Saturday, October 12, 2013

Almost On Our Way

Hotel Negre Coste, Aix-en-Provence
Well, I am finally almost ready to wing across the Atlantic on the way to our wine and food tour of Provence and the Rhone. The big challenge , as always, is to finish all of the chores so that the house, the dogs, and my classes can run seamlessly while I am gone. The "to do" list is long and keeps growing, but  I
have faith- somehow it all always gets done even if I have to pull an all-nighter the night before departure.

I'm bound and determined to pack lightly this trip; both to nurse my recently broken wrist, and to leave lots of room for shopping. I've always packed far too many clothes, reference books, and gadgets (hair dryers and such) on the off chance that it might be needed. Not this time, I swear!
Now let's see how well I keep that promise.

This trip I am traveling sans computer and will try to keep posting from my iPad. While most hotels have wifi, bandwidth is limited and in high demand in the evenings when many of the guests are checking email, posting on Facebook and other on-line activities. Uploading a picture or posting a blog can be time consuming and very frustrating, so this trip, I am renting a mobile hotspot from a company called  The French Connection , which will give me wifi access for up to 5 devices. It will give me phone and text service over wifi, let me keep up with email and this blog, post on Facebook, share my "internet bubble" with others on the tour, and avoid roaming charges. There are several US firms that rent mobile hotspots, but French Connection is based in France, delivers your mobile hot spot to your hotel, and you return it in a postage paid envelope at any post box before you leave France. I like the idea that they are local and can deal with any problems from the same side of the ocean.  The price is competitive, and you save the shipping charges of close to $30. I'll let you know how well it works!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

How to Spend 7 Great Days in Southern France

Can the time have really passed so quickly? 

There are only 3 1/2  months until we leave for our Food and Wine Tour of Provence and the Rhone Valley!

For those of you who are traveling with us, and those who would like to travel to this fabulous part of the world some day, here is our itinerary, and  my recommendation on how to spend 7 great days in Southern France.

Getting There

There are many options for flying to the region. You can fly Marseille, the closest airport to Aix-en-Provence, which is a great location to use as a base for traveling throughout the region. You can also fly to Avignon or Toulouse, and use the wonderful train system to transfer to Aix. Alternatively you can fly to Paris (lots of choices of departure and arrival times, attractive fares, and the chance to spend a few days exploring the City of Light before heading south).

Several of our group will have already traveled to Europe and plan to meet us in Aix, and others will fly from the US to Marseilles, arriving on October 13 (remember that if you depart the US on the 12th, you will  lose a day traveling east).

If you do fly into Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, the high speed TGV station is right at the airport- in Terminal 2- and you can take the train to the AIX TGV station.

 Plan on purchasing your tickets in advance as seats are reserved. (Tickets go on sale 30 days before the date of travel. The earlier you buy your ticket, the cheaper they will be.)  The train trip from Paris to Aix TGV station is 3 hours, and if you have never traveled by the high speed train system in France, you are in for a treat! Navigating the system is dead easy, signage is in French but readily understandable by English speakers, the trains are extremely comfortable and reliable, and the staff are extremely helpful.   

From Marseilles to Aix

 If you are flying into Marseille, there is a shuttle bus that runs from the airport to the Aix City Center every 30 minutes. If you are taking the TGV train from Paris, the shuttle from the Marseille airport stops at the Aix TGV station (which is a ways outside of town) and you can take it on to Aix city center. Tickets can be purchased on line in advance at

Our Itinerary

Sunday, October 13 :Arrive in Aix- en- Provence and check in to the Hotel Negre Coste on Coeur Mirabeau, the most famous street in Aix.

     The Negre Coste has an elevator (many French hotels do not), extra soundproofing in the rooms (important because Coeur Mirabeau is a busy place late into the night), free wi-fi in public areas, mini-bars in rooms, luggage storage, hair dryers, ironing boards on request, complementary toiletries, flat screen TVs, and tour and reservation assistance. Laundry service is available as well.

     Check in, unpack, recover from jet lag, and stroll the cafes and bistros that line the Cours Mirabeau, or the many restaurants in the nearby restaurant district. Les  Deux Garcons is just steps away, famous as a haunt of Cezanne, Zola, and Hemmingway.

