Three Summer Wine and Cheese Pairings

Perfect wine and cheese pairing for summer.Add a little elegance to a summer afternoon with simple pairings of complex cheeses and delicious wine. The incredible selection of high-quality wine and cheese that is available today makes it more compelling than ever. Here are some straightforward tips for excellent food and wine pairings.

The first thing to do is find a reputable cheese shop with a knowledgeable staff. Try Antonelli’s Cheese Shop on Duval Street, Henri’s Cheese & Wine on South Lamar Boulevard, Central Market or Whole Foods Market. Not only do these places know their stuff, they specialize in helping customers find exactly what they want.

One of Austin’s shining stars in the cheese world is Cathy Strange, the global cheese buyer for Whole Foods Market. Strange has an incredible resume that is studded with accreditations such as membership in the Cheese Importers Association and the International Association of Culinary Professionals. She serves as a judge for the American Cheese Society competition, the World Cheese Championships and the British Cheese Awards and is the new world president and an ambassador for the Guilde des Fromagers de Saint-Uguzon. The lady knows her cheese.

Strange leads a team of 147 certified cheese professionals at Whole Foods Markets. The company has a passion for excellence in cheese with a goal to have one certified cheese pro in every store. Currently, there are 206 employees seeking to become certified by studying things like cheese making and proper cheese pairings with wine and beer. These folks take exams every Thursday, testing their knowledge of the composition of milk, how to properly transport cheese, food safety and the microbiological nuances of cheese.

Why? So you don’t have to. With more than 700 types of cheese in the Whole Foods downtown store, it’s incredibly helpful to let the cheesemongers guide the experience. That’s exactly what we did with picking our perfect pairings for summer. Austin Woman suggested European white, rosé and red wines, and Strange expertly selected excellent European cheeses that will bring out the best in the wines.

Domaine Pichot, Vouvray 2012 with Mons Camembert

Domaine Pichot is a classic vouvray made with 100 percent chenin blanc. Unlike some vouvray wines from the Loire Valley of France that have a little residual sugar, this wine is dry with opulent floral aromas. Domaine Pichot has rich golden raisin, light pineapple and green apple flavors balanced with a hint of honey, chalky minerals, bright acid and a big, round finish that eases across the palate like a silk camisole. It sells for $17. Mons Camembert from the area of France north of Normandy is soft ripened in a traditional style. It has a distinctive smell of green cooked vegetables like Brussels sprouts or cabbage.

“That is a clear marker for Normandy-made cheese,” Strange says, noting the best way to enjoy the cheese. “The rind is edible, made with a penicillin mold that has a mushroomy, earthy flavor. Try the paste first so you don’t overwhelm your palate. This Camembert has tangy acidity that cuts through the butterfat. Chew the cheese, letting it coat your tongue. You will get flavors coming up the back of your mouth and in to the nose.”

This is a wine and cheese pairing made in heaven. The crisp acidity of the vouvray balances the creamy fattiness of the cheese. The wine mellows the vegetal qualities in the cheese, letting the salty grass and hay flavors open up while the earthy flavors of the Camembert brighten the fruit flavors in the wine. It’s a gorgeously choreographed dance on the tongue.

Miraval Rosé, Côtes de Provence 2013 and Capricho de Cabra 

Miraval rosé is made in Southern France by the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel fame in partnership with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, who own the 1,200-acre estate.

“Angelina picked out the distinctive bottle,” Strange says.

This is a gorgeous Provençale rosé with beautiful pink cotton-candy color along with floral and pronounced fruit aromatics. The light-bodied wine tastes of fresh strawberries and lemon zest with a hint of spice on the finish. It is priced at $25. Strange recommends goat cheese with this delicate rosé.

“Rather than fresh chèvre, I picked an aged cheese,” she says. “It ripens from the outside in, leaving the middle of the paste, which is called chalk, firm and gets creamier next to the rind.”

Capricho de Cabra from Murcia, Spain, is made with milk from Murciana goats and is one of the highest protein cheeses in the world. It has a marvelous creaminess with a nutty, buttery cream flavor tinged with a slight brininess and a citrus finish. It’s a mild cheese that’s not very “goaty” and is a real crowd pleaser. The goat cheese is like a velvet pillow with the wine. The berry flavors of the rosé become more pronounced in the luscious creaminess, which also mutes the acidic citrus edge of the wine. This makes for a soft, sensual pairing.

