Monday, 15 October 2012

Pairing Cheese with Wine (& Beer!)

So last night was Wine & Cheese tasting on Google Hangouts, with Natalie MacLean and some other quirky wine and food personalities. There was some sipping, some nibbling, some agreeing, some debating, lots of laughing, and a smashed bottle $70 bottle (ouch). The format last night focused on the 6 cheeses, and then our suggestions for which of the 9 wines did (or did not) pair well with the cheese. Not always orderly (I will have to look back myself and try to recall what happened) it WAS fun. Watch the video here!

I was lucky enough to be located in the same area as the Food Gypsy Corinna Horton so we teamed up. I say lucky, because she whipped up some condiments to do a side pairing with the cheeses so I had additional nummies to try. I hope she posts them soon - it will be a great way to enhance any wine & cheese event you may like to try in the future!

I think wine and cheese events are a great theme to a party, especially for other foodies or oenophiles. It's the ultimate in simple - no all-day cooking marathons for a wine and food pairing (it has been done!) and it is a great way to keep discussion going. To make things even more light and fun - I will also make some suggestions for pairing cheeses with local beers! There maybe be some debate around this, but I think beer may even pair better with cheese than wine does. That's because the effervescence (bubbles) in beer help cleanse the palate and really help you taste both the beer and the cheese. Beer and cheese tasting is less expensive because of (generally) smaller packaging & cheaper prices. It also means you can do a tasting in a smaller group, try many more types, and not be left with many half-drunk bottles or fully-drunk friends.

10 Tips for pairing Cheeses with Wine (or Beer)

1. Match the weight of the cheese to the wine/beer: light and tangy cheeses with light and fresh wines,

2. Compliment flavours: buttery, creamy brie with a buttery, creamy chardonnay; fresh, tangy goat cheese with a fruity and crisp sauvignon blanc; earthy pinot noir with an earthy Oka.

3. Contrast flavours: Creamy cheeses pair well with high-acid wines such as riesling or chardonnay

4. Go tart: Acidity in wine/beer pairs well with cheese because it cuts through the creaminess and fattiness.

5. White wine & beers pair best: again, because of acidity. Also, bubbles go very well with fatty foods, therefore sparkling wines and beer are excellent pairings.

6. Red wines should be light or old: red wines generally have something called tannin; this is the fuzzy, bitter feeling in your mouth that is similar to drinking an over-steeped cup of tea. These tannins don't go to nicely with the creamy fattiness of cheese, and it creates a harsh metallic taste. Young, light reds (think pinot noir, gamay noir (Beajoulais), or Chianti) that are low in tannin can pair well with cheese. If you want to pair a fuller-bodied red, older is better because the tannins crystalize and drop out of the wine as sediment as it ages. Although, if you really want a big California cabernet - do it! Pair it with older, hard cheeses with more flavour.

7. Don't overchill; too much cold closes up the aromas and flavours. Take cheeses out of the fridge about an hour before to bring them to room temperature. Take heavier white wines and beer out of the fridge about half an hour before to let them open up.

8. Yummy accompaniments; as I learned from Corinna last night, matching condiments is another easy way to double the fun of the event. Using some of the same general tips for pairing with beverages (compliment or contrast of flavours), purchase (or make, if you please) some spreads, dips, pates, nuts, pickle, pastes, etc. to go with each of the cheese. Or course, have some sliced baugette or crackers as well.

9. Try different pairings: Encourage people to try the cheeses with all the beverages, and see what people like and don't like. You will get a range of opinions from a range of palates and it will make things more fun. You've reached a great pairing when the cheese or wine/beer brings something out in the other that wasn't as obvious before.

10. Have fun! Feel free to break the rules.

Now with these tips in mind, I will tackle the cheeses we tried in last night's Wine & Cheese pairing, give you the best wine pairing(s) from that night, as well a (Bonus!) Ontario beer that would be fantastic as well. The wine links will take you to the reviews on the Natalie MacLean website, which will give you her reviews as well as the reviews from the other participants!

Cheese & Wine (& Beer) Pairing

1. Comfort Cream, Upper Canada Cheese Co., Jordan Station, ON.

A Camembert style cheese from the Niagara region, it has a soft white bloom outside with a slightly creamy butter-yellow center. Flavours are butter, cream, mushroom, with a tangy-bitter finish.

