The year was 1999 and I was attending culinary school at Johnson & Wales in Charleston, SC. I was working part-time waiting tables at a historic restaurant to make quick cash. One night as I was standing in the “Bubble Room”, I noticed a bottle of sparkling wine from a producer named Gruet. I had never heard of them before. I picked up the bottle, turned it over to read the backside, and lo and behold it was produced in New Mexico. I scoffed..”New Mexico? Seriously? What in the world is a winemaker in New Mexico doing producing sparkling wine?” Ah, naivety. I went to the liquor store and purchased a bottle. Guess what I discovered. Quite simply, that Gruet was producing world-class sparkling wine. I have been a fan of their sparkling wines ever since.
Fast forward 17 years, my dear friend and fellow Sommelier Heather Ezell had made a trip to New Mexico to visit one of her favorite wineries, Gruet. She texted me and asked if I would like some wine, which I promptly answered, “Hell Yes!” I thought she was bringing me some sparkling, but instead, she hands me this delicious find, Gruet Cabernet Sauvignon.
One night as I was cooking dinner, Grilled Greek Seasoned Lamb finished with a rosemary and thyme infused olive oil, I decided to open a bottle of the Gruet Cabernet. I could not have choreographed a better pairing. It was ridiculously good. The Cab starts with dark cherries and baking spices and beautiful purple flowers on the nose, the flavors are accentuated by more savory herbs on the palate with rosemary, vanilla, caramel and cedar notes on the finish. All of these nuances are wrapped in velvet-like tannins…so smooth….As I sat and pondered this wine, I couldn’t help but think of the aromas that abound in New Mexico. This of course make me think of the terroir that would be associated with the vineyards. I think this wine really speaks New Mexico. Earthy, spicy, ripe fruits wrapped in a woodsy wrapper, and delivered beautifully. Rustic and charming.
I’ll be making a purchase of many of these bottles for my enjoyment, I recommend you do the same.
Cheese. Wine. The ultimate party starters, right? Well, yes they can be, but they can also be disastrous. There is a knack for pairing cheese with wine, but it can be made simple by following a few suggestions. Here are a few items to help you, courtesy of Oklahoma’s own “Cheese Wench,” Amanda Jane Simcoe:
- Terroir – a fancy French word that basically means “sense of place”. Where is the cheese from? Find a wine from the same region. Their flavors will complement each other. Europeans have been making cheese and wine for centuries, they know a little bit about making flavors work together. Classic examples of this are French Chevre and a Loire Valley Vouvray, which is Chenin Blanc.
- Body/Texture – is the cheese really creamy? A Triple Cream Brie? Camembert? Epoisses? Simcoe says look to the “scrubbing bubbles”. Champagne and sparkling wines should be your choice, let the acidity and bubbles refresh your palate between bites of cheese like this.
- Big Bold Blue – Blues can range from mild all the way to slaps in the face sweat sock stinky and sharp. It’s mold, after all, that makes the blue veins in cheese. Personally the stinkier the blue, the more I like it. I love the sharpness, and the contrast between the creaminess and the funk. Try a nice Port with cheeses like this, the sweetness of the Port, the elevated alcohol in them and the mouth feel all make Port our favorite choice with the sharpness of blue cheese.
- Proper serving temperatures and storage – One of Simcoe’s biggest pet peeves is serving cheese at the wrong temperature. Cheese should be served at room temperature to let the cheese bloom. When the cheese warms, the fats loosen up and the cheese becomes more permeable. When serving cheese at parties, cut the cheese cold and only put out the amounts of cheese you think you will be using. Wrap the rest of the cheese and place back in the fridge. Once the fats have surfaced on the cheese, which part of the blooming process, they will not go back into the cheese. This makes for the dry crumbly cracked cheese that we have all experienced. Wines need to be served at their proper temperatures as well. Most people serve their white wines too cold and reds too warm. Proper temperature lets you experience the wine as its meant to be enjoyed. Enjoy your white wines in the 43-55 F range. Drink your reds in the 50-64 F range. The key to knowing the proper temp for your wine is this: Bubbles coldest, working your way to heavier bodied wines on the warmer end of the scale. The same goes with the reds. Lighter bodied the coolest, working your way to the biggest and boldest being the warmest.
If you have any questions about proper temperature for a certain wine, ask your favorite wine store sales person. They know more than you think. Some are Certified Sommeliers, Certified Wine Specialists or even Educators. They are there to and love to help, do not be intimidated by them.
Get out there and enjoy some cheese and wine!
The next blog will feature specific wine and cheese pairings from local stores that are affordable and practical! Stay tuned..