 Click Here for a printable (and expandable) map of the city center

Monday, October 14:  

Monday is a day to explore Aix: City of Fountains, University City, Provincial Capitol until the Revolution.
The Tourism Office will provide us with a guide for a walking tour of the high points of the City. There will be plenty of time to explore as well. If you are an early riser, check out the produce market at the Place de Richelme (open 9am-1230 pm) after breakfast at the Hotel.   Aix has a long history as a Roman city (site of the famous Roman baths of  Aquae Sextiae  founded in 123 BC). According to a recent article in Barron’s, a modern rendition of the Roman spa is still in operation. If you feel you need a bit of pampering to recover from your journey, the spa offers a number of packages. Check them out at  What a way to recover!

Tuesday, October 15: Bandol and Cassis

We leave Aix  at 9:00am after breakfast at the hotel, and arrive in Bandol at about  9:30. Bandol is a fishing village on the Mediterranean and one of the oldest vineyard areas in France. It lies on the coast  between Toulon and Marseille, and is the only wine region in France whose red wines are dominated by Mourvedre, a late ripening grape that must account for 50% of the blend. (I am exceedingly fond of Mourvedre and am really looking forward to tasting these wines in the place where they are made!)  We will have the opportunity to view the picturesque harbor, stroll the waterfront and enjoy nibbles at the morning market to stoke up for our tasting of a selection of local red, white, and rose wines at the Maison du Vin.

Then on to Cassis, about twenty minutes away, passing the spectacular Calanques, inlets to the sea between steep limestone cliffs.

One of France’s first AOC’s, Cassis,  unlike most of Provence specializes in white wines, which make up around 75% of its production.
Clos Sainte Magdelaine
 After lunch we will visit Clos Sainte Magdelaine, located on a private cape above the sea, with full tour of winery and guided tasting . This is a Kermit Lynch selections property. Kermit Lynch is an American negotiant (wine merchant) who selects marvelous wines from excellent producers and imports them into the US. Its web site has great information about the property, the winemaker, and the wines.

So, full delicious food and wine, we will return to Aix where we can nap, shop, people watch, or dine at our leisure.

October 16:  Salon-en-Provence and Saint-Remy-en-Provence

After breakfast at our hotel, we depart Aix at 8 am
for to the famous market at Saint-Remy-en-Provence, where we will have plenty of time to browse and shop. There are many markets in the towns and villages of Provence, but the Wednesday market at Saint-Remy is one of the largest and most diverse. Saint Remy is also known as the birthplace of Nostradamus, and the place where van Gogh painted and eventually died.

To get ourselves in the Roman frame of mind, we will stop at the Roman ruins of Glanum  just outside of Saint Remy for pictures at the triumphal arch and mausoleum before enjoying a catered lunch prepared by Marielle Cherubini, whose specialty is in reproducing Roman cuisine, infused wines and beers from an ancient text  De re coquinaria (On the Subject of Cooking), containing around 500 recipes by a Roman named Apicius.

Olive oil has been a mainstay of the region since before the Romans, and we will visit  an olive mill where we can both taste and watch the process of turning olives into liquid gold.

 Before heading back to Aix for our last night in Provence, we will stop at Salon-en-Provence to see how the authentic Savon de Marseilles natural  oil soaps are made in 100 year old factories. These soaps make exceptional gifts and they are easy to pack!

October 17: the Luberon

Check out of our hotel in Aix after breakfast (we will be relocating to Avignon this evening) and depart for the Luberon at 8:30.

We arrive in Menerbes, considered one of the most beautiful villages in France, in time for the market where I will pick up food for a picnic lunch. We will discover this beautifully restored hill top town, and visit the wine and truffle center in the Marie (Town Hall),
Garden at the
Center for Wine and Truffles
Wine Opener Museum
Visit the Domaine de la Citadelle for tasting  with its Wine Opener Museum, and the nearby Abbaye of Sainte Hilaire.
I'Isle Sur la Sorgue
After a picnic lunch, we head to L’Isle-sur-La-Sorgue.  This compact medieval town is built on the islands of five branches of the Sorgue river, which flows through, in and around the town, the reason it is often called “The Venice of Provence”.

