By Denise Creek Garcia and Teri Tith Concannon
Holiday in the Vineyard 2013 was well attended judging from the crowd at McGrail Vineyards, just one of more than 30 participating wineries in the Livermore Valley on Dec. 7 and 8. Seven hundred wine lovers came through the tasting room on the first day alone. Cheese Therapy was at McGrail pairing five artisanal cheeses with vintages by winemaker Mark Clarin, which include both the McGrail and Picazo labels. Heck, even Santa Clause was there.
An attractive cheese board makes for easy entertaining. The cheesemakers have done all the work for you. Pairing wine with cheese is a more challenging task, so try to buy your cheese from a counter with a cheesemonger. An informed monger will steer you in the right direction and give you samples. In the end, let your palate and your pocketbook be your guide. The goal is “affordable and approachable,” just like the wines from the Livermore Valley.
Here are the five wine and cheese pairings we served at McGrail Vineyards.
The Wine: 2011 McGrail Family Chardonnay – buttery and balanced, barrel aged.
The cheese: Baserri (raw sheep milk, aged 2-3 months) Barinaga Ranch, Tomales, Calif.
The what and why: This is Tomme-style, semi hard cheese. The flavors are well developed and still tender. Given the delicate nature of the McGrail Chard, we put it with a pasture-style sheep milk cheese to match the amount of oak present in the wine. This wine and cheese pairing complemented each other but did not over power.
“The best pairings happen when you cannot tell where the wine starts and the cheese stops. It leaves this beautiful tapestry in your mouth.” – Denise Creek Garcia, Cheese Therapist
Marsha Barinaga’s sheep live on an organically managed 100-acre spread on the eastern shore of Tomales Bay. You can visit the farm and experience her passion for the animals where the amazing cheese comes from. She believes that happy animals make the best cheese.
Baserri won “Best in Show” at the 2012 California State Fair Cheese Competition.
The wine: 2010 McGrail Vineyards Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon – intense aromas and well-developed tannins.
The cheese: Classic English cheddar with black truffle (pasteurized cow milk/specialty blend), and/or an eight-month aged Comté (cow milk / unpasteurized, semi-hard, aged eight to 12 months) from France.
The what and the why: The Cabs are one of the most difficult wines to pair with cheese because they have those big oaky and tannic nuances. It is hard to find a cheese that creates a harmony with the wine in your mouth.
Cheddars are made from cow’s milk and they are creamier and softer than the sharper and stronger aged pecorinos made from sheep’s milk cheese. Pecorinos with truffle are easy to find, but can distract from the wine. A blue cheese also may be too pungent and overpower the more subtle notes in a Cab. We were delighted to find the black truffle cheddar blend by Ford Farm in England. They won recognition as a Reserve Supreme Champion cheesemaker at the 2012 International Cheese Awards.
The Comté we selected was precisely eight months old. A Comté can be sold anywhere from three to 18 months old, and right at about 12 months, depending on the cheesemaker, it can really change a lot. We wanted a “teenage” Comté. It had a smooth and nutty quality that complemented the cab.
“Cow milk cheeses tend to go best with the Cabs, which can narrow down an intimidating cheese counter. Comté and cheddars are great with Cabernet – and they both start with a “C” so it’s easy to remember!” Teri Tith Concannon, Cheese Therapist
The wine: 2008 Picazo Proprietary Red – A well-balanced blend of Merlot with a touch of Cab.
The cheese: Seascape (pasteurized cow and goat milk), Central Coast Creamery, Paso Robles, Calif.
The what and the why: Seascape is a true wine cheese, as proven through many hours of research, and across many palates. Cheesemaker Reggie Jones won Best in Class for Seascape at the World Cheese Contest, surpassing more than 2,300 other entries. It is an affordable and interesting blend. The cow chases the goat and the Merlot chases the Cab, which makes for a wonderful romp in your mouth.
The wine: 2012 McGrail Vineyards Kylie Ryan Rosé – light, refreshing and dry, made from estate Cabernet.
The cheese: Quadrello di Bufala (pasteurized water buffalo milk, semi-soft washed rind), a stinky, sticky washed rind cheese that tastes creamy and sweet, Caseficio Quattro Portoni, Lombardi, Italy.
The what and the why: We needed a cheese that was as unique as the McGrail Rosé, which pointed us toward the water buffalo. The milk from this big animal with the pony-tail style horns is one of the most floral and delicate on the planet. Poetry was achieved by pairing this floral, creamy cheese with a floral-namesake wine. We got a lot of the “wide-eyed yummy” looks when we saw people taste this water buffalo cheese for the first time.
For more information on McGrail Vineyards and the wines listed here, visit mcgrailvineyards.com.
Teri Tith Concannon and Denise Creek Garcia are co-founders and proprietors of an emerging cheese business, Cheese Therapy, in the San Francisco East Bay, based in the Livermore Valley. Look for their Artisan Cheese box at the Bankhead Theater in Livermore and check out their facebook page (www.facebook.com/cheesetherapy) to mark their progress.