Tuesday, April 7, 2009

First Tasting Of 2009

I was having a hard time deciding what to post about….New Years Eve, Amazing Dinner at Craft, Dim Sum Sunday With Nancy, all great candidates, (and the dinner at Craft has been started and will likely show up soon) but as my mind splintered from each I found my attention and desire to finish any of those wandering….crap. So I decided to scrap all of those for now and post about The Wine Country’s first tasting of 2009.

We were unsure what tasting to start with when we were putting together the December newsletter, it had to be something kinda flashy, compelling and something that would peak enough interest to bring the folks recovering from the holiday season out of their houses….what better than one of our most popular tastings, Cheese & Wine Fest?! This is a perennial customer and staff favorite and a fun challenge for yours truly as I am the “Cheese Queen” of the store. The one thing I have found time and time again is that for cheese the best wine is almost always white…..serious problem when I saw that Randy had billed it as an all red wine tasting…..dammit.

Randy has over the years come to agree that white wine is more versatile with most cheeses, (acidity and bright fruit, man…key with cheese) but thought we would get more attendees with an all red tasting, especially on a chilly January afternoon. “You can do it Sam” Randy assured me, “It might be harder but you can find 10 cheeses that will pair nicely with 10 red wines”……”um, okay. I’ll come up with something” I muttered and let the whole deal escape my mind, that was until I remembered that I needed to order massive amounts of red wine friendly cheeses! Due to the cheese company’s delivery schedule I needed to make time, (in the middle of holiday craziness) to pick my cheeses and come up with some sort of plan and make sure we had 10 gynormous hunks of cheese….as well as the cut and wrapped pieces to sell, in the shop in time for the tasting.

Now had this been one of our regular Cheese & Wines Fests, you know…with red and white wines I could have just ordered the cheeses that I wanted to feature then pick the wines when the time came…easy peezey but with this red wine only “issue” I had to really tap into my inner cheese maven. I have my standard red wine cheeses; Parmesan, Manchego, Pecorino, Piave, all great with red wine…..only problem, they taste and are texturally very similar, dry, salty hard cheese….this does not a sexy tasting make. So not only was I going to have to find 10 red wine cheeses I needed to provide an interesting tasting, full of texture and flavor differences….needless to say I was a tad stressed, top that with the unknown issue of how many people we were going to be serving, (so again how much to order) and I was a bit of a head case…well, more than normal anyway.

Gotta tell ya, I ended up having so much fun with this tasting! When you do things over and over again it gets to where you almost phone it in, this tasting made me work….use my memory and really challenge my own palate….was super fun and a good exercise for me. By the time I had my cheeses chunked up and my wines picked I was feeling all, “Damn I’m good” and mistakenly like my work there was done, forgot one small detail….the people!

Holy-Mother-Of-Cheese-Eaters…..there were 65 people there in the first 15 minutes, I coulda piddled myself! We had some issues with space in the beginning and some folks were getting a little annoyed with one another, and us to be honest but when you have a giant mass of people, only so much space in our licensed tasting area and all those people reaching for the same pieces of cheese and glass of wine….well, there is bound to be a few “prickly” people but all-in-all it was really great….crowded and cramped but once the wine starts flowing the attitude has a tendency to “shift”. We ended up with 131 people, a new Wine Country record and sold lots of cheese and a few bottles of wine to boot! I was thrilled both with the pairings and the massive turnout so it was a great day….never mind that I was sweeping toothpicks off the floor for an hour and there are still cheese chunks stuck in the tread of my shoes, worth all the work and I had a blast!

I’m not going to list the whole line-up but should you want a copy of the tasting sheet just let me know, (Samantha@thewinecountry.com) just going to list my favorite 5 pairings…these were the ones that just sang to me and the ones I got the most comments on.

2006 Joseph Drouhin Laforet Pinot Noir, ($13.99) w/ Petit Basque, (Sheep’s milk) this was the first pairing of the day and set the tone perfectly! The light fruity Burgundy with its tart cherry fruit and light body was made just a touch fruitier by the creamy Petit Basque….such a mild but flavorful cheese with a kick ass texture, people loved it!

2005 Confuron-Cotetidot Nuits Saint Georges, ($57.99) w/ Epoisses, (Cow’s milk) Classic pairing and people “got it” right away. Sexy red fruited Burgundy with deep brooding earthy notes paired with the sultry, uber creamy, somewhat funky, salty cheese. The acidity in the wine kept the cheese from being too much…although I had more people returning for this cheese than any other.

2007 Andrea Oberto Dolcetto d’Alba, ($17.99) w/ Fontina, (Cow’s milk) okay let me first say that this was an exceptional hunk of Fontina, so creamy and dense with tons of milky, cheesy flavor! With the simple fruity Italian red is was so easy to toss back….think it may have gotten lost for that reason, nothing explosive just both in harmony, the cheese balanced out the acid and little bit of tannin on the wine….luscious.

2003 Ken Brown Syrah, ( $32.99) w/ Saint Nectaire, (Cow’s milk) this pairing got some mixed reviews but at last count there was more good than negative and to be honest I really dug it….the trick was not getting too much rind on the cheese as it is a very funky rind. The fun thing about this was how much the cheese changed the wine which was showing a bit funky on its own. With the earthy, soft cheese the fruit seemed to explode from the wine and in the mouth the marriage produced a plump, rich mouthful of fruit and cream…more intellectual but still fun.

2006 Dover Canyon Cujo Zinfandel, ($18.99) w/ St Agur, (Cow’s milk) I knew I wanted to have a blue cheese but it is not the best with dry red wine….I know people think, “big red wine, big blue cheese” but the problem with logic once it hits the palate…to much frickin’ BIG…too acidic and not good for either. So when picking a blue I went for one of my favorites, (St Agur) and asked Bennett, (domestic buyer for the store) for the fruitiest Zinfandel he had…I needed some sweetness and knew I would probably want something from Paso Robles and viola Dover Canyon! There was just enough sweet fruit on the wine to really showcase the creamy mild blue and the saltiness in the blue plumped up the fruit in the Zin even more, was kind of a New World take on Port and Stilton.

Thanks to all those that attended….oh um, and thank you for being so patient! It was a great kick off to 2009 and I for one had a really great time, ate too much cheese but whadda you gonna do?!

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