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I just moved to a new neighborhood, and I have to admit, I have been pretty depressed. Working from home isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, and I needed to meet people. So I joined the social committee. My first initiative? Cheese, of course. I convinced my neighbors that we should do a cheese and wine tasting. To be honest, it wasn’t that hard to convince them, considering we’re all heavy drinkers in the ‘hood. My husband wanted to do a cognac tasting, because all he drinks is Hennessy. While I admired the thought, all I could imagine was the older people in my community slurring words and falling asleep in public places like my husband does. Not a good look.  Instead, we decided to do wine and cheese.

A few tips if you want to do this in your own neighborhood:

  1. We pre-made all of the plates with 1/2 ounce of each cheese. Any more than 8 cheeses is a bit much.
  2. I put together a checklist for people to keep track of what they liked and didn’t like — this makes it easy for people to remember what they liked, especially after 8 glasses of wine. I also put a note at the bottom letting them know the pricing and where we got each of the cheeses and wines. Here is a generic Wine and Cheese Tasting Form that you can use, too.
  3. We chose to be a little less formal — everyone was standing. This works well if you have one small plate for the cheeses, and places around the room to rest things.
  4. We took a little break in between wines, so people could mingle and talk, and be social. It worked well, getting people talking about the wines and cheeses.
  5. We used one wine glass, but provided a dump bucket and pitchers of water for people to wash out glasses. (Most people were licking the bottom of the glass, but this way you have an option if people don’t love what they got.) Be sure you encourage people to rinse their glasses between the white and red wine sections, and definitely before the dessert wine.
  6. My neighbors, who picked out the wine, bought pourers that automatically cut off after 1 ounce. This was essential to make sure no one over-poured, and everyone got a taste. We planned for 1 ounce per person per wine. After about 20 people, you need to bump up to a second bottle.
  7. You want to tell everyone to taste the wine first, then the cheese, and then them both together. They need to know what they like/don’t like about the pairing.
  8. Pairings are about your own tastes — just because you like something doesn’t mean other people will.
  9. Just a note on the pairings below — usually you taste from the lightest and freshest cheese to the most aged/pungent cheese. I skipped around so that the cheeses meshed with the wines. The wines were the star of this story. It’s a little non-traditional, but it worked well.

Here are our pairings, and some of my notes.

PAIRING 1

Riondo Prosecco (NV, Italy) with St. Andre (Cow, France, 4 weeks)

Why this works: Both the wine and the cheese are light in texture. Almost fluffy. The bubbles in the wine cut the fat in the cheese, cleaning your palette after the fat in the cheese coats your tongue.

PAIRING 2

Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand) with Humboldt Fog (goat, California, 3 months)

Why this works: Acidic  wine + Acidic cheese = mellow flavor. The tartness in the cheese offsets the acidity in the Sauvignon Blanc.

PAIRING 3

Columbia Crest Grand Estates Chardonnay (2009, California) with Camembert (cow, France, 3 weeks)

Why this works: Chardonnay can be hard to pair because of its has oaky flavors. This is especially true of Chardonnays from California. Camembert is a strong cheese that can stand up to it. Chardonnay is aged in oak, and Camembert is aged in caves with straw. The earthiness in both mesh well together.

PAIRING 4

Woop Woop Shiraz (2010, Australia) with Parmigiano-Reggiano (cow, Italy, 24 months)

Why this works: Shiraz is known for being fruity and a little rustic. When I think of rustic cheeses, I think of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Shiraz has some of those spicy and peppery and fruit flavors which pair well with the saltiness of the cheese. The combination of a lighter red wine and the Parmigiano is a classic one in Italy. It just works.

PAIRING 5

Deloach Pinot Noir (2009, California) with Gruyere (cow, Switzerland, 16 months)

 Why this works: Pinot Noir is a great lighter wine that melds with a lot of flavors. Pinot Noir is very fruit forward, and works well with the nuttiness and sweetness of the cheese. The Gruyere has a smooth mouthfeel and a little creaminess, so it makes those tannins disappear.

PAIRING 6

Bogle Old Vines Zinfandel (2009, California) with Gouda (cow, Holland, 3 years)

Why this works: Zinfandel is a little dry, but has jammy blackberry and plummy fruit. When you combine the two, the sweetness of the gouda and the fruit in the Zinfandel reminds me of a berry tart. The gouda has a little crunch as well, so the texture reminds you of toffee.

