How To Taste, Pair Wine and Cheese for National Wine and Cheese Day

  1. Wine.
  2. Cheese.
  3. Wine.

That is the secret to tasting wine and cheese! It may seem ridiculously obvious but it works!

Sue and I learned the secret of “wine, cheese, wine” and more during a tasting of three wines from Niven Family along with a selection of cheese and pâté from Fromagerie Sophie, a lovely little cheese shop nestled in delightful downtown San Luis Obispo on tiny Garden Street that carries cheeses, meats, pâté, and other incredible imported goodies from around the globe. We love our cheese and wines so what a perfect stop on our recent SLO county adventure!

Because July 25 is National Wine and Cheese Day, it’s perfect for a primer on how to taste wine with cheese– and some ideas of what cheeses to try with three different wines. (Here’s what we did last year: vegetarian Italian cheesy cuisine paired with Italian wine!)

How to taste cheese with wine or food according to Paul at Fromagerie Sophie:

  1. Swirl, sniff, sip, swish the wine; envelope your palate enough so that it becomes more familiar with the notes in the wine.
  2. Sniff and taste the cheese: work it throughly in your mouth by chewing it for 5-10 seconds.
    “It may seem like an eternity,” says Paul, ” but it allows the cheese to bloom in your mouth.”
  3. Swirl, sniff, sip and swish more wine to experience how the chemistry of the wine with the cheese changes your experience of both wine and cheese — hopefully for the better!

Why do wine and cheese go so well together? When you feel a roundness on the palate, and you feel you have a coating of fat in the mouth from the cheese, the wine brings acidity, so the balance of the two works so well together.

Both wine and cheese are “flavor dense” and flavor intense, explains Paul. Because they both offer a lot to your palate, they can stand up to each other. What happens is the chemistry in your mouth interacts with the wine — you probably have already learned not to taste wine after brushing your teeth or eating certain foods or drinking particular beverages– but what you need to learn to recognize is the flavor dense FOOD that pairs well with wine!

Each person has a unique chemistry that influences the experience of food and beverages. But we can influence this by combining foods and combining certain foods and beverages.

What you want is not just something that is nice or inoffensive but a pairing that goes being symbiotic to be TRANSFORMATIVE with a long memorable finish.The ideal wine and cheese pairing makes both the wine and the cheese so much better than they are on their own. 

The only way to figure out whether a particular wine goes with a certain cheese or food is to test the combination. Cheese and charcuterie is awesome because it lends itself to fun, small bite experiments. The more flavor dense the food and one the better the chance of a TRANSFORMATIVE experience!

In this tasting process, bread is not what you put your cheese on: bread is a palate cleanser. (So yep all you PALEOS out there: you’re winning!)  YOU DON’T NEED BREAD TO TASTE CHEESE!

Here’s more cheese etiquette: Rinds on the outside of the cheese can be taken off or can be eaten. The only rinds uneaten is gouda. You may not like the rind. That’s okay. But you should taste it.

ALSO: NO TUNNELING! You know what I mean: where people (maybe YOU?) tunnel with a knife around the rind to get the creamy cheese. NO! NO! NO! Cut off a chunk, put it on your plate, then do what you will. Try cutting off a chunk and eating a small bit of rind. Or bite up to the rind.

Earlier that day, we tasted through a dozen wines at Niven Family Wine‘s historic schoolhouse tasting room in Edna Valley with views of the vineyard, one of the first in the Edna Valley where Jack Niven was a pioneer in the wine industry; we even spoke with his grandson John (more on that in a later post!) We then selected three wines that we thought represented their winery, that we LOVED, and that would be fun to pair with cheese at Fromagerie Sophie later that day:

2015 Tangent Albarino – $17
2014 Baileyanna “La Entrada” Pinot Noir –  $35
2013 Baileyana “S-Bar” Syrah – 14.5% alcohol – $36

Well known for being the coolest climate AVA in California because of its close proximity to the ocean (only five or six miles as the crow flies!), Niven Family grapes are grown on San Luis Obispo county soils ranging from sea floor and mud to clay and volcanic. For 20 years Christian Roguenant has made the wine, and for his hard work and expertise as the authority on Central Coast wines, he was just awarded winemaker at the 2017 California Mid State Fair.

Christian Roguenant is also on expert about Champagne; no surprise Baileyana’s sparkling wine is lovely — and would be excellent with cheese too!

While currently producing 125K cases a year of wine for their various brands including Tangent, Baileyana, Zocker, Trenza, and True Myth, Niven has the grapes and the capacity to produce more; currently excess tonnage is sold to other winemakers.

Here are a few of our notes from the tasting room plus with the pairing (thanks to Sue for taking notes!:

2015 Tangent Albarino – $17 – 13.5% alcohol 

Light and  bright with great acidity, Albarino is a rare varietal to grow in California Gruner planted 2003– 2005, we found citrus with a pear finish, and were very impressed with the value of this SIP certified and sustainable wine from the 40 acre Paragon Vineyard located across the street from the tasting room.

Cana de Oveja – This pairing brought out a nutty note like pistachio in the wine and the cheese; the rind brings out pistachio and nuttiness. The cheese also brings out honeyness in the wine, while making it more acidic.

Soumaintrain – brought a lovely earthiness to this wine.

Paski Sir – This Croatian Cheese brings out fruit in the wine with hints of lemongrass and Asian pear on the finish, Rind gets peppery wihich does not work as well with the wine.

2014 Baileyanna “La Entrada” Pinot Noir – 14.3% alcohol – $35

This small lot of Pinot Noir clone 777 is a tasting room exclusive and offer rhubarb and strawberry on the nose, nice minerals and acidity; a nice light, quality Pinot especially at this price point, spicy and light in body with rich lovely flavors. We’d pair this with a salmon dinner: the  Pinot has an earthiness is more in the rhubarb, not a mushroom earth profile. Pomegranate.

One word: pâté. 

Langres – the cheese brings out the earthy nutty flavors of this wine. Powerful cheese, subtle wine does interesting things. Perfumey notes on the forefront some acidity Cheese changes the balance on the taste buds.

Tomme Perigourdine Affinee – Lactically fermented cheese – velvety light fluffy, not favorite with the Pinot noir, however it went really well with the Syrah. Beautiful, brought out cranberry notes in the wine.

Then we tried the pâté:

  • Triple mousse pâté with truffle
  • Country rabbit and pork cheek nutmeg white pepper and parsley
  • Pig and fig – cinnamon clove and ginger – this was amazing with the Pinot, the Christmas spices really went so well with the wine. This was just a wow!!!! Flavors galore.
  • Yum.

Yes you SHOULD eat the rind! It brought lovely notes of milk chocolate out when paired with the syrah!

2013 – Baileyana “S-Bar” Syrah – 14.5% alcohol – $36

Only available to tasting room and wine club members. Made from select Blocks and Rows.

We both really liked this wine. When you think syrah, when you imagine syrah, this is what you want: abundant fruit in balance with vibrant acidity and pepper.

And it went well with almost everything!

 Tome de Fontenay –

This was a most lovely pairing. The herbs de Provence brought out lovely notes in the wine.

Langres – With the syrah – a lingering finish of anise creeps over the tongue and changes your palette.

As the afternoon progressed, we found ourselves absorbed in talking and tasting — and not note or photo-taking!

Our wine and cheese pairing experience was so wonderful and educational. Sophie and her husband do a wonderful job! And we are so grateful to Niven Family Wines for providing us with these three to pair with the cheese!

Happy National Wine and Cheese Day! How are YOU celebrating? Cheers!

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