Wine Pairing: a crisp, refreshing riesling goes well as a contrasting pairing; the Jackson-Triggs Reserve Riesling 2011 is off-dry with mouthwatering acidity and aromas and flavours of lemon, lime, peach, honey, and minerality. Also a great pairing that compliments the cheese is the Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Chardonnay 2009; rich aromas of buttered popcorn, lemon, pear, and vanilla also backed with racy acidity both compliments the cheese and cuts through the creaminess.

Beer Pairing: Steamwhistle Pilsner from Toronto, ON is a refreshing and crisp beer with aromas of grassy Noble Hop, which is a great refreshing contrast to this creamy and buttery cheese.

2. Alpindon, Kootenay Alpine Cheese Co. Creston, BC.

This is a cheese made in the traditional French style of Beaufort D'alpage, it is hand-rubbed and made only with milk from summer pastures. It's is a golden, well-aged cheese with a smooth nutty & buttery, almost fruity taste, firm texture with some crystalization, and a thick rind.

Wine Pairing: A very well-priced oaked chardonnay at $10.95, the Jackson-Triggs Reserve Series Chardonnay 2011 has firm oak aromas of butter, smoke, and vanilla that again matches the rich buttery/nutty flavour of this cheese, while the stone fruit and citrus is refreshing against the meatiness of the cheese.

Beer Pairing: Broadhead's Long Shot White beer in Ottawa, ON (available in growler's from the brewery's newly-expanded location mere blocks from my work!) is a yellow hazy unfiltered wheat beer that is full-flavoured and fruity while stille refreshing, with some spiciness from coriander and orange peel. The meatiness of the beer matches well the meatiness of the cheese, while the fruitiness and spice works well to compliment the nuttiness.

3. 1608, Laiterie Charlevoix, Baie-St-Paul, QC.

This is a creamy yellow, semi-firm "pasta" cheese that is great for cooking with. It has a lot more tang to it than the firm two cheeses, but this melts in your mouth. Yum!

Wine Pairing: the Jackson-Triggs Reserve Series Sauvignon Blanc 2011 was very fresh and crisp, with lovely melon and citrus and slight herbaceousness, without being overwhelming as some cool-climate sauv blancs can be. The freshness of the wine really enhances the tanginess of this cheese, while the acidity cuts through the melt-in-you-mouth creaminess.

Beer Pairing: Nickel Brook Organic Lager from Burlington, ON is a beer that has a suprisingly creamy taste for a pale lager. Light amber in colour, it has a bit of weight in the mouth and some light fruitiness (I detected raspberries), some balanced hop bitterness and a short, clean finish that matches both the tang and texture of the cheese.

4. Onion Cheddar Cheese, St.-Albert Cheese Company, St. Albert, ON.

This cheese was a little simple indulgence - it was like reverse french onion soup for me. A simple tangy cheddar with bits of sweet and savoury caramelized onion.

Wine Pairing: I really enjoyed the Jackson-Triggs Reserve-Series Merlot 2010 with this cheese. I felt that it had the same sweet-and-savoury property as the cheese, with rich black fruit and pepperiness that complimented with sweet caramelized onion.

Beer Pairing: the idea of yummy, cheesy french onion soup in a pub made me think I would like a thick, dark, creamy beer. Luckily, Kichesippi beer right here in Ottawa just came out with their latest seasonal beer last week, Logger, which is a "Pennsylvannia Porter" style, which is a porter-style lager. The beer has a creamy texture with mocha-nut flavours, but a cleaner, shorter finish than a "regular" (ale-style) porter. This beer is also only available in growlers from the brewery.

5. Madagascar Green Peppercorn, Bothwell Cheese Inc, New Bothwell, MB

This is another simple, slightly creamy cheese flavoured in a big way with green peppercorns that really ads a spicy punch.

Wine Pairing: I found both the Open Cab2 Merlot 2011 and the Inniskillin Pinot Noir 2011 to have a rich, sweet berry-vanilla quality to it that I found to be a nice contrast to this cheese. I found the cheese to be a bit harsh with a lot of the other wines, enhancing greatly either the pepperiness or the greenness which I didn't find pleasant. But some others like that!

Beer Pairing: Another even darker beer, Flying Monkey's Netherworld Dark Ale from Barrie, ON is a whole lot of beer. It's a black IPA style, which exhibits rich dark chocolate and coffee-like flavours and a creamy texture, but with a very refreshing finish from a good dose of hoppiness. I found it weighty, but refreshing again the spiciness of the cheese.