PAIRING 7

Beaulieu Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (2007, California) with Munster (cow, France, 8 weeks)

Why this works: Cabernet is a big red wine, and this is a big stinky cheese. Cabs have leather, woody flavors, and this cheese is very “barnyardy” and rustic. The smoothness of this cheese also helps to calm down the tannins.

PAIRING 8

Kafer Riesling Berenauslele (NV, Gemany) with Valdeón (cow, goat, Spain, 3 months)

Why this works: Dessert wines are sweet, and the flavor opposite of sweet is salty. Salt is used in the preparation of this cheese, and the balance of these two is great. Valdeon is not as spicy as other blues, and Riesling isn’t as heavy as most dessert wines. The pairing is delicious.

Want some help putting together your own party? Need more notes or talking points on the cheeses or the wines? Contact me at: dana@casacheesewine.com.

Enjoy!

~ Dana

I overheard a woman at the store saying…”I’m having wine and cheese night, but I have no idea where to start.”  Turns out she did have an idea, because she had a Cabernet that she really liked and a pile of cheese already in her cart, but that’s beside the point. The cheesemonger helped her pick out three cheeses that worked. The goat cheese she had in her cart was NOT one of them.

If I were her, (and I wasn’t, considering her fashion sense…) I’d start with an idea of the wine. Wines can drastically change the taste of cheeses, for the good and for the bad. So I’m not saying you have to have the vintage, vineyard and name of the wine picked out, but even narrowing down to a red/white, dry/sweet/acidic is a good place to start.

Once you’ve picked your wine, select 3 cheeses that vary in texture and milk type. It’s always nice to have a little variety. How to select those cheeses? Remember we talked about terroir? Try it out here. Usually sticking with the region works well. Spanish wine? Try some Manchega sheep’s milk cheeses. French white wines from the Loire valley go well with goat cheeses from the very same place.

I don’t want you to think there are rules to pairing cheeses and wines, because it is always about your own palette. And to be honest, no one is going to stop drinking wine at a dinner party because it conflicts with the cheese. People at dinner parties usually drink more of their fair share of wine at parties, actually…But as a host, you want to make the eating experience so amazing that they think you did something special. So no rules, but there are some things you can keep in mind to help make your experience better.

1. Acidic Wine + Acidic Cheese = Good. The acids counteract each other and produce a less acidic flavor in the end. Try a fresh goat cheese with an acidic white wine like Chardonnay. It’s not nearly as acidic as it might seem. Funny that, depending on the pairing, it can almost come off as sweet.

2. Bubbles in Wine + Double/Triple Crème = Yum. The bubbles in the wine cut the fat in the cheese and feels refreshing. These super fatty and rich cheeses need something to clean the palette. Champagne and sparkling wines work perfectly with a double or triple crème cheese. (We’ll be featuring a table setup on bubbles + triple crème cheeses shortly)

3. Oak Barrel Aged Wine + Earthy Flavored Cheese = Great. The earthiness of both components comes out in a flavor that is interesting. This combined flavor is hard to explain in words, but it reminds you of being outside at a cookout. Try a Tomme Crayeuse with an oaky red wine.

4. Dessert Wine + Blue Cheese = Genius. The sweetness in the wine cuts the spicy blue cheese flavor of the mold. Be careful not to choose a blue that’s too peppery or spicy. A Gorgonzola Dolce and a Muscat wine are great together.

5. Tannic Red Wine + Goat Cheese = Nasty. The tannins leave a lingering sensation on the tongue – a long finish – and the tang of the goat cheese conflicts with that. Now keep in mind that I hate tannins. But either way this pairing doesn’t work for me.

