Bob's Cheese and Wine Blog

My world of cheese and wine

Archive for September, 2009

Miami Wine Fair, Day One

Posted by fromagebob on September 26, 2009


The Miami Wine Fair Tasting Floor

The Miami Wine Fair opened today, and as anticipated, has improved greatly over previous years. The tasting floor held a plethora of vendors, offering over 1,500 wines to taste, along with quite a variety of other exhibitors, including several charitable organizations, Yelp!, and a few local food spots.

As always, the seminars were my favorite. The day started with “Grandes Pagos de España” which translates to “The Great Estates of Spain”, a group of 21 estate growers who are focused on producing superior quality wine. Their group is very similar to the cru structure in other countries. We tried 9 wines in 3 flights, and all of them were quite good. My favorite was Escena 2004, from Manuel Manzaneque winery. The blend is 90% Tempranillo, 5% Syrah, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. The initial nose was spicy cinnamon candy, with smoky, dark cherry, cigar box and licorice notes. The taste was very nice: chocolate covered cherries, blueberry, with a slight vegetal undertone. It was a bit tannic, but smoothed out on the finish. I can see this aging quite nicely, and going very well with roasted lamb, or some braised short ribs.

The second seminar was titled “Wine Tour de France” and explored a number of France’s wine regions. In this session, we tasted 7 wines, including a Rosé Champagne that was quite tasty – my initial impression of the nose was a rich strawberry soup, with sweet cherries, vanilla and light fruits on the palate. The other wines covered a broad range of appellations, including a Chablis, an Alsace Riesling, a Chinon that was quite nice, an excellent Beaujolais Villages from Louis Tête – really nice, followed by a nice Bordeaux. We finished with a Sauterne from Château d’Arche that had to be one of the sexist wines I have ever put my nose to. The aroma in that glass was superb, and I could not stop inhaling. In most cases, the olfactory system shuts down after a few sniffs, but for this wine, there was something that kept coming. Yum.

The third session was Ribera del Duero, which is probably my favorite wine region of Spain, and which produces some of my favorite wines. This was a massive tasting of 16 wines, all Tempranillos, with a very wine expression of the grape – I was quite surprised in several cases, and found some very nice wines.

The last session of the day was wines from Castilla-La Mancha, another of my personal favorites, and given by Charlie Arturaola, one of my favorite instructors. Charlie took us through 10 wines from the region, including 4 whites and 6 reds. It was an interesting journey; we tried a couple of grapes indigenous to the area that I had not tasted, including a Airén that was very interesting, and a Macabeo-Sauvignon Blanc blend that was quite nice. The reds, as expected, were delicious.

On the tasting floor, I tried quite a few wines of which the most memorable were those from:

Esporão, a Portuguese producer, whose winemaker I met last year. He’s an Australian fellow who went to Portugal some years ago to make great wines (and boy, has he succeeded!). They make a very nice Reserva White, a Reserva Red, and a great Verdelho, but the magnificent example of what they do is in their Private Selection 2005. This wine just blew me away. It’s made from a blend of Alicante Bouschet and Syrah, and has such a rich, deep nose and velvety, soft, complex taste, that I was sorely tempted to grab a bottle and run. They are at booth P-14, if you attend tomorrow! That wine alone is worth the trip.

I also tried wines from Peter Figge; I had tasted these about 2 weeks ago with a wine tasting panel I belong to. Peter is from California, runs a solo operation, but makes some very nice wines, including a great Chardonnay, and several nice Pinots. I’ll be writing about those in more detail in the near future.

The other wines that really impressed me were from a Argentine producer called Oyikil (pronounced O-gee-Kill). The winemaker was there; her work is superb, and included several Malbecs and a very nice Cab. We’re going to be trying those on October 7th at our tasting panel, so I will write about those wines as well.

I’ll post an update tomorrow about my day at the fair, and I’ll be sharing more of the wines I tried with more in-depth commentary over the next few weeks.

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8th Annual Miami Wine Fair

Posted by fromagebob on September 20, 2009

MWFLogoThe Miami Wine Fair returns for its eight year this coming weekend, September 26th & 27th. This year, exhibitors will be presenting more than 1,500 wines, along with two days of excellent seminars, geared towards novice, enthusiast, and expert alike. Another feature of this year’s fair will be its support to Educate Tomorrow, a non-profit organization that supports youth who are aging out of the foster care system.

