Wine and cheese make endlessly happy pairings
It’s difficult to imagine anyone more suited for their profession than James Morrison. That is, if “suited” means they get noticeably giddy when discussing their work, with an enthusiasm that draws in others.
Morrison knows an awful lot about wine – but in an approachable way. One gets the impression that, although Morrison’s job is to teach others about wine and to sell it, that he feels a little bad for people who insist on spending $300 for a bottle when they could drink something fabulous for a fraction of that.
Morrison’s message is simple: Wine is fun. Being a wine snob is not.
On a sunny morning in May, Morrison happily discussed wine and cheese pairings, with two recurring themes:
1) Everything is subjective.
2) Have a delicious time.
We met in Westerly at The Wine Store, where Morrison worked for about seven years before moving on to a wine manager position in Milford. He currently works at Friendly’s Discount Liquors in Whitinsville, Mass, which is part of the Macy’s Liquors family.
When conducting tastings, Morrison said he typically proceeds from soft and creamy cheeses to the harder, aged varieties. Similar to wine, the region a cheese hails from is important not only to a good narrative, but in discerning its flavor as well. It’s also important to note whether it’s cow’s, goat’s, or sheep’s milk.
“The origin and the animal are very important because they directly affect the cheese flavor,” Morrison said.
Cow’s milk from the high altitudes of the Swiss Alps has a sweet, nutty flavor unique to the region, for example, making high Alpine cow’s milk a source of pride.
If you’re looking for a theme for an upcoming get-together, Morrison suggests pairing the wine and cheese by geography.
“One of my favorite things to do with cheese and wine, (is) I like to pair where the cheese came from to the origin of the wine,” he said.
So if he has a French cheese from a certain area, Morrison said, he’ll find a wine from the same region.
Morrison unwrapped a Bucheron, a triple cream goat’s milk cheese native to the Loire Valley in France, which he said pairs best with a sparkling wine from Burgundy.
“This little Bucheron cheese dances with that wine,” he said.
While making the cheese, he said, they add cream throughout the process until it reaches nearly a butter consistency. A delicate wine allows for the cheese to dominate the flavor.
Perhaps most interesting, Morrison described how the high acidity and the bubbles in the wine – which he playfully describes as “scrubbing bubbles” – break through the cream.
“It just mixes together with the creaminess of the cheese and causes this very pleasing … gastro-oral event,” he said, and then laughed. “There’s probably a better way to phrase that.”
If you wanted to be truly decadent, he said, you could add a drizzle of natural honey or aged balsamic vinegar.
A brute, with its lower sugar content, would also work well, Morrison said. And any lighter wine with micro nuances featuring citrus or apple-type of flavor.
Semi-soft or soft cheese
This group includes Havarti, some soft cheddars, and some soft provolones. Morrison recommended Sauvignon blanc, non-Napa Valley chardonnays like French Burgundy or white Burgundy, some Italian chardonnays, and vermentinos or vernaccias.
“They have a crisp kind of acidity to them and cut through soft cheese,” he said. “It increases the melding in the mouth.”
Some of Morrison’s recommendations include:
● Kerner, which is a hybrid of trollinger and riesling. Morrison loves that the wine is named after poet Justinius Kerner, who penned many an ode to wine, and that this particular producer, Abbazia di Novacella, is a working monastery located in the Valle Isarco of Alto Adige, Italy. Morrison said the wine smells like a riesling but then surprises in that it has a dry taste, a soft apple-y flavor mixed with grassy, herbal notes."
● Pallageto Vernaccia di San Gimignano
● Christian Moreau Pere & Fils Chablis, which Morrison described as “the overlooked burgundy”
● A Viognier wine from the Rhone Valley in France
● Feudi di San Gregorio Falanghina
This group includes un-aged cheddars, comte, Trugole – all cow’s milk cheeses. They pair well with heartier wines and you’ll start to move into the reds here, including pinot noir or cru beaujolais. A “heartier white” is also good, Morrison said, including Napa Valley chardonnays as well as chardonnays from other areas of the world.
● Cru Beaujolais: A medium to light red, these are typically better when they’re younger, Morrison said, adding that he’d be drinking a 2015 or 2016 right now. Although they do age well, Morrison said you get more of an expression of the gamay grape when they’re younger.
● Pinot Noir, or red Burgundy: Of these, River’s Edge is “the best Oregon wine I’ve ever tasted,” Morrison said.
● Dolcetto d’Alba, a wine from Piedmont, Italy that’s similar to a Pinot Noir. Morrison suggested a Piazzo Dolcetto D’Alba.
Harder cheeses – usually those aged for 5 to 10 years, like farmhouse cheddars – call for bigger wines like full-bodied reds.
Morrison said the cheese almost have a tartness to them, along with a nuttiness, which is what the big wines bring as well. The dark notes in the wine bring out the big notes of the cheese, he said.