Here are some great pairings, courtesy of Cheese & Wine by Janet Fletcher:

Pairing 1:

Wine: Lean, fruity, high-acid white wines and dry Roses (Albariño, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc)

-plus-

Cheese: Fresh or slightly aged cow’s milk cheeses (Asiago), Fresh or slightly aged goat’s milk cheeses (Piave)

Pairing 2:

Wine: Grüner Veltliner, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Viognier

-plus-

Cheese: Camembert, Washed Rind Cheeses (Époisses, Fontina, Moriber, Munster-Gerome), Hard Aged Cheeses (Fontina, Taleggio), Bloomy Rind Cheeses (Brie, Camembert)

Pairing 3:

Wine: Full-bodied red wines (Barbera, Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chianti, Merlot, Rioja, Syrah)

-plus-

Cheese: Aged cow’s milk cheeses (Asiago, Cantal, Cheddar, Parmigiano-Reggiano, St. George), Aged Sheep’s Milk Cheeses (Manchego, Pecorino Toscano), Washed Rind Cheeses (Taleggio)

~ Dana

There are a million types of wine out there. Well, maybe not a million, but a lot. And there’s no way you’re going to learn all of them. So I decided I’d compile a list of some common types of wine and their characteristics. These wine types can actually be made all over the world, and called the same things (depending on the rules of the country). So a Syrah made in California may taste a little different than a Syrah from Australia, even though they’re called the same thing. Some of this is based on climate, terroir (there’s that word again), process and a million other things. So just keep in mind that if you were to taste 3 wines of the same type but from different countries, they may taste a bit different. These groupings are a good general idea of characteristics. The more you taste, the more you’ll get drunk. Sorry, I mean learn the flavor profiles. Here’s a guide. Taste them and then pinpoint the characteristics I mention by way of acid, flavors and acidity.

RED WINES:

Barbera: Dry wine with very fruity notes (cherries, blueberries and blackberries). Low tannins and high acidity. Light wine, super drinkable. From: Italy, Argentina, California

Cabernet Sauvignon: Typically an oaked wine. Blackberry and currant flavors. High acidity. Smooth with a coarse finish. From: France, Italy, Australia, California

Malbec: Dry wine, strong tannins. Cherry, plum, raspberry and chocolate, sometimes oaked. Full bodied. Inky red wine. Medium acid. From: France, Argentina

Merlot: Dry, soft wine. Few tannins. Plums, cherries, blackberries, blueberry flavors. Medium acid. From: France, Italy, California, Washington State, Chile

Syrah: Dry wine, spicy and bold, round flavors. Chocolate and black pepper flavors. High acidity. From: France, Italy, Australia, California, Washington, South Africa

Pinot Noir: Light, dry wine. Smooth, easy to drink. Crisp finish and high acidity. From: France, Oregon, California, New Zealand, Australia

WHITE WINES

Chardonnay: Dry white wine, smooth with high acidity. From: France, California, Washington, Oregon, New York, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa

Gewurztraminer: Mildly sweet white wine. Smooth taste with low acidity. From: France, Germany, Washington, California, New York

Muscat: Fruity and sweet flavored wine. Full bodied with high acidity. From: France, California, Washington, Oregon, New York, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa

Pinot Grigio: Dry white wine. Light and crisp. High acid. From: Northern Italy, Spain, France, California

Riesling: Can be sweet or dry and less sweet. Soft and fruity. Low acid. From: France, Germany, Italy, Australia, Idaho, Oregon, New York, California, Washington, New Zealand

Sauvignon Blanc: Dry white wine. Crisp with high acidity. From: France, Oregon, Washington, New York, California, New Zealand, Australia

~ Dana

There’s a process to tasting wines. And yes, it requires spitting. The more you taste and smell wines, the more you start building up that food memory we have been talking about. More importantly, it helps you to understand what you like. I took a wine class in which I tasted 72 wines over 6 sessions. The result?  I really understand my palette more. I love acidic wines. I really like fruit-forward wines. I hate tannins in red wines. And I mean it. I got to a point in the Italian wines portion where I could not go on, even after eating cheese with the wine. Are you listening to me?? Dana could not smother something in cheese and be okay!! My palette was speaking to me loud and clear.

So to start, as with cheese, it’s a great idea to taste wines that are from the same region, or are of the same style, so you can start to tell the differences between them.