This will be my fourth year attending. In years past, I’ve had the opportunity to try some great wines, and learn quite a bit from the fair’s seminar series – which I think is one of its best features. This year, the show will feature 10 seminars over its two days. Each seminar focuses on a specific topic, and includes ample tastings for attendees. A full schedule is available on the Fair’s website, but I wanted to highlight several sessions that I attended last year, and truly enjoyed. Two of the sessions are on Saturday’s schedule, and both focus on the wines of Spain. One session features the wines of the Ribera del Duero, which is one of my favorite wine regions. The second features the wines of Castilla – La Mancha; I was not as familiar with these wines until last year, but found them to be delicious – they’ve also become some of my preferred wines.

On Sunday, a session featuring the wines of Portugal promises to be fantastic; last year, the fair featured the wines of a particular winery; this year, they are casting a wider net, and focusing on a specific grape. This should be an excellent session. Finally, Sushi Samba Dromo, one of Miami Beach’s best Sushi restaurants, is back again for a wonderful Sake Paring. Sake sommelier Midori Roth will present 5 special sake’s paired with some of SushiSamba Dromo’s signature bites.

This year, the fair is also adding two new features involving cheese. First, Cabot Creamery of Vermont is going to be furnishing cheese to the fair for the seminars. Currently, the planned cheeses are their Sharp Cheddar, their Seriously Sharp Cheddar, and their Pepper Jack (one of my favorite nibbling cheeses!). The fair is working on the pairings, and if I learn anything further, you’ll read about it here. Second, Anco Foods, importers and wholesalers of gourmet foods will be hosting a booth featuring a selection of their cheeses, paired with wines from the fair. Two of their productsthat I am hoping will be present, are Quenby Hall Stilton, a delicious cheese from the UK, and St. Andre – a triple-crème brie style cheese that is quite tasty and pairs well with a variety of wines.

One of the reasons that I enjoy this particular fair is that the venue – the Miami Beach Convention Center – lends itself to a more relaxed environment in which all attendees, from novices to experts, can focus on tasting the wines. I find that quite often, novice wine drinkers are intimidated by tastings that are held at wine shops. In one of my recent classes, I dubbed the condition “Wineaux Fauxbia”, a term I coined to describe the fear of things associated with wine. I’ll post something on that in the near future, but for those of you reading this, consider the $75 price of admission to the tasting floor gives you a pretty wide open field to try numerous wines that you’ll not easily find anywhere else. The floor of the convention center is not crowded, so even if a few tables have people in front, there will be others that are wide open to try. And, the people manning the booths are quite friendly, and open to discussing their products should you wish.

Please also be sure to visit the International Wines booth, and talk with my friend Henry Barrow – he’ll be the celebrity pourer for Figge Cellars, a set of great wines from an up-and-coming wine maker in California.

Hope to see you all there!

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Pondering Pairings

Posted by fromagebob on September 4, 2009

I think that what I enjoy more than wine or cheese (or food) is the idea of paring things up to see what works, especially when one of the two components is wine. When I was preparing for the classes, I had to create material that talked about pairings, what they were, and how to make them work. During the various classes, I got to see my ideas through the student’s eyes, and found it very interesting. I like to teach, because it forces me to explore more deeply the subject I am going to present, and understand it better.

A pairing is bringing together two components – in this case, wine and something else but it does not have to be wine – in such as way that one of three things occurs:

  • The two components come together and create something brand new (A Great pairing or a horrible one)
  • The two components come together; one affects the other, getting lost in the process (A good or a poor paring)
  • The two components coming together neither helping nor hurting each other. (A neutral paring)

I use the same 5-point scale that I adapted from two places: a class I took with Max McCalman at Artisanal Cheese in NY, and (believe it or not) a way we used to evaluate software systems when I had my IT business years ago.

You can probably think of a lot of good parings – asparagus and hollandaise sauce, peanut butter and jelly, mozzarella and tomatoes, lamb and mint, and so on. Each of them combines in your mouth to create a taste sensation that is pleasant, sometimes stupendous (and sometimes not…). The idea is to work with components that complement each other in a positive way. What makes it complicated is when you start bringing multiple flavors into the mix.

A Great Paring

To me, a great paring is when two components come together in your mouth, and create a new, delicious, flavor. Something that does not exist outside of the confines of your taste buds. Something that really lights you up. On my scale, this is a +2 (it’s a -2 when they come together and create something horrible). It’s a hard thing to do, because often, the +2 exists for you, but not for someone else. You may achieve it with one vintage of wine, or one producer’s cheese, but not with a different mix. And, when you’re planning a meal, it’s almost impossible to achieve.