Rollone Monferrato Rosso 2011 and Fourme d’Ambert 

Rollone Monferrato Rosso comes from the cool climates of the Piedmont region in Northern Italy. This fruity blend of 75 percent barbera and 25 percent pinot noir has a bright cherry and cedar aroma. Serve it with a slight chill to bring out the funky earthiness and mushroom essence layered on top of juicy cherry, dried strawberry and plum flavors. The mild tannin and high acid make it a particularly food-friendly red. It sells for $23 at Whole Foods.

Fourme d’Ambert is raw cow’s milk blue cheese from the Auvergne region of France. It is known to be one of the oldest cheeses in France, along with Roquefort. Blue cheeses take awhile to age and don’t start getting blue for four to six weeks. The proteins in blue are a little slower to break down, age slowly and get creamier the longer they age. Fourme d’Ambert is a natural rind cheese that is creamy and light.

It is a mild blue, not too spicy, and buttery with white mushroom flavors. With the wine, this mild blue brings out warm, raisin flavors. The cherries taste ripper and sweeter, which Strange describes as tasting “like a gourmet cherry lollipop.” The cheese enhances the aged earthiness of the wine yet lets the brightness of the acidity shine through.

Tips for buying and enjoying cheese

  • Shop for cheese just how you shop for vegetables. Buy cheese close to the time you want to enjoy it. Don’t let it sit in your refrigerator too long. Knowledgeable cheesemongers at good shops can recommend the optimal ripeness of the cheese. Some cheeses are ready to eat today, some in a few days, but shouldn’t be kept more than that.
  • Cheese made with cow’s milk is typically rich in gold color. In contrast, goat cheese is whiter in color, as the goats are better able to digest beta carotene.
  • When entertaining, choose cheeses that are crowd-friendly like creamy gouda and sharp cheddar. Your cheesemonger can recommend varieties that are pungent, or not, to suit your taste.
  • Pineapples, apples and pears are great with cheese because the acidity and texture lifts the creaminess of the cheese to clean the palate. Seasonally available tropical fruits and melons are also a great accompaniment to cheese, as they don’t overpower and don’t linger in the mouth.
  • Take your cheese out of the refrigerator about 20 minutes before guests arrive so it warms close to room temperature. Cheese is a fermented agricultural product, and the taste will evolve a little as it warms up.
  • Serve nuts with the cheese. If you have blue or luscious cheeses, choose nuts with skins, like almonds. The bitterness of the skin will accentuate the cheese. If you are serving mild, creamy cheese, select Marcona almonds or other skinless nuts.

This story was originally written for and appears in the June issue of Austin Woman Magazine.

Disclosure: Whole Foods Market provided samples of the wine and cheese for this story.

What are you drinking? 

Wine for 4th of July Picnics: Red, White and Rosé

There is nothing more traditional than celebrating Independence Day in the U.S. with a picnic. Whether you’re the type to grill burgers, hot dogs and chips or the type to serve cold poached salmon with an heirloom tomato salad, one thing is for sure, you need something cold and delicious to drink with it. Here are three food friendly wines that will feel right at home on a picnic blanket.  

Santero Bessi Rosso NV

Bessi is the girl next door with doe eyes and little zippy secret. She’s light on her feet and best served cold in the hot sun. She never met a picnic she didn’t like. This soft sparkling sweet Italian non-vintage red isn’t fussy and won’t complain about being packed in the cooler next to individually wrapped American cheese slices. She’s a great accompaniment to cheese or savory and spicy snacks before you dig into the main course.

Look Bright ruby red with a burst of effervescence on the initial pour. Wave your sparkler in one hand and your Bessi in the other.   
Smell A summer fruit salad with tart blueberries, cranberries, dried tobacco and hibiscus petals.
Taste Bessie is sweet sassy fizzy fun like fruit punch with a bite. It tastes almost exactly like it smells with an abundance of tart cranberry mellowed by tobacco. While this is a sweet wine, it’s not syrupy. It has just enough acidity and that light bubbliness to keep it from being cloying.  
Price $10

 

Try Bessi with watermelon dipping wedges. Here’s a simple treat to start off your picnic:

  • Cut chilled watermelon into 1 ½ inch wedges
  • Dipping sauce:
    • Juice of two fresh limes
    • ¼ cup cold water
    • Pinch of salt
    • Pinch of red pepper flakes

Stir it up, dip, eat. Yum.