Known for picturesque waterwheels, waterside bistros and cafes and more than 300 permanent antique and bric-a-brac shops, there is an outdoor antique market on Sundays and two international antiques fairs; reasons why this little town is considered the third most important antique center in Europe- after London and Paris.As if all that were not enough, there is also a not-to-miss shop selling incredibly delicious  hand made ice cream

Then on to Avignon where we check in to the Kyriad Avignon Palais du Papes- just steps from the Palace of the Popes and the Opera House in the center of the old city.
Palace of the Popes, Avignon
The Kyriad has small refrigerators in the rooms, coffee and tea, hair dryers, free wi-fi and newspapers,  excellent sound proofing, and elevators (I do hate to haul a suitcase up flights of stairs after a long day). Unpack, rest, relax, and explore.  Tomorrow, we explore the world famous hill of Hermitage and Tain in the northern Rhone.

October 18:  Northern Rhone  and it's iconic Syrah based wines from the magnificent granite cliffs of the Massif Central and the Hill of Hermitage.

The drive from Avignon to Tain l’Hermitage takes about 1 ½ hours, so after breakfast at the hotel, we will leave Avignon at 9:30 and arrive at Tain l’Hermitage at about 11, where we have an appointment for a tour and tasting of the wines of M. Chaputier: one of the great producers of the Rhone valley. Chaputier produces wines from a great many of the Rhone appellations, including the great AOCs of the north. Chaputier farms the majority of acreage of the iconic hill of Hermitage as well as vineyards in Crozes Hermitage,Cote Rotie, Condrieu, Saint Joseph, Saint Peray, and Cornas.

We are free to roam Tain and Tournon sur Rhone until about 2 pm. These two villages are on either side of the Passerelle Seguin, a pedestrian bridge across the river. The best wine tasting is on the Tain side, but the old town of Tournon has the best restaurants , a hill side garden, and views across the river to the Hill of Hermitage and its vineyards
Pedestrian bridge across the Rhone

For dessert, we will visit the flagship boutique of Valhrona Chocolate, where almost everything Valrhona sells in the store is offered for tasting - free. The prices of chocolate items are extremely reasonable, and I have to admit, I not only ate myself into a chocolate coma, I filled my suitcase with chocolate treats for the folks back home. Red wine and chocolate. What a day!

Our final stop on Tain will be at the Cave de Tain Cooperative for another Tour and Tasting. Made up of small member growers, the Cooperative is the largest overall producer of wines in the northern Rhone. One of the wines that they produce is the rare white Hermitage Vin de Paille. This ancient type of “straw wine” is made from very ripe white grapes dried on straw for at least 2 months to further concentrate the sugars before pressing. I have never tasted a Vin de Paille, and hope they will have one open when we are there!

Then, return to Avignon, where we can rest and recover for our final full day of the trip and our journey through the Southern Rhone.

October 19: Southern Rhone
We depart from Avignon at 8:30 am for our first stop in the Southern Rhone: Tavel. One of the original AOCs in France, along with Chateauneuf du Pape, Tavel is a rose only appellation.  First, we will visit Domaine de la Mordoree, located in Tavel, but with vineyard parcels in Tavel, Lirac, and Chateauneuf . They produce wines from all three appellations

From Tavel, we will proceed to the Domaine du Banneret, a tiny 3 hectare domaine in the heart of Chateauneuf which dates back to 1405. Owner and winemaker Jean Claude Vidal makes traditional style Chateauneuf . The old vine grapes are strictly organic, and the wine is bottled and labeled by hand. He is one of only 2 remaining producers who uses all of the 13 allowed Chateauneuf du Pape varietals (the other is Beaucastel). The 2010 vintage was just released locally, and it is utterly delicious.
On to Seguret, one of the most famous named villages of Cote du Rhone Village, for a tour of Domaine de la Cabasse, stroll through the grounds and gardens (very picturesque) and enjoy lunch
The Dentelle
Finally, we depart Seguret for Gigondas, and the Domaine de Longue Toque (Gabriel Meffre) at the foot of the Dentelle de Montmarail  for a tour and tasting.

Return to Avignon to rest up for our gala farewell dinner to end a glorious week in Southern France!

