Man bites dog, eats cheese and wine
"When a dog bites a man, that's not news. But if a man bites a dog, that's news!"
This bit of apocryphal wisdom - allegedly one of the first lessons taught in Journalism 101 - illustrates the simple principle that the best news stories capture our attention with the shock of the unexpected.
"Man bites dog" met the world of wine this week with a story from the respected wine program at the University of California at Davis. According to reports that have been hitting the media wires, UC/Davis researchers have discovered that wine doesn't go with cheese.
Of course it's not quite that simple. Let's learn a quick secret about journalism and wine tasting today as we flesh out the initial report through a somewhat more nuanced account in the San Francisco Chronicle.
In a study to be published in the March edition of The American Journal of Enology and Viticulture, UC/Davis graduate student Berenice Madrigal and Prof. Hildegarde Heymann undertook a three-month study in which a panel of 11 student volunteers went through a quick wine-tasting training session, then - under rigorous laboratory conditions - tasted eight wines and eight cheeses, rating each combination on a scale of 1 to 10.
The results were man-bites-dog surprising: "In virtually every case," The Chronicle reported, "cheese diminished everything the wine had to say. It muted both desirable traits like berry character and less desirable traits like astringency and bell pepper. It was an equal-opportunity silencer, exhibiting largely the same effect on each varietal, pricey and not. From mild Teleme to pungent Gorgonzola, the cheeses made every wine taste less oaky, less berry-like, less sour."
The effects were generally similar for every pairing, including two samples each (one low-budget, one pricey) of Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah, and eight types of cow's-milk cheeses: two hard cheeses (Emmental and Gruyere), two cheddars (from Vermont and New York), two soft cheeses (mozzarella and Teleme) and two blues (Gorgonzola and Stilton). For the record, the blues had slightly more impact on the wines than the soft cheeses, but the differences were insignificant.
What does it all mean? Here's my theory: If you are looking at wine in a cold, dispassionate and utterly scientific way, then you'll want to analyze it in the absence of food or any other distractor. The fact is that cheese goes very well indeed with wine. But because cheese and wine work together as they do, cheese tends to mask the wine's flaws, and the wine and cheese make each other taste better. Hence the old wine-trade saying, "sell on cheese."
So if you want to be a geeky wine geek, then yes, it's fair to say that cheese "spoils" wine insofar as it makes it more difficult to judge the wine analytically. (For similar reasons, this is why wine judges typically use only plain white bread and water to "clear the palate" between tastings.)
But if you just want to enjoy something good without worrying too much about taking notes or assigning points, then of course wine and food go together just fine.
But that's only a dog-bites-man story.
Wine and Cheese incompatible, says research (Decanter.com):
Vintage or vile, wine is all the same after cheese (NewScientist.com):
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Concannon 2003 Central Coast Petite Sirah ($10.99)
This excellent, good-value Petite Sirah fits our Wine Tasting 101 theme for January. Typical of the grape, the wine is black and all but opaque, with a day-glo violet edge. Perfumed black fruit is lifted by just a hint of high-tone volatile acidity at first, which blows off to unveil simple but deep black fruit. Full-bodied, concentrated and quite tannic, but the mouth-filling fruit and firm acidity carry the tannins well. (Jan. 18, 2006)
FOOD MATCH: Rare red meat is the standard pairing, but I like Petite Sirah with the beefy, earthy flavors of duck. It was well-matched with the recipe for duck breast in a saffron-ginger cream sauce over fettuccine featured in last week's Wine Advisor FoodLetter.
VALUE: No complaints in this just-over-$10 price range.
WHEN TO DRINK: Much more accessible in its youth than many Petite Sirahs, which tend to be hard and tannic until they mature. It's worth long-term cellaring, though, with the understanding that Petite Sirah's aging profile is unusual: It typically remains little changed over a decade or even longer, but can develop real complexity after 10 or even 20 years.
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The Connoisseur's Series: Unparalleled excellence in California wine
For many years, we've been partners and friends with the good folks at The California Wine Club, a firm that has consistently impressed me - and that I know has impressed literally thousands of you - with their commitment to excellence in their wines and their consumer service.
While you probably know California Wine Club best as a reliable source of quality, affordable wines from carefully chosen "mom and pop" California producers, plus select higher-end wines through its Signature Series, you may not have been aware of its Connoisseur's Series, a remarkable wine club limited to rare California beauties that typically garner 90-plus ratings from the major critics but that are almost impossible to find in stores or even winery mailing lists.
Recently, for the first time ever, membership in Connoisseur's Series has become available to WineLoversPage.com readers and our 30 Second Wine Advisor subscribers.
To announce this remarkable opportunity, the club made me an offer I found impossible to refuse: They would provide me samples of current Connoisseur's Series offerings. I would taste them, and - under no pressure to report anything but my honest and candid impressions - would tell you what I thought.
So, here's what I think of the first month's selection: Wow! These aren't cheap wines - they rank near the top of the California hierarchy in both quality and price - but you'll be hard-pressed to find better value. If you're in the market for top, high-end California wines, I can't imagine a better way to get the maximum bang for your buck than through The Connoisseur's Series.
Anomaly 2002 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($80)
This is a very dark blackish-purple with a bright garnet edge. Classic Cabernet aromas, blackcurrant-cassis and subtle herbs, are ripe and appealing. The wine is full and textured, with almost a "chewy" mouthfeel. Black fruit and steely acidity over smooth but substantial tannins. It's a serious Napa Cabernet with sturdy muscularity that provides a distinct New World personality. It's no monolithic blockbuster, though, but elegant, refined and appealing. Great with rare grilled beef, it also stood up well to a Southwestern-style dish of pork loin with green chilies. Only 450 cases were produced. Winery Website: http://www.anomalyvineyards.com
Highlands Cellar 2002 "Malvolio" Arroyo Grande Valley Clos de Laetitia Block A Pinot Noir ($51)
Clear, dark reddish-purple in color, this Central Coast beauty offers luscious cherry-berry aromas highlighted with warm brown spices. Flavors are consistent with the nost, full and ripe, smooth as velvet; nicely balanced by fresh acidity. Complex and well-structured, this is a very fine Pinot Noir indeed, clearly in a New World style but with elegance and depth that won't be lost on Burgundy lovers. It served beautifully with a simple, Stroganoff-style dish of beef and mushrooms. Just 550 cases made. Winery Website: http://www.highlandscellar.com
The Connoisseur's Series is the only wine club in America that can guarantee a monthly wine shipment of impossible to find, 90+ point rated wines - each and every time. Whether you choose to receive wines monthly, every other month or quarterly, every shipment is guaranteed to include two to four bottles of California's highest-rated wines, along with detailed tasting notes, cellaring recommendations and winemaker comments. Monthly shipments average $125-$175, including all shipping and handling.
To join this elite club, call The California Wine Club at 1-800-777-4443 and ask about The Connoisseur's Series. Feel free to tell them that I sent you ... and, if you join, please don't hesitate to contact me by E-mail and tell me what you think.
This week on WineLoversPage.com
Some highlights of recent articles on WineLoversPage.com that I hope you'll enjoy:
Italian Wine Guide: Two Grand Italian Restaurants
QPRwines: 2001-2003 West Coast Chardonnay
Hot topics in our WineLovers' Community
Affordable French reds
Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:
Stinky wine and the penny trick (Jan. 20, 2006)
Wacky labels and celebs (Jan. 18, 2006)
FAQ: Wine to keep for 20 years (Jan. 16, 2006)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Fusion on the fly (Jan. 19, 2006)
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:
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Monday, Jan. 23, 2006