5 Just a nice contrast: fruit+acid vs. earthy dryness.
Gruyere: +.5 Enhances smoky/charred flavors a little.
Blue Sauternes: +.5 Enhances fruit component of the cheese flavor.


Anonymous said...

One of the things I noticed about your pairings was that you didn't have any white wines. I think you'll find that white wines work better with cheese. Cheese is a tough match and no one wine is going to work with all of them. And I think you'll be surprised how whites work with cheese. Pick up a Sancerre or a Riesling and taste a variety of cheese. You'll be surprised at the results. I often find that even when they don't work, they aren't disagreeable. Many times a red and a cheese can produce a downright horrible combination in your mouth. Whites play well with others.


Rajiv said...

The first wine was a white Rioja. I purposely chose a white, a red, and a rose.

Rajiv said...

Now after a bit more experience, I think I definitely agree with you - whites are a much safer bet. Something about the clean acidity cuts through the fat and salt.