If you have any questions, or want to reserve a spot,  email me :at

If you are not already signed up for the trip, I hope you can join us; but if not, we will have another food, wine and spirits adventure in France next year- so stay tuned for details!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

6 Great Reads if You're Traveling to the South of France (or only dreaming)

It's Spring and This Woman's Fancy is Turning to France.

Grape vines are flowering in wine country here in the Willamette Valley, and the sight reminds me of wonderful hours spent tramping through  vineyards, markets, and picture perfect villages in the South of  France.

But until it's time to get on the plane, I read books, wonderful books, that evoke the region, the culture, the wine and the food. I particularly enjoy books by anglophones who have settled in France, come to terms with a different pace and world view, and who share their trials and triumphs with those of us who only dream of someday .......someday....... staying longer than work and limited vacation time currently allow.

If you are lucky enough to be planning a trip, or if you are dreaming of a trip sometime in the future, feast your eyes and your senses on these great reads.

Let's start with My French Life by Vicki Archer 

Full of gorgeous photographs, the book is the the memoir of an Australian woman who lives a life between Australia, England and France and calls all three home. She, her husband and three children, purchased a derelict 400 year old mas  (farmhouse) on the outskirts of Saint-Remy-de-Provence, a village we will visit in October for one of the finest outdoor markets in the South,  Moulin Casetelas, the olive oil mill where the Archers take their olives to be milled, and lunch on Roman delicacies in the Taberna Romana  across the road from the ruins of Glanum just outside of town.

The book details the restoration of Mas de Berard with its ancient olive trees, and muses on French culture,style, the daily patterns of life in the country, and the integral role of food in French life. The prose is evocative and poetic,such as her description of the olive oil from Moulin Castelas:
"Their oil is evocative of  the Alpilles: it smells of fresh grass and olives, tastes of sweet almond trees and raw artichokes and finishes with a peppery bite, suggesting the olives were fully ripe before pressing, The texture is fine, the colour a transparent citrus green, and the taste sheer bliss."

Another favorite author is Kristin Espinasse,  author of the delicious  French-Word-A-Day blog and her two books  Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language from the South of France, and Blossoming in Provence. 

As in her blog, Kristin, (wife of winemaker Jean-Marc Espinasse and mother of two very French children) tells delightful vignettes of how a French language challenged American found her way from the Southwest to the south of France, fell in love, married a Frenchman, and began raising a family. Her prose is liberally sprinkled with french words (which she puts in italics and translates at the end of each chapter) to illustrate their meaning and use in everyday conversation; but along with the language lesson, you learn a great deal about the way the French live; how they think; how they behave;  and what they value. Her humor is self deprecating, and as in her blog, she is almost painfully honest about her trials, failure, and triumphs.  But no matter where you pick up the book or dive into a blog post, you are are always, always, amused. Here is a brief excerpt, where she and her children cope with the difficulty of a bilingual (barely) household:

What's foreign can be off-putting, and at times a word is a three-eyed monster. French words baffled me for years. Now, English words intimidate my children.............
"deesh-wah-share?", he repeats after me.He sits for a moment, considering my request, and then darts out of the salon.
Entering the salon de bains, where we keep our washing machine, I find Max crouched to the floor, pulling damp clothes from the lave-ligne. Like most French washing machines, the door is on the front side of the machine just inches from the ground.
"Max, what are you doing?" I say.
You said empty the wah-share", he explains.
"The dish-wah-share! You know, knives, forks, cups..."
"Ah, le lave-vaiselle," he translates, and heads off in the direction of the cuisine.
Poor little guy with the foreign mommy, I think as I set the plastic laundry basket on the floor, empty the wah-share and head outside to hang up the linge.
What a lovely way to learn words in French.

For sheer physical beauty, I recommend Michael Jacobs The Most Beautiful Villages of Provence. with photographs by High Palmer

This coffee table book explores  stunning villages in each of the major regions of the south, from the Vaucluse and the Bouches-du-Rhone to the Var and the Alpine departments of the east.  In addition to the brilliant photographs, there are map, listings of restaurants, fetes and markets for each of the villages, and sights to enjoy.
From the flyleaf:
Provence is a land apart, a territory of outstanding beauty and distinction that has fascinated outsiders since earliest times, The Greeks, the Romans, the barbarians of the North and the Moors have all left their traces in its villages and small towns, from the hills and mountains of the Luberon to the villages perches of the Alpes-Maritimes.

