Dining | Grapevine: Say Cheese 

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When I visited Tony Caputo’s fancy new cheese cave (Read Article), I asked his main cheese dude, Troy Petersen, to pick out a few of his favorite cheeses. The idea was to taste them and investigate some interesting wine matches. Well, Petersen unintentionally sort of torpedoed my game plan, because the cheeses we tasted were so damned good that they’d pretty much go with anything.n

Still, I did come away with a few better-than-average food and wine pairings.

Petersen advises not getting too caught up in trying to find perfect food-and-wine partners. He’s more from the “drink what you like with whatever you like to eat” school. I agree. If you want to drink White Zinfandel with cheddar, go for it. However, wine expert and Libation owner Francis Fecteau said something very interesting and provocative to me about pairing cheese and wine. He likes to match regions of origin, which makes common sense. For instance, he points out that Pouilly-Fumé and Sancerre from France go great with goat cheese, and that in the Loire Valley—where those wines are made—there are actually more cheese producers than wineries. He calls this the “what grows together, goes together” rule.

Beyond that, I like to look for affinities in cheese and wine. For instance, a highly acidic Sauvignon Blanc goes great with a high acid goat cheese; buttery Brie is good with buttery Chardonnay. An acidic yet creamy cheese like Rocchetta from Italy’s Piedmont region, for example, has enough zippy tang to work beautifully with a crisp white wine like Clos Du Bois North Coast Sauvignon Blanc ($16). But it also totally rocked with a Piedmont red: Boroli Quattro Fratelli Barbera D’Alba ($20), a rich, plush but supple wine. Barbera also tastes sensational with Piedmont’s Testun cheese.

And if you really want proof that what grows together, goes together, just line up Burgundy’s great cheese called Epoisses with a Pouilly-Fuissé from the same area. Whew, is this a stinky cheese! Leave it in your car overnight and the smell will travel with you for years to come. It’s a classic washed-rind runny cheese that comes in a cute little wooden box and was made to drink with Louis Latour Pouilly-Fuissé ($28). This is truly a match made in stinky-cheese heaven. When I ran out of P-F, I cracked open a bottle of Rancho Zabaco Sonoma Heritage Vines Zinfandel ($16) just for kicks, and found that it, too, paired really nicely with the Epoisses. You just can’t keep a good cheese down.

The Burgundian style of Londer Vineyards Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($29) makes it a natural match for Epoisses from the C%uFFFDte d’Or. But I also loved the Londer Pinot with an Italian raw sheep’s cheese that was new to me, called Pecorino Foglie di Noce. As they age, the wheels of this cheese are wrapped in walnut leaves and rubbed each day with olive oil. It’s a hearty, rustic cheese that I’ve totally flipped for, particularly when paired with a biodynamic organic wine from Mendocino called Atrea Old Soul Red ($20). It’s a New World blend of Syrah, Petite Syrah, Malbec and Zinfandel—and it totally knocks me out, especially alongside the Foglie di Noce cheese, which has a nutty, peppery flavor and some crystallization and flakiness not unlike Parmigiano-Reggiano. But while the Foglie di Noce has a real affinity for that powerful, highly concentrated red, it also does a terrific tango with good Prosecco such as Canella di Conegliano ($16.70) or Casalnova ($15.50) and softer Italian reds like Valpolicella.

Finally, while Stilton with Port is a classic cheese/wine pairing, you haven’t really lived until you’ve tried the English blue with Lustau VOS Amontillado ($100).

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