A Good Paring

This is where the two components come together in your mouth, and one component improves or elevates the other, but is itself lost in the process. For example, a good Sauvignon Blanc pairs wonderfully with most goat cheeses. The flavor of the cheese intensifies and becomes quite delicious, but the wine is often neutralized. It’s not a bad thing, because the overall affect was positive and yummy. But it doesn’t rank as a great paring because you still had the wine and cheese, but the wine vanished. Another one is lamb and Pinot Noir. The pinot works with the lamb and makes it much more flavorful, but the lamb is often too much for the Pinot, and shuts it down. There’s no unpleasantness, just a weakening of the wine.

A Neutral Paring

The components neither help nor hurt each other. They retain their basic identities – the wine is still the wine, the cheese the cheese. There’s some interaction, but neither has an impact on the other. This is not necessarily a bad thing – in fact, it’s often a worthy goal if you have complex dishes, or if you are in a restaurant and everyone orders something different. That’s actually a good example: Suppose you are at dinner with a friend. You order a broiled flounder; your friend orders roast lamb. What wine do you choose? For the Flounder, a Chardonnay or a Riesling is probably a good choice, but for the lamb? It would kill the wine. On the other hand, a wine for the lamb – a cab or a zin, would kill the fish. About the only option here is a Pinot Noir; it will be too much for the fish, but not overwhelmingly so, and not enough for the lamb, but not overly weak. The result is a pleasant meal with a tasty wine that works, but doesn’t impress.

You might object to that, but the alternative is to have one person consume a meal that is overcome by the wine, which isn’t much fun for at least half the party.

I find that with parties, both casual and dinner, it’s best to divide the courses up into Arrival, Meal, and Dessert, and pick wines for each. You have better control over what each guest will enjoy, and you can better plan the menu around several nice wines. The worst that can happen is you end up with a couple of open bottles of wine – call me! I’ll come over and help you drink them!

Relax! Have some Cheese! It’s good for you!

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Frontier Red California Red Wine

Posted by fromagebob on September 4, 2009

I picked this up at Sunset Corners a couple of weeks ago. A customer was asking one of the guys in the store for an inexpensive red wine, and this is what he recommended. Sounded interesting, and the price seemed right, so I got a bottle, too. I think it was around $12.00. Can’t beat that for a casual red wine! It’s a blend of Syrah, Grenache, Petite Sirah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault and Carignane. Bottle doesn’t have the percentages on it, but you can really taste the notes of the Grenache and Petite Sirah.

It’s got a nice nose. Cherries, some tobacco and leather, a little spice, touch of alcohol. The taste is a little thin, but there’s cherries, pepper, vanilla and oak. The finish isn’t bad – medium, but the flavor stays. Doesn’t get candy-ish. If anything, it gets a little spicy, then drifts away. I like it, will definitely keep a couple bottles around.

This is bottled by the Fess Parker Winery in Santa Maria, CA.

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Now, THAT’S Italian Cheese Pairing

Posted by fromagebob on September 2, 2009

Here’s the pairing score sheet we used in the class, with my scores. The idea was to pair each wine with each cheese, and decide how the paring went. I’ll describe my method in the next post. Basically, we tried the wines alone, then the cheeses, then paired them. The wines were scored on their own on the same scale, as were the cheeses. What we were looking for was if the paring improved or hurt one component or the other. My scores for each pairing are highlighted in yellow. For the +1/-1 parings, the component that was helped or hurt is in green.