Travelers' Tales Provence: True Stories by Peter Mayle, M.F.K. Fisher, Lawrence Durrell, Yvone Lenard, Alain de Botton, Kermit Lynch and many more , edited by James O'Reilly and Tara Austen Weaver

Several of my favorites include Indu Sundaresan's Tureau, Tureau . a tale of how the author came to be running from a bull-in-training named Eduard in the traditional bullfighting style of the South of France where a rosette is tied to the horns of the bull, and the bullfighters, rather than slaying the bull, attempt to grap the rosette; and when chased, leap over  the wooden barriers surrounding the ring  like circus acrobats.

There is a chapter by noted wine merchant and Negociant Kermit Lynch on the wines of Cassis (which we will also visit) with the admonition to "Drink it where it was born."

M.F.K Fisher tells us of Aix-en-Provence, the University city, City of Fountains, and former Provencial capital before the Revolution, where she begins:
So here is the town, founded more than two thousand years ago by the brash Roman invaders, on much older ruins which still stick up their stones and artifacts. I was as brash a new-comer to it, and yet when I first felt the rhythm of its streets and smelled its ancient smells, and listened at night to the music of its many fountains, I said "Of course", for I was once more in my own place, and invader of what was already mine.
Aix will be our first destination and home base for our  4 days in Provence.

Carol Drinkwater, actress and English expat who turned a dilapidated farm house into an organic olive farm in the Var, wrote Pressing the Olive: Its a virgin birth of a different kind  of her first olive harvest and finding just the right mill to press it into their very own oil.

I loved Clive Irving's  evocative description of the Mistral, the wind that  is such an emblem of the Rhone and Provence in Relish the Rhone :
This was a pervasive, inhabiting wind. It raged across the hill above, tearing into freshly bloomed cascades of yellow broom so that the color writhed. Cypresses, the most exposed of the trees, flexed acutely in the line of the wind. They signaled its direction- and identity.  The intruder came from the north, sucked down the great valley of the Rhone and into Provence like a jet stream, This was the Mistral.
And there were many, many more wonderful vignettes to enjoy.

Finally, for this post at least, I heartily recommend  Peter Mayle's Provence A-Z: a Francophile's Essential Handbook

To quote the New York Times' review," Mayle's magpie dictionary yields amusing facts....and useful information.." on everything he finds amusing, intriguing, exasperating, and just plain fun. Take the entry on Bises et Bisous (hugs and kisses) for example:

Visitors from the north are frequently surprised by the intensely tactile nature of social intercourse in Provence. Most Parisians or Londoners, for instance, are accustomed to conversations that are purely verbal exchanges conducted at arm's length. In Provence, they find various body parts being hugged and squeezed, tweaked and tapped and prodded and occasionally massaged. I have seen men and women retreat from these encounters with alarmed expressions on their faces as they examine themselves for the superficial bruises.  It takes some time for them to realize that  speech without touch. for a Provencal, is like Aioli without garlic........
For the rest, you will just have to read the book.

So there it is- six books to make you drool, sigh, laugh, and yearn for the beauty. the clarity of light, the intensity of color, and the savor of some of the most delicious food and wine on the face of the earth. There are plenty more books on my list, so look for more recommendations soon.........and if you can, come with us and live it for yourself.

For more information about our food and wine tour of  Provence and the Rhone, visit us at

 Bises et Bisous.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Celebrate Spring with 5 Great Cheeses and Wines to Pair With Them

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

In 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

Beechers Handmade Cheese Company  Flagship

 While the Flagsheep is in short supply, Flagship is 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
 Cowhorn’s 2009 Reserve Syrah from southern Oregon’s Applegate Valley.

This 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 delicious balance.

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. (around $22)


Mount Townsend Creamery Seastack  

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.

For 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 Table Wine,  made by Oregon wine maker Peter Rosback  in New Zealand from Sauvignon Blanc ($11)

The Sullivan 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”