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In This Issue
 Say "cheese" Playing with my food during a fancy dinner at a NYC culinary temple, I reinforce a theory about matching red and white wines with artisanal cheeses.
 The California Wine Club Want to save money? Place your holiday orders this week!
 Sean H. Thackrey Pleiades XIII Old Vines California Red Table Wine ($23.49)
The thirteenth release of this well-regarded California red blend is distinctly fruit-forward, but good structure and depth make it much more than a mere "fruit bomb."
 This week on
April Eichmeier urges us to drink more bubbly and Randy Buckner reviews 100 new releases. In our online forums, we're talking about matching fine chocolates with dessert wines, and taking a poll on whether we prefer reds or whites with cheese.
Last Week's Wine Advisor Index The Wine Advisor archives.
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Say "cheese"

Like most wine-and-