6. Bleu d'√Člizabeth, La Fromagerie du Presbytere, Sainte-√Člisabeth-de-Warwick, QC

This is an organic, semi-soft cheese made from unpasteurized milk. It has a natural rind and tons of rich blue-green veins from Penicillium Roqueforti. It is very buttery, tangy, and intensely salty cheese. Very full-flavoured!

Wine Pairing: The only wine that was not killed by this intensely flavoured cheese was the Inniskillin Wines Sparkling Vidal Icewine 2011 - what a treat this wine it! Intense contrasting aromas and flavours of tropical fruit and stone fruit, honey, and just enough balanced acidity to tame the wild cheese. The effervescence of this wine was a bonus, and does a great "clean-up" job of refreshing the palate!

Beer Pairing: This huge cheese needs a huge beer as well -so I picked one of my personal favourites lately, Amsterdam's Boneshaker from Toronto, ON. It's a strong, unfiltered IPA that is not for the faint of heart. This beer also has huge tropical fruit notes, with grapefruit, citrus peel, and a long hoppy bitter finish. The fruitiness is again a nice contrast against this salty cheese, with a very refreshing finish. I recently spotted it in the LCBO here in Ottawa, previously I had obtained it from the brewery.

The only wine we had trouble pairing was the Open Chardonnay 2011. We found it to a very light, simple, fruity wine that didn't quite have the backbone to pair with the cheese, but it is a nice light sipper if you're looking for something really easy-going.

Another great review posted from one of the wine-and-cheese culprits, Dan Trcka aka Grape Selections:

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Niagara Wine Trip

I got to go once again to tour beautiful Niagara again - there's nothing better than getting to see what's happening in our own backyard! I came for the Niagara Wine Festival, but what I ended up getting was a much better treat - some personal tours and tastings at the winery.

First stop was at Tawse, a beautiful facility with sprawling gardens, ponds, and a roomy tasting room with a view of the gravity-flow winemaking. It was a quick tasting of their selection, the favourite of which was the Van Bers Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2008, which was rich with a nice earthiness and great oak integration. At $47.95, a little out of my budget. One of Tawse's signature wines is the Sketches of Niagara Riesling, which you can get in the LCBO. It's a very bright and juicy wine with great acidity and lots of citrus fruit, great for light appetizers, salads, seafood and sushi.

The second stop was Cave Spring cellars - and if you have never been here, GO! In the center of Jordan Village, it is nestled in amongst little boutiques, art shops and the Inn on the Twenty (also owned by Cave Springs) with accomodations, restaurant and spa. Makes me dream of having a wedding there - which they do frequently. With our passionate and knowledgable guide, Brian, we got to tour their century-old cellars (also beautiful for events!) and learned a lot about the old cidery brewing in the facility, about the very unique and varied terrain of Niagara & Niagara on the Lake, the Niagara Escarpment and how it protects the vinyards, and their process for aging the wines and types of barrels used. It ended with a tasting of 3 stunning wines. We tasted two of their CSV reserve wines, the 2008 Riesling and the 2008 Chardonnay. The Riesling had huge acidity and very heavy flavours on the background of peach, honey, and grapefruit, and was obvious that this wine could hold up in the cellar for a few years. The Chardonnay was so elegant, with rich brioche, pear, custard, stuctured minerality and acidity. It was velvet in my mouth, I thought it was my favourite, until the final wine: 2007 Pinot Noir Estate. So rich in flavour for a pinot, it had a cherry background with aromas of forest floor and molasses. LOVE earthy pinots and this one was very complex. Although these wines are on the slightly higer end of $30, most of Cave Spring wines are under $20 and you can find a lot of them in the LCBO. My favourite is the 2009 Pinot Noir VQA... however, it's mostly the 2010 that is available now. If you find one, buy it! Also, the Riesling VQA is a beautiful off-dry wine with peach, honey, apricot, and citrus. I actually brought both to Thanksgiving dinner last year, and it was divine!

