May 25 is National Wine Day,
June 4 is National Cheese Day
Appropriately close since wine and cheese are natural partners, and when paired
properly, each enhances the experience of the other.
May is also Oregon Wine Month
And haven’t we come a long
way since the early 1970’s when those
first pioneers defied
conventional wisdom and came here to
plant their grapes.
In less than a decade, Oregon wines gained worldwide
recognition and Oregon took its place on the world wine map.
The growth of Oregon’s wine industry helped to spark a food
revolution here as well.
Craft brewers, local micro-distillers, artisan
bakers, and talented chefs created a food culture that has made us a prime
destination for food travel attracting visitors from around the world. That
food culture also includes a wealth of artisan cheeses, many of which have
won prestigious awards at the American Cheese Society’s annual competitions
fact, northwest cheeses have taken Best of Show in three of the past four years.
- Rogue Creamery’s Rogue River Blue won in 2009 and 2011.
- The 2012 winner, Seattle’s Beechers Handmade
Cheese Company beat out 1710 other entrees with its Flagsheep: a mixed cow and
sheep milk cheddar from herds of Willapa Hills near Centralia Washington.
Unfortunately, only 23 wheels were made, and the demand is far greater than the
supply. If you are in Seattle, you may still be lucky enough to score some at
Beecher’s Pike Street Market store, but the rest of us are likely out of luck.
So in celebration of wine and cheese, here are my
recommendations for delicious pairings to enjoy
with the glorious (at least here
in Northwest Oregon) spring weather
Cheese Company Flagship.
While the Flagsheep is in short supply, Flagship
readily available. This is a semi-hard cheddar style cow milk cheese from herds
in Duval, Washington. Aged for 15
months, it has a firm texture which crumbles on the tongue with a hint of the
crystal texture found in aging goudas. It is
creamy on the palate with flavor that starts sharp and mellows to a nutty finish.
This is a big, full flavored cheese, and would pair well
with a big, fruity wine such as
2009 Reserve Syrah
from southern Oregon’s Applegate Valley.
biodynamic producer has consistently gotten rave reviews from the national wine
press (the Wine Spectator gave it a 91), and it is well deserved. The Reserve Syrah has lots of juicy
blackberry and plum fruit and the lovely earth, leather, and peppery spice
aroma and flavor of the best New World Syrahs.
Equally lovely would
be the Seghesio Family Vinyards 2010
Sonoma County Zinfandel.
This is also a wine with big, beautiful fruit;
and along with the dark berry, there is plenty of leather, tobacco, mocha, sage, and sweet spice. But beware; it goes
down so easily , you can forget that this wine clocks in at 14.8% alcohol. It
is also a wonderful value at about $14
Crater Lake Blue
A cows milk blue cheese from Rogue
Creamery in Central Point,Oregon, Crater Lake Blue is a perennial favorite in my house for its
It’s not too salty, it is moist without being runny, the
blue mold does not overwhelm the milk character of the cheese and allows a
delicious sweetness and complexity to show through on the palate. It is that overall balance that makes it such
a good cheese to pair with wine.
Try it with one of the many port style wines from Oregon
such as Willamette Valley Vineyards
Quinta Reserva Port-style Pinot Noir.
This ruby port is made in a lighter style, which I find
particularly appealing with the Crater Lake Blue. Made from 100% Pinot Noir fortified with brandy distilled from their own
estate fruit. the pinot character shines in this delicious wine, with plenty of
soft, juicy black cherry, strawberry and raspberry fruit aromas and flavors,
sweet baking spices, vanilla, and a hint of chocolate. The finish is rich,
long, and not too sweet with hints of toasted
almond and brandied cherries. Production of this wine is limited, so if you are
lucky enough to score a bottle, snap it up, as it tends to sell out quickly.
This wine sells for about $50 for a 500 ml bottle.
The Crater Lake Blue is as at home with a tawny style port
as it is with a ruby.
Try it as well with Ficklin
Aged 10 years Tawny Port from Madera, California. Made from two of the
traditional Portugese port wine varieties: Tinta Madeira, and Touriga National,
the long barrel aging and subsequent exposure to oxygen changes the color of
the wine from deep red to a deep copper, and imparts aromas and flavors of
poached pear, honey, raisins, toasted nuts and caramel that are delicious with
the cheese. It retails for around $28.
An alternative to Port style wines with
Crater Lake Blue is the Brooks Sweet P 2008 Willamette Valley Riesling.
Had I tasted it blind, I would have
identified it as German; not from the New World, and certainly not from Oregon.
The wine is gold, with just a hint of terpines on the nose (terpines are
naturally occurring hydrocarbons that develop as Riesling takes on age), along
with peach, nectarine, yellow delicious apple, white flower and honey. The
nectarine and apple come through on the medium sweet palate as well. There is
plenty of acidity to balance the residual sugar, and the wine coats the mouth
to a long finish that transitions from stone fruit to a hint of tangerine. Its
flavor and acidity perfectly balance the creamy and salty notes in the cheese.
is a semisoft cows milk cheese crafted from Brown
Swiss and Holstein milk from the Maple View Farm only 30 miles from their Port
Townsend, Washington location. This is a mold ripened cheese which has a layer
of charcoal ash and salt just under the rind which helps to dry the cheese. As
it ages, the center remains crumbly while the layer between the center and the
rind becomes runny. The flavors are citrusy and earthy, mushroomy and nutty,
with a nice briny tang. This is a cheese that is born to pair with Pinot Noir.