Red zinfandels from California and Primitivo from Italy are good choices, Morrison said. What makes a zinfandel great, he said, are old vines; the vines produce less than half the grapes, but they are big and juicy with a lot of depth.
From zinfandels, you could move on to Australian or Californian syrahs (shiraz). And then it’s on to the “black in the glass” reds like pinot noirs, Bordeaux, California cabernets and some merlots.
Suggestions here include:
● Ridge Vineyards Morrison recommends single vintage Zinfandels from this California winery
● Fess Parker Syrah Morrison said this red is “big, but not that big”
● Michael David Best known for his 7 Deadly Zins, Michael David also produces a wine called Petite Petit, which is a blend of Petit Verdot and Petit Syrah. Morrison said it’s big in the glass, with 16 percent alcohol. “It’s a monster,” he said. “It’s a fabulous production that goes great with hard cheeses.” The taste includes a toastiness with black cassis, black cherry, black raspberry, and dark red fruit notes; also, woodsy flavors with mocha and coffee.
● Argentiera Poggio ai Ginepri A blend of cabernet sauvignon, syrah, and merlot whose name means “Hills of Juniper”, this wine is produced in Tuscany.
● Brunello di Montalcino “There’s nothing better than a Brunello di Montalcino with a parmigiano-reggiano. I mean, fabulous stuff,” Morrison said.
● Lambrusco As an alternative to the Brunello di Montalcino, Morrison recommends a classic Lambrusco (not Riunite) with a parmigiano-reggiano cheese
● Bordeaux Morrison said 2009 and 2010 were back-to-back fabulous years. A Chateau Rollan de By goes great with a 7-to-10 year aged cheese, he said. The Chateau Rollan de By Cru Bourgeois is one that can be had in the $20-something range; it comes from the Medoc region.
Of course, we can’t forget about a good dessert wine and cheese combination. While ports and Stilton are a classic pairing, Morrison had a few other suggestions in this category as well – including the ever-decadent fondue.
He recommended Sauternes with a cheese fondue. The intensely sweet French wine – from the Sauternais region, naturally – is essentially a sauvignon blanc and semillon, and very hard to make (and thus, pricier). If you can’t find it or want a less pricey alternative, Morrison said a Loupiac is similar.
Morrison said a fondue and fruit or fondue and chocolate pairing with this wine is wonderful.
One of his all-time favorites, Morrison said, is to sprinkle roasted walnuts on top of a warm brie drizzled with local honey.
Paired with a Vin Santo, the flavors are unbelievable, he said.
He suggested an Antinori Vin Santo. Put in chestnut barrels and aged for 10 or 15 years, then emerges a dark, tea-like color. It has a toasty apple flavor and is just sweet enough to be recognized as a dessert wine while still containing enough acidity to through the cheese.
FOR THE FOODIES
There is really is no reason to wait for a special occasion to experiment with new flavors. For one-stop shopping, check out Please Say Cheese, an international cheese shop located on site at Waterford Wine & Spirits. Grand Wine and Spirits has five locations in southeastern Connecticut, including the Waterford store. And while cheese and chocolate are divine, it’s good to have a reliable resource of wine and food pairings at your fingertips when planning dinner or special gatherings. Grand Wine and Spirits’ expansive website hosts a simple but informative, user-friendly guide to food and wine pairings – including vegetarian pairings and game pairings – even fried chicken!
● Steak: “It is important to think about the cut of steak you’ll be having for dinner. Leaner cuts such as eye of round, sirloin or round roasts will work best with light to medium-bodied red wines. If you are having a fattier cut, such as filet mignon, porterhouse or ribeye, you will want a bold red with high tannins.”
● Burgers: “If you make the patty the star of your burger and have minimal toppings, a red meat-friendly wine like a cabernet sauvignon works well. If you are making a big, bold burger, try a Malbec. It has a more robust flavor to stand up to all your toppings! Want a white wine with your burger? Try a chardonnay. It will work well with most toppings and the acidity helps cut through the fattiness of the meat and cheese.”
● Steamed Clams: “Light, briny shellfish go best with delicate, light white wines. Bubbly wines are always a safe bet when you aren’t sure what to pair with seafood.”
● Tofu: “Soft tofu dishes are generally very subtle in flavor working best with a light-bodied, clean white wines. With firm or dry tofu dishes, you want acidic wines to accentuate the texture of the tofu.”
● White Sauce (pasta): “Cream sauces can be paired with lots of different options. Like with other meals, keep in mind what kind of sauce. Is it peppery? Try a Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz. Is it cheesy? Try a medium-bodied red like a pinot noir. Is it a yoghurt sauce? Try a rose.”
For lots more details and great ideas, visit grandwineandspirits.com/food-pairing/