Urki Txakoli de Getariako 2009

Txakoli is a Basque word pronounced (CHA-koh-lee), but I like to call it (Texa-koh-lee) for obvious reasons.  This precious Spanish gem is a high acidity and low alcohol wine from the Getariako Txakolina protected Designation of Origin on the northern Atlantic coast. It’s a slightly more sophisticated sister to the Portuguese Vinho Verde. Txakoli is traditionally served as an aperitif with tapas. It’s also well suited for a splendid picnic with chilled shrimp, raw oysters or grilled fish. Make sure to have an ample supply because it will go fast.   

Look The first Pale yellow ray of sunshine on a hot July day, with tiny bubbles sporadically streaming to the top.
Smell Soft jasmine and stone scents mingle with lemon zest and cut apple.
Taste A bite of fresh, crisp green apple, backed by dusty limestone minerality. It’s light and bouncy with a long lemon zest finish.
Price $19

 

I want to drink this with a big pile of ceviche while lying on a blanket next to the lake. Here’s a recipe from Bon Appetite for Scallop Ceviche.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound bay scallops, quartered
  • 1 cup (about 12 whole) cherry tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 2 green or red serrano chiles, seeded and minced (about 1/2 teaspoon)
  • 3/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus additional for garnish
  • 1 cup finely diced red onion (1/2 medium red onion)
  • 1 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup fresh lime juice
  • Salt to taste
  • tablespoons finely shredded unsweetened coconut flakes

Preparation

  • Combine all the ingredients in a nonreactive bowl and stir to mix well. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, and up to 16.
  • Spoon the ceviche into small (4-ounce) glasses and garnish with cilantro

Commanderie de Peyrassol 2010 Côtes de Provence

What would summer be without a cold, crisp rosé? It’s the long relaxing exhale in the midst of your day dream day lazing about in the sun. If you’re going for rosé on the 4th of July, why not get one from the birthplace of the varietal, France. The Knights of Templars started making wine at Commanderie of Peyrassol about 800 years ago. That’s plenty of time to refine a craft and turn out excellent wine. The 2010 vintage is fresh, fruity and ready for fun. This is one food friendly wine. Try it with fried chicken, grilled vegetables and even ribs.

Look A classic rosé, delicate rose pink, with good clarity.
Smell Commanderie de Peyrassol is delightful with a lilac, strawberry, lemon zest gentle nose.
Taste Fresh biscuit, strawberries, lemon good minerality, crisp with an easy finish. Food friendly
Price $20

 

Do you have a big fat buttery Chardonnay on the wine rack ready to take to your picnic? Leave it sitting right there. This 4th of July celebrate independence from your regular wine while you celebrate the independence of our country. Give these three wines a try and let me know what you think.

What are you drinking?

Suitable Wines for a Summer Romance

“Summer romances end for all kinds of reasons. But when all is said and done, they have one thing in common: They are shooting stars-a spectacular moment of light in the heavens, a fleeting glimpse of eternity. And in a flash, they’re gone.” – The Notebook

 Lazy summer days are perfect for carefree romance. What better way to while away a languid day with a lover than a picnic with feet dipped in the lake? Like the thrill of romance, a chilled white or rosé wine makes everything in a picnic basket tastes better.   

 This week I set out to find wines that have the ease of summer and brighten the mood at any occasion. I’m looking for bottled sunshine. When it’s hot out, I often find myself reaching for a crisp Sauvignon Blanc. I guess I’m a loyalist. I decided to break out of that mold just a little bit, and selected four different wines from Italy, France and Spain that are perfect for a picnic.

 San Felice Vermentino

The first one I cracked open was from Tuscany, a 2009 San Felice Vermentino Maremma Toscana Perolla. San Felice has been cranking out reds and whites in a modern winery since 1967 amidst a medieval village.

The dominant grape in this wine is Vermentino, which is widely grown in the hills of Maremma. The grapes sun bathe in the hot sun all day, then sleep in the cool Mediterranean breezes at night. This stress free grape lifestyle gives the wine a fresh, bright flavor. Did I mention that I like Sauvignon Blanc? I guess habits are hard to break. This wine has about 15% of it, which gives it more complexity and a little heft. 

This baby has less alcohol than big red wines, clocking in at about 12.5%. Drinking a couple glasses of this on a hot afternoon won’t make you too drowsy. If that’s your goal, have a third glass. 