2010 was a great year for Oregon Pinots, and a delicious
wine from one of the Willamette Valley pioneer winemaking families is the Elk Cove Vineyards 2010 Willamette
Valley Pinot Noir, which is also very
attractively priced at $27.
those who have tracked the sometimes stratospheric prices of Willamette Valley
Pinot Noirs, you know that this is a bargain for a wine of this quality. Produced from Pommard and Dijon clones, it is
classic ripe red fruit and truffle on the nose, which beautifully picks up the
earthy, mushroomy aromas and flavors of the cheese. The wine is lively with
good acidity, polished tannins, and a rich finish. (91 Wine Spectator, and 97
points and Best Buy from Portland Monthly Oregon’s Best Wines 2012).
A principle of food and wine pairing is that you can either
complement flavors (such as with the truffle mushroomy aromas in both the
Seastack and the Pinot Noir,) or you can go in the other direction and contrast
aromas and flavors. A lovely wine to
contrast with blooming rind and washed rind cheeses is Viognier
, a varietal
famous in the Northern Rhone Valley which has found a home in the New World up
and down the west coast. This is a grape that can easily become over-ripe,
alcoholic and bitter- but when grown on the right site is intensely fruity and
aromatic, mouth filling, and elegant. Stags Leap Winery
has been making
viognier for years, and they know full well how finicky this grape can be. The Stags Leap 2011 Viognier,
(about $25) gets it right with peaches and
orange blossom on the nose; citrus, stonefruit and bright acidity on the palate
to cut through the creaminess of the cheese, and a long lovely finish.
Pholia Farm Elk Mountain
This goat milk cheese hails from Central Point Oregon, and the cheeses are produced from a herd of Nigerian Dwarf Goats; a breed which produces a
very high butterfat milk. The farm is fully sustainable, producing all of its
own electricity. The goats are able to pasture most of the year, supplemented
with spent grain from the Wild River Brewery, which gives the cheese a hoppy,
nutty aroma and flavor. Elk Mountain is a semi-soft
mountain style raw milk cheese made in
the style of aged Tomme from the
Pyrenees. The cheeses are aged 6-8 months, during which the wheels are washed
with Wild River Brewery Honey Wheat Ale which gives the rind a gold color. It
is firm, dense, and slightly flaky.
In addition to full bodied ales, Elk Mountain would pair
beautifully with bubbles; and one of my favorites is the Argyle 2008 Knudsen Vineyard
Julia Lee’s Block Blanc de Blanc .
2008 was a wonderful year for Oregon
chardonnay, and sparkling wines from Oregon Chardonnay were equally
delightful. This is a full bodied Blanc
de Blanc with a fine bead and a delicious aroma of orange blossom, honey, brioche
and pear. On the palate, crisp pear,melon, sweet citrus and white flower with a
long lovely finish. (92 points Wine Spectator) Sells for about $45
A great value in domestic sparkling wines can be found in
New Mexico. New Mexico, you ask? You bet.
New Mexico, in fact, is the oldest
wine producing region in the US, and Gruet makes some of the best and most
affordable sparkling wines using the traditional method (the method used to
produce Champagne) available anywhere.
The Gruet family came to New Mexico from
France where they had already been making champagne for 30 years. Visiting the
region, they met several European winemakers that were producing wine grapes
with good success. Given the lack of opportunity to expand production in
France, they decided to try planting a vineyard at altitude (more than 4000
feet in elevation) to take advantage of cool nighttime temperatures to maintain
acidity in the grapes. The experiment
was a success, and Gruet has been producing sparkling wines in New Mexico ever
since, most of which sell for under $25 per bottle.
The Gruet Non-Vintage Blanc de Noir contains a non-traditional 25% Chardonnay
along with the 75% Pinot Noir. It shows
lovely raspberry fruit (from the Pinot Noir), along with a biscuit yeasty note
from 2 years of aging on its lees. Add to that a creamy texture, lovely mousse
and pale salmon color, making this a delicious sparkler that you can afford to
drink every day for around $15.
Fern Edge Goat
Dairy Fresh Chevre . I adore fresh Chevre- on salads; melted on
flatbreads, baked in a gratin with fresh tomato sauce, or stuffed into fresh
figs, wrapped with prosciutto, and heated on the grill. I’ve even been known to
eat it with a spoon and savor the tart creamy and slightly goaty flavor as I
sip a chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc .
The Fern’s Edge Goat Dairy in Lowell, Oregon makes a mel- in-your-mouth creamy,
herby, grassy chevre. The plain version is lovely, and the one I buy most
often, but they also sell a number of flavored cheeses with herbs and fruit
grown on the property. The Herb de Provence, Fig Walnut and Honey; and Pear Anise are standouts as well.
My “go to” wine for Chevre is always Sauvignon Blanc. Its
tart acidity mellows the cheese and the grassy notes of the wine complement the
chevre’s grassy notes.
Two local standouts for me are the Sullivan Steele 2011 Sauvignon Blanc
from the Rogue Valley ($22), and the Sineann 2011 White
made by Oregon wine
maker Peter Rosback in New Zealand from
Sauvignon Blanc ($11)
Steele is full of peaches,melon, tropical fruit and pink grapefruit.
Not News Zealand and not Sancerre, but a Sauvignon Blanc that is something
in-between. The acidity is there, but this wine is smooth and bright and
delicious with the cheese.
The Sineann is labeled as white table wine despite being
100% Sauvignon Blanc because it didn’t show the profile that Rosback wanted in a varietally labeled Sauv Blanc
from New Zealand. Maybe not, but as far as I am concerned, it is delicious.
There is plenty of tropical fruit and grapefruit, but it is lighter, not as
assertive as most Sauv Blancs from Marlboro; but it is still crisp, refreshing,
and easy to drink. At $12, it is a great pour.
So dig in. National wine and cheese days are a great
opportunity to invite friends, taste
cheeses and wines and decide which are your favorite pairings; and as
Julia would say, “Bon Appetit”