After a little lunch (burger!!), our third stop was at Featherstone, definitely the highlight of the trip. This is a beautiful little winery of about 20 acres produces about 6000 bottles a year. They focus on creating high quality wine, most in the $20 range to keep it down to earth, and the tasting room is in the family home. The vineyard is full of animals - there were ducks and chickens running around, and a rooster crowing in the background. They also 'employ' seasonal animals, the sheep, which help to thin out the foilage on the vines and expose the grapes to more sunlight to ripen them. Sadly, their work was done and the last of them were on their way out in boxes. If only I didn't have a 6 hour drive home! Louise Engel, part-owner and in charge of marketing, brought us around the harvesting and fermenting action that was in full swing, talking excitedly about the process and giving us some raw materials tastings. We got to taste the freshly crushed gewurztraminer grape juice (the full experience with lots of floaty bits and a couple of critters) which had that intense lychee-like sweetness and perfume. We also got to taste the partially-fermented riesling, which got it's start a little earlier - YUM!! It was the beautiful beginning of peach and citrus, with a bit of a spritz from the dissolved CO2 from fermentation. I would drink this at breakfast every day - only about 4% alcohol at this point! We also got to learn about their wine-making techniques, which involved a lot of experimentation with different yeasts that her husband and the winemaker, David Johnson, was very into. It was interesting to hear, since I've heard a lot about the importance of yeast selection in brewing beer, but not so much in winemaking. They also talked about preserving the barrels, which were sitting in storage and waiting for the wine to come, as she explained they rarely do reserve wines (i.e. aged more than a year) and focus on producing a high-quality and reasonably priced wines that don't have to be a special purchase. The barrels are still empty because at this point they've only been picking white grapes. In fact, Louise was so excited - with the warm vintage, she pointed out that this is the first year they've harvested anything before Thanksgiving. Typically they are pushing the red wine grapes to mature until the frost comes and they have to pick, but this year they are excited at the prospect of actually being able to choose the ideal time to pick. 2012 will be a fantastic red wine vintage in Ontario! So, on to the wines... I was excited to try the Gewurztraminer, which was devine. The Gemstone (a blend of Baco Noir & Cab Franc) was a very meaty wine that would go great with game meats. The Red Tail Merlot was rich and velvety. I tried the lastest vintage of the Cabernet Franc. The 2010 was released in Vintages on September 15th and sold out the same on almost the same day so I was sad I missed it! The 2011 was still very rough around the edges with a ton of tannin, but I could see it will be delicious in a few years. I ended up buying that wine, with Louise made me promise to keep at least one year, and ideally 3 (I can do it!), along with the Black Sheep Riesling, which is getting amazing reviews in the LCBO and it is widely available. Another rich, fruity, mouth-watering, food-friendly Riesling. Are you seeing a trend in my purchasing? The Black Sheep Riesling is the only wine widely available at the LCBO at the moment, but keep your eye out for new releases in Vintages that will come occasionally (OK, I can do that for you). But if the Cab Franc was any indicator, you will have to act fast! You can also order the wines online to be shipped within Ontario.

The rest of the day was low-key and was quickly coming to an end at this point. We made one more note-worthy stop at Megalomaniac (I've linked to the site but Google is giving me a malware warning, so proceed at your own risk), since it was close by and I had just heard Konrad Ejbich raving about the winery on CBC radio one  on Friday. It was very show-stopping winery, with a huge cellar/tasting room built bunker-style into the side of the escarpment, which you had to reach by first weaving your way through the vineyard. They have a small selection of wines that we tried, but by far the best wines were the ones recently picked up by the LCBO (and raved about by Konrad), the Megalomaniac Homegrown Red at $14.95 and Homegrown Riesling at $12.95. Beautiful balance of fruit and savoury oak in the red, and another fresh, fruity, off-dry Riesling at an excellent price.

Alot of these wines are great picks for thanksgiving, as well! The off-dry Rieslings are GREAT food wines and have the body and versatility to stand up to the range of foods on the table. The reds are a good fruity and savoury balance to pair with the rich gravies, root vegtables, and savoury sides. Try a couple of them this weekend with good locally grown food and great company!

The wines:
Featherstone Black Sheep Riesling - $17.95
Cave Spring Riesling VQA - ($14.95) LTO $13.95 (on sale this month!)
Megalomaniac Homegrown Riesling - $12.95
Tawse Sketches of Niagara Riesling - $17.95
Cave Spring Pinot Noir VQA - $17.95
Megalomaniac Homegrown Red - $14.95


Mark your calendars, and please join me with Natalie Maclean, and several other wine connoisseurs at 8pm on Wednesday, October 10th as we pair delicious Canadian cheeses with affordable VQA wines in an event that will be full of fun and a little bit of learning. All the information can be found here:

If you can, pick up one or 2 or the wines and the cheeses and follow along! Also, follow all the pre-action on Twitter by using the hashtag #CdnCheese. This is my first official crack at being an 'expert' and I am SO excited!