Look This is sunshine in a glass.  
Smell Like a tropical beach breeze carrying flint-kissed citrus scents.
Taste San Felice tastes like the perfect shade to prevent sunburn. Its gauzy body gently releases tart, crisp green apple and lemon zest flavors easing into hint of meringue and a clean finish. This is not a wine to lay down waiting for a special moment. Drink it now. Every summer day is a special moment.
Price $16

 Château Bonnet Blanc

Second up, is Château Bonnet Blanc from the AOC Entre-Deux-Mers in the Bordeaux region. The storied vineyards of Chateau Bonnet are downright ancient with the first plantings emerging from the dirt in the 16th century, and the current regime took over in 1956.

 OK, so I’m still on the Sauvignon Blanc train. This one is made up of about half Sauvignon, 40% Sémillon and the rest Muscadelle grapes. Semillon is the rich, supple, subtle Angelina to balance the Brad of Sauvignon Blanc, which can be fragrantly belligerent and acidic. Like Jolie and Pitt, these two make a fantastic blend, particularly with a smidge of Muscadelle thrown in for good measure.

You know what can spoil a picnic quicker than ants? Forgetting your corkscrew. Never fear, this baby is packaged with a screw cap. Just twist and pour. If you miss that ceremonial pop of the cork, just stick your finger in your mouth, bend it into a gentle “J” shape, pucker tightly around it, and then pull it out briskly. “Pop!” This is the genius move that was created centuries ago specifically to mimic the sound of a cork being pulled. It’s fantastic.   

Look The delicate color of gold coins shimmering just below the surface of a gentle green stream.
Smell This wine smells just like a vivacious young girl picking up those gold coins, while eating grapes and drinking lemonade with white blossoms in her flowing hair.
Taste Château Bonnet Blanc introduces itself with smooth grace before racing into crisp, fresh citrus fruit flavors with vivid acidity that draws out a long, relaxed finish. It’s hard not to lounge just a little longer enjoying the after-glow once you’ve had it.  
Price $11

Blanc Pescador

Don’t you just love the delicate tickle of an effervescent wine? Like miniature angles frolicking over my tongue. For my third selection, I opened a young Blanc Pescador. This isn’t a rollicking sparkling wine – its less bubbly than Champagne, but has more fizz than a Vinho Verde. The good folks at Castillo Perelada in the Empurda Costa Brava region of Spain work a little magic during fermentation to conjure a fine, light and natural sparkle. In Spanish this is called “vino de aguja”, which means “needle-wine”. I have no idea what that means, but I read it somewhere.

Finally I’ve taken a complete departure from Sauvignon Blanc. Blanc Pescadore is made up of Macabeo, Parellada and Xare-lo grapes.

This is a picnic wine if there ever was one. Its entire attitude and outlook on life is casual fun. You could try to dress it up for a black tie event, but it’s much more comfortable in flip flops and a sundress eating finger foods in the breeze. If your lovely day gets rained out, bring it inside and serve it with ceviche while sitting on the floor in a circle of friends.  Better yet, serve it for brunch with a crab omelet. The tart fruit and acidity are an ideal date with shellfish. With only 11.5% alcohol, it won’t knock you down so soon after you woke up.  

Look Daisy petal soft yellow with hints of spring green.   
Smell Grapefruit mist carried on a sea breeze with a whisper of yeast.  
Taste It tastes like wearing white linen while playing badminton. Clean, fresh and crisp with a sparkling bounce in its step.  
Price $11

Riondo Prosecco Raboso, Pink Spago Argento

I can’t get enough bubbles, so my fourth wine choice is a spirited Prosecco made with Raboso grapes, grown on the Veneto hills of Italy.  Riondo opened in 1999 and is nestled in Monteforte d’Alpone in northern Italy, west of Venice.    

Pink Spago Argento is a frizzante with frothy bubbles that make me smile. The wine makers get the gentle sparkle by controlling the temperature during fermentation. It is impossible to be in a bad mood while sipping a glass of bubble gum pink wine that begs you to take it sailing. Like most of my summer choices, this is somewhat low in alcohol at 10.5% to give us license for day drinking.

Look As bright pink as the crinoline of a fairy princess tutu.
Smell  It smells like the delicate breath of that lovely fairy princess after she’s eaten a bowl of sweet cherries and freshly picked strawberries.
Taste Pink Spago Argento dazzles the mouth with a crisp pop of fresh fruit and brisk acidity. It finishes with a subtle bitterness that reminds you it isn’t simply cute and sweet. Its gentler than the bittersweet end of a summer romance.
Price $9

 Try one of these wines pool-side, at the lake, in the hammock or on a picnic blanket this weekend. Let me know what you think. What is your favorite wine for making summer memories?