White wine should be slightly chilled, and red wine should be a little above room temperature. This allows the smell and taste to not be muted by the cold or too mellowed out by the heat. And each glass should have a taste of wine in it. Sorry, drunkies, you don’t need an entire glass…At my visit to Bin 36 in Chicago, and Bin 38 in San Francisco (real creative names, huh?), we were able to get ½ glasses, which was perfect for setting up our own wine flights. Now of course, we couldn’t spit, but besides that, we were doing the following:

  1. Look at the wine for a few things:
    1. Clarity: How clear and sparkling is the wine? Sometimes wines can appear dull, which can be an indication of age (sediment), or of the process with which it was prepared. Some wines have all of the grape solids removed to make a perfectly clear wine. Some wine traditionalists feel the solids give flavor. Just a personal preference.
    2. Color: The color of a wine can tell you a lot about it. First, determine if it’s white, red or rose. Just to throw you off a bit, there are also white wines made from red grapes (blanc de noir) that can range from clear white to orange-y/pink. Red wines go from purple-y to red to orange/brick as they age. White wines go from green/yellow to yellow to gold to amber. You can determine where in the scale the wine you’re drinking is. Typically, wines aged in wood have a faster deterioration of color, because the porosity of the wood leads to oxidation and color breakdown.
    3. Opacity: This refers more to the density of color. Does it look kind of watered down? Or more packed color in the wine? This gives hints to flavor profile. Also look for the “water line”. This is basically how much space there is from the top of the wine to where the color starts in the wine. The older a wine, the larger the water line because of the color breakdown.
    4. Swirl the wine and smell it. Swirling the wine helps to release the scent.
    5. Smell the wine for a few things:
      1. Off odors: This is where you want to see if the wine smells funny. You may be able to smell sulphur aromas, the remnants of a bad cork, whatever. You guys are smart – if it smells funny, don’t drink it.
      2. Aroma:  So a wine that is younger is said to have an aroma. Younger wines smell like fresh things – blackberries, strawberries, apples, pears, peaches, fresh herbs. Yes, you can really smell these things. You have to build up your food memory and really commit to memory the taste and smell of everything that you eat. That way you’ll be able to recognize the smells and tastes. You may also smell wood, if the wine has been aged in barrels. Note: you can’t smell sweet. So it may remind you of a ripe apple. That’s not really smelling “sweet”….
      3. Bouquet:  If a wine has an older smell, it’s said to have a bouquet. This means that it smells, well, older. It may smell like dried flowers and dried or slightly bruised fruit. You may smell wood as well (these wines are more likely to have been aged in wood), and maybe some oxidation (a kind of metallic smell) that is caused by exposure to the air during aging or a bad cork. You know how you open a bottle of wine to drink a little later in the week, and it tastes different? This is due to oxidation.
      4. Taste the wine
        1. Weight: This is related to what we discussed with cheese in terms of “mouthfeel”. How does it feel in your mouth? Is it heavy? Light? Watery? Thick?
        2. Taste: How does it hit your mouth? Pay close attention to this. The tip of your tongue tastes sweet. The sides of your tongue sour, and the back of your tongue bitter. So where on your tongue are you really feeling it? Usually really acidic wines make the sides of your tongue sing. And then the bitter ones, with tannins, you feel at the back of the tongue, but you feel an all-over scrape-y feeling. You know like when you taste tea that’s been steeped a bit too long? That’s the feeling.
        3. Flavor: So this is where those things you smell come in to play. What’s cool is that when you smell a wine that smells like bruised apples and pears, you can taste these things. Here’s where you can taste if a wine has residual sugar (sugar that sticks around after you taste it) and how the things you smell translate into tastes.
        4. Finish: Finish is related to how long it lingers in your mouth. Some wines have a long finish, and stick around for a while.
        5. Swish it around your mouth and spit. Honestly this is the only way you’ll really taste the wine. Not to say that after you taste it you can’t drink it, but try this first if you can.

Each month, we are going to work on a table layout that focuses on entertaining, food, wine and cheese. We’ll be pulling inspiration from our own experiences, and giving you guys some ideas to do your own thing. In the days following, we’ll be featuring the food, wines and cheeses we used – as well as the recipes! We’ll be posting about the cheeses (Wednesday), the tapas (Thursday) and finally the wine and sangria (Friday).

 

Our first feature seemed pretty obvious: Spain. Spain has amazing tapas (small plates), meant for entertaining, amazing wines and amazing cheeses. We have both been there — we’ve been all over: Barcelona, Granada, Toledo, Madrid, Málaga and the Basque region. We love it. We love the dark-haired, beautiful-eyed men. We love the arabic influence, the language and the architecture. But most of all we love the food. Dana, being a crazy World Cup fanatic (She’s been to Germany, and this year, South Africa. Watch out Brazil!!!), admires the World Cup-winning country.  Christina studied abroad in Madrid and adored it. Read the rest of this entry »

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