Gavi Paired With Burrata

-2

-1

0

+1

+2

Gavi Paired With Asiago Presato

-2

-1

0

+1

+2

Gavi Paired With Robiola Bosina

-2

-1

0

+1

+2

Gavi Paired With Montegrappa

-2

-1

0

+1

+2

Gavi Paired With Ubriaco Franglino

-2

-1

0

+1

+2

Gavi Paired With Piave

-2

-1

0

+1

+2

Gavi Paired With Marzolino Pecorino

-2

-1

0

+1

+2

Gavi Paired With Tallegio

-2

-1

0

+1

+2

Gavi Paired With Caciocavalla Silano

-2

-1

0

+1

+2

Gavi Paired With Castelmagno

-2

-1

0

+1

+2

Oriveto Paired With Burrata

-2

-1

0

+1

+2

Oriveto Paired With Asiago Presato

-2

-1

0

+1

+2

Oriveto Paired With Robiola Bosina

-2

-1

0

+1

+2

Oriveto Paired With Montegrappa

-2

-1

0

+1

+2

Oriveto Paired With Ubriaco Franglino

-2

-1

0

+1

+2

Oriveto Paired With Piave

-2

-1

0

+1

+2

Oriveto Paired With Marzolino Pecorino

-2

-1

0

+1

+2

Oriveto Paired With Tallegio

-2

-1

0

+1

+2

Oriveto Paired With Caciocavalla Silano

-2

-1

0

+1

+2

Oriveto Paired With Castelmagno

-2

-1

0

+1

+2

Il Baciale Paired With Burrata

-2

-1

0

+1

+2

Il Baciale Paired With Asiago Presato

-2

-1

0

+1

+2

Il Baciale Paired With Robiola Bosina

-2

-1

0

+1

+2

Il Baciale Paired With Montegrappa

-2

-1

0

+1

+2

Il Baciale Paired With Ubriaco Franglino

-2

-1

0

+1

+2

Il Baciale Paired With Piave

-2

-1

0

+1

+2

Il Baciale Paired With Marzolino Pecorino

-2

-1

0

+1

+2

Il Baciale Paired With Tallegio

-2

-1

0

+1

+2

Il Baciale Paired With Caciocavalla Silano

-2

-1

0

+1

+2

Il Baciale Paired With Castelmagno

-2

-1

0

+1

+2

Ripasso Paired With Burrata

-2

-1

0

+1

+2

Ripasso Paired With Asiago Presato

-2

-1

0

+1

+2

Ripasso Paired With Robiola Bosina

-2

-1

0

+1

+2

Ripasso Paired With Montegrappa

-2

-1

0

+1

+2

Ripasso Paired With Ubriaco Franglino

-2

-1

0

+1

+2

Ripasso Paired With Piave

-2

-1

0

+1

+2

Ripasso Paired With Marzolino Pecorino

-2

-1

0

+1

+2

Ripasso Paired With Tallegio

-2

-1

0

+1

+2

Ripasso Paired With Caciocavalla Silano

-2

-1

0

+1

+2

Ripasso Paired With Castelmagno

-2

-1

0

+1

+2

Posted in Italian Cheese, Wine & Cheese Paring | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Cheese Class – Now THAT’S Italian!

Posted by fromagebob on September 1, 2009

Our last class (for the time being) went quite well this past Thursday. Students were enthusiastic about the wines and the cheeses, and a good time was had by all! Our four Italian wines were: a 2008 Villa Rosa Gavi di Gavi, a 2008 Campogrande Orvietto from Antinori, 2005 Il Baciale Red Blend, and a 2006 Cesari Mara Ripasso. The cheeses were a very fresh Burrata, Asiago Presato, Robiona Bosina, Montegrappa, Ubriaco Frangilino, a Piave, a Marzolino Chianti Pecorino, A taleggio, A caciocavalla Silano, and a Castlemagno. Here’s how it went:

The Wines

One thing I was hoping for on the wines was that few of the students had tried them, and I was right – I think that all but two people had tried any of the wines; most had not, so it was an interesting experience to discuss everyone’s experience with them.

The Gavi di Gavi (which I keep calling Gavi de Gavi, being a true Miamian…) was rather nice and fresh. It had citrus, honey, lychee, and some lemon peel on the nose, with red apples, honey, and floral notes in the taste. The finish was medium, going from sweet to slightly bitter, but not unpleasantly so. The students found the wine to be refreshing, crisp, and replete with other notes that mostly ran to light fruits and floral. Everyone scored the wine in the positive (I gave it a +1).

The Orivieto was also a fresh wine that was quite a nice quaff. This tended towards citrus notes on the nose, but the taste had some spice and vanilla. Most in the class found it tart (which it was), and a few thought green apples were the predominant flavor. This wine also scored well.

The Il Bacaile is a blend from Braida, with 60% Barbarea, 20% Pinot Noir, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Merlot. It has a rich mouthfeel and a very nice nose that I found to have dark cherries, along with some earthy, leathery, cigar-box notes. The taste ran to spicy, dark cherries, with some chocolate, licorice, pepper, a slight vegetal flavor, and a strange (though not unpleasant) rubber note. The finish was medium and pleasant. This wine also scored in the positive.

The Ripasso was quite delicious, with currants, cherries, licorice, and earthy notes on the nose, and cherries, pepper, raisins, and a very slight candy-ish taste. Most scored this the highest, at +2.

