Ever since I arrived to my new life in Napa Valley, California, I’ve felt like I’ve been living on another planet. The people are of a different nature than what I’m used to, having lived my whole life on the East Coast.They’re not European, but the landscape has a strong Burgundian familiarity. So, it was fitting to take a seat at Beringer Vineyards for a cheese and wine tasting with Janet Fletcher (pictured below), publisher of “Planet Cheese.”
The stars aligned for me to sit in on this tasting event that began with a West Marin Nicasio Valley Foggy Morning cheese made with cow’s milk. To match the intensity of this delicate, young farmstead cheese, we each received a pour of 2013 Luminus Chardonnay, Oak Knoll ($38) made with grapes from north of Napa on a flat vineyard that allows even ripening and balance of fruit. The nose on this Beringer white offered apricot, and flavors of mango.
“This is a good aperitif wine,” stated Janet.
Its crispness brought forth a slight intensity, and I agree: it is a great wine to start off an evening. The cheese brought the wine forward, and so we moved forward to the next pairing.
Point Reyes Farmstead Toma has been around for almost 8 years, hailing from Marin County. This is another farmstead cheese, which means it has its own cows. Its commonality is with Gouda, and would go well with beer and lots of wine choices. We enjoyed a glass of 2013 Private Reserve Chardonnay, Napa Valley ($46) made with grapes grown on vineyards in Yountville. The cheese was moist and creamy…butter aromas and crème fraiche taste, while the wine offered a nose of pear, pineapple and intense elegance. The cheese didn’t stand alone. It was a good match.
Next, Vella Mezzo Secco of Sonoma County was served with a Beringer 2012 Quantum, Napa Valley ($65) made with grapes from vineyards of Howell Mountain and Saint Helena. This is a Bordeaux-style blend of earthiness from cabernet sauvignon (70%) grapes, merlot, malbec, petit verdot and cabernet franc. A nose of deep chocolate, smoke, dark berry led way to good tannin structure and a silky finish of baking spices. The cheese was drier than the rest, with more grain and deeper flavor…made from raw cow’s milk. Its aroma was on the nutty side, but I also detected a brown butter scent.
Number four on the list was Bellwether Farms Blackstone, which is a new cheese on the market made from cow’s AND sheep’s milk of Sonoma County.
Bellwether Farms Blackstone with Beringer 2012 Steinhauer Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon was my favorite of the tasting.
The rind has ash on it, which adds a peppery aroma to the already buttered, peppered lamb scent. Paired with a 2012 Steinhauer Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain ($110), the earthy, jammy, pie filling flavor was amazing. Aged in 95% new French oak barrels, notes of dark chocolate/mocha, toast level of perfection and cigar, cedar offers a glimpse to its age-ability of 15-20 years to which this wine might be laid down.
Last pairing: Bleating Heart Cheese Fat Bottom Girl, made with sheep’s milk from Marin County and paired with a 2012 Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($165). This wine is made for private reserve from grapes of Howell Mountain and Saint Helena. This is Beringer’s most sought after bottle, according to Janet. The cheese is dry, almost brittle, and like the cheese, this wine was not my favorite. Or at least it needed to be decanted.
At the onset of this tasting, our group of 35 to 40 in attendance was instructed to start with the cheese, then chose the wine. But know this… You will never get a “horrible pairing” of cheese and wine. It’s simply that some cheeses are better when served with a particular wine.
I would attend another of Janet’s classes, if I can find one with an opening. If the below schedule of sold out classes is any indication, she is a popular speaker, author and cheese guru. Check it out:
Single class: $65
Monday, March 7: SOLD OUT Mambo Italiano
Monday, April 4: SOLD OUT The Hills Are Alive! Alpine Cheeses from France and Switzerland
Monday, May 2: Best of the British Isles
Monday, June 6: SOLD OUT Locavore Night: Notable Newbies from Northern California
Monday, July 11: SOLD OUT Bubblemania
Monday, August 8: Artisan Cheese & Craft Beer: Seven Slam-Dunk Pairings
Monday, September 12: Blue-Ribbon Winners from the American Cheese Society
Monday, October 3: Cabernet Country: Great Cheeses for the King of Reds
All 8 Classes: SOLD OUT Grand Tour