Two of my favorite indulgences in life are a good glass of wine and a good hunk of cheese. How can those things get any better? When you enjoy them together, of course. The thing is, I’m not an especially discerning critic when it comes to cheese and wine combos. Hand me a fat glass of red and any cheese nicer than a Kraft Single (ick) and I’m pretty good to go.
My anything-goes palate was treated to a special wine pairing evening hosted by Kendall Antonelli of the fantastic Antonelli’s Cheese Shop here in Austin and Lisa Mattson of Jordan Winery, who paid us a visit all the way from Sonoma County. Along with a small group of fellow Austin food bloggers, I enjoyed an evening of amazing artisan cheeses carefully paired with an assortment of Cabernet Sauvignons (and one rogue glass of Chardonnay) from Jordan. Luckily for my eccentric palate, one of the most important lessons I learned is this: when it comes to wine plus cheese, there is no single right way to pair. Let your taste buds be your guide, because everyone’s flavor profile is different.
Keeping this in mind, here are some interesting tidbits and suggestions I picked up over the course of the night:
First, a fun fact: We all know that sipping a delicious glass of wine with a rich meal is a real pleasure, but what you might not know is why it’s so good. Turns out that protein-rich foods (such as… cheese!) actually slightly coat your tongue and change your palate while you’re eating them, making wine seem more smooth and less acidic. So if you taste wine before you eat anything, then taste the same glass again after a few mouthfuls of food, the wine can feel and taste very different. Best to taste before and after food if you’re going to be pairing with a meal.
Our first pairing course was a 2010 Chardonnay with a Ste. Maure cheese from Pure Luck Dairy and Rangpur lime marmalade from Robert Lambert. Goat cheese goes really well with crisp whites like Chardonnay (providing your Chard is in the style of Jordan’s—that is, more succulent and limestone-y rather than oaky and buttery). The acid of the wine is mellowed by the chalkiness of the goat cheese, and an addition of citrus (in this case, the marmalade) brings it back around in a really nice way. This is a trifecta I would serve with pride at a springtime garden party. (Not that I have thrown something as civil as a garden party, but maybe it’s time to start!)
From here, we went into tasting three different (and all equally delightful in their own ways) Cabernet Sauvignons: a 2009 Cabernet paired with Red Hawk cheese from Cowgirl Creamery plus Alle-Pia sopressa, a 2008 Cabernet paired with Ossau-Iraty cheese from Onetik plus INNA Seascape Strawberry jam, and finally, the absolutely amazing 2003 Cabernet with an aged Cabot Clothbound cheddar plus Dick Taylor 74% dark chocolate.
I’m telling you guys… if you want to throw a wine and cheese party your friends will be talking about forever, just use the above paragraph as your grocery list. You don’t even have to tell everyone you got your perfect pairing inspirations from me/Antonelli’s/Jordan. I won’t tell.
I will say this, though: my two favorite cheeses to pair with the Cabs were (1) the Red Hawk, a triple-cream, washed-rind “stinky” cheese with a perfectly creamy texture; it made every sip feel so decadent, and (2) the Cabot Clothbound , which was really a nice surprise. It looked like it might be a boring hard cheese, but it was exploding with rich, buttery flavor and nutty, even caramelly notes. It was straight-up addictive. Do yourself a favor and splurge on one of them next time you’re in the mood for a decadent night. Not that the others weren’t excellent as well. See this close-up? Yeah, I ate all of those cheeses and felt GREAT about it.
Next time you’re in Austin, I hiiiiiighly suggest swinging by Antonelli’s. It’s such a great place – needless to say, because of the cheese, but also because of its wonderful owners and their wonderful backstory. I just love meeting people who have such an overwhelming passion for good food. And good wine! On the same note, I can’t wait to visit Jordan Winery next time I’m wine tasting in California. If you’re into good Cabernet Sauvignons, it’s a must.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go pour myself a large glass of wine…