The general feeling in the class was that although all the wines were tasty, they were somewhat harsh – the reds tannic, the whites a little bitter, but it was rightly pointed out by our resident wine guru that Italian wines tend to be food wines moreso than many other wines – especially US wines that often substitute for cocktails. The pairings underscored that premise!

The Cheeses

As with the wines, very few people had tried any of the cheeses, other than the burrata; the comments before we started were of the delicious taste with fresh tomatoes. I do not remember the restaurant, but I believe that they made their own.

Burrata: Moans of pleasure were the first indication that people really liked this cheese. I held a bag out to show the class how it shipped, and cut it up into small cups so that the creamy goodness didn’t go away. The aroma was of fresh milk, cream, and hay, and the taste almost the same, with a little floral hint. It was very nice! Scores for this were mostly +2.

Asiago Presato: This is a fresh Asiago, imported by Mitica. I could not find out who the producer was, but I suspect it was factory because of the general feel of the cheese. It was very mild with no eyes, and a slight rubbery texture. It had some grassy notes, and one student thought it smelled faintly of lint. The taste was creamy, fresh milk and straw, and I swear there was a very faint hint of fennel floating around in there. I have had fresh Asiago that was more rustic with a slightly stronger, more pasture-y flavor, but this was not an unpleasant cheese. It would certainly be a good replacement for the cube pile you find at most parties! Aging time is about 3 months. Scores for the Asiago were almost all positive.

Robiola Bosina: This is a double crème from the Langhe region. It was well received. The producer of this was Caseificio dell’Alta Langa, which is the label I find on most examples of this particular cheese around town. The nose was buttery, grassy, and hay. The taste buttery, mushroom soup, with some earthy notes. It was quite tasty. Aging time is about 2 weeks. Scores for this were mostly positive. I think one person scored it zero.

Montegrappa: This is a semi-hard cheese from the Veneto region of Italy. It’s aged for 8 months, and has a texture similar to cheddar. The nose was fruity and earthy, and the flavor nutty, with citrus and lemon peel notes. This was a very tasty cheese. What was interesting is that when you first bit it, the flavor was very mild, but as it reacted to the saliva, it blossomed, becoming more tangy and flavorful in your mouth. Most scored this positive.

Ubriaco Fragolino: This is a hard Cow’s milk cheese aged for about 8 months in sweet Fragolino wine (made from the Fragola grape). It has a very pineapple aroma and flavor, with some woody notes on both the nose and in the taste. I also got mangos and apples in the taste; others were more general towards fruit flavors.

Piave: This is a hard cooked-curd cheese from Veneto, with earthy notes in the nose, along with hay and a little barnyard. The taste was nutty and meaty, with some woody notes. This would also be a nice grating cheese. I am not sure how long this particular version was aged for. It seemed a little soft for a 12-month version, but it was quite tasty.

Marzolio Chianti: This is a semi-hard pecorino

Taleggio: This seemed to be more of a factory Taleggio, by Ca de Ambros; I’ve had more rustic versions with a richer flavor, but this was not bad. The nose was funky and earthy, with a hint of talcum powder. The flavor was salty milk, orange peels; one student correctly picked up cooked egg white (I had tasted something with a little sulfur in it).

Caciocavalla Silano: This is a semi-hard pasta filata cheese from the Calabria region of Italy. I am pretty sure that this is an industrial version of the cheese, as it didn’t have a lot of character. It was tasty, but kind of boring. The nose was earthy, woody, with some citrus notes. The taste was salty-sweet with a hint of oak, and a very citrusy taste in the corners of my mouth – like sucking on an orange – the flavor that you get on at the corners. It was a little strange. Pleasant, but strange. The cheese was very flaky and a little dry.

Castelmagno: What can I say. Most of the class hated this cheese, but one fellow collected every single leftover piece to take with him. Go figure. The chunk we had was over the hill; ammoniated just a bit, and quite a variation in taste depending on where the cut was. I had the outer cut from the piece I bought, which may have been why I rated it -1 on its own, and with every paring. The Castelmagno lover gave it a couple of +2’s in the parings. The aroma for me was pencil lead, and the taste was very funky, woody and earthy. Wet hay, grassy, mushrooms on the taste. There was some blue in the cheese, not everyone got some, but those that did weren’t very fond of it. I suspect that a fresher version of this cheese would be quite good.

Parings in the next post!

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