My friend “The Monk” bought a very special wine. He wanted to drink it on his birthday and eat a lovely cheese board alongside it. Could I help him? he asked. Bien sur.
Like a Cabbage Patch Doll, this wine came with its own birth certificate – well, practically. I read up on its stats, then wandered down to the cheese shop to pry open the minds of the city's best matchmakers, Hunter Fike and Zeke Ferguson.
“This wine, it’s supposed to have aromas of wild herbs, citrus and exotic fruits," I told them. "And the bouquet should taste of honey, sage, and rosemary.”
“What kind of grape?” Zeke asked me.
I shrugged. “It’s a wine from Novello, called Anas-Cetta,” I told him. “I don’t remember the grape.” (Later, I would discover the grape was called Nascetta, a noble variety, quite rare.)
“Give her Pantaleo,” Hunter said. “It’s the one goat cheese that goes with every white.”
“How about something creamy?” asked Zeke, pointing to a fudgy wudge with an ashy streak.
It’s a duel, I thought. And I asked for a third miscellaneous recommendation in order to have a wild card.
Before The Monk arrived, I let the cheeses relax. In other words, I unwrapped them and set them out under moist cheese cloth for an hour so they would come down to room temperature. Cold cheese is for children.
Corks popped when The Monk arrived. We took preliminary sips on the patio, and our brows furrowed. This was an odd duck of a wine – not the fruit-forward crispy shizzle I’d imagined, but a pickled peach in the glass. It finished off with a buttery lusciousness, but the first impression was definitely tannic. It smelled glorious, like a basket of pears, but the taste, well, there was a hint of kimchi.
What would happen when Wine met Rind? I cringed at the thought.
Then I remembered something I’d learned at a Max McCalman tasting. Double M said that cheese can actually improve the taste of a wine. “Skimp on wine, but splurge on cheese,” was his motto.
Perhaps he was right.
We started with Sofia (Zeke’s pick), a bloomy goat from Indiana that looks a lot like Humboldt Fog, except that it tastes more grassy and acidic. It wasn’t quite salty enough for my taste, but I loved the white-chocolatey chalky moistness. Add a sip of wine, and flinty madness took over. Both the wine and the cheese took on a mineral-y quality that neither possessed alone.
Next, Pantaleo. Hunter was right! Pantaleo’s sweetness and its notes of pine and sea matched the wine beautifully. The pickly prickle I’d initially tasted went away. The wine was, in fact, becoming more and more delicious. To see if the wine was simply improving due to air contact, I glugged a bunch of water and ate some plain bread, then tried the wine by itself again. Pickled peach, all the way. Proof that cheese improves wine.
Finally, Appleby’s Cheshire – my miscellaneous match. This is a well-loved cheese for its craftsmanship, and it’s mellow as bells, which is to say that it’s mild but richly nuanced. I always want to adore it a little more than I do (imagine a muted cheddar…no, imagine a cheddar with laryngitis), but it doesn’t quite have enough muscle for me.
Still, alongside this wine, it was quite lovely, only slightly overpowered.
I called it three for three. Each cheese worked with the wine, and it was remarkable to see how each pairing shifted shapes. Now, I am curious to try a really low-brow bottle of wine to see if I can raise its profile by serving it with a bombshell beauty of a cheese.
Monsieur Fromage chats up The Monk.
Even the dog turns her nose up.
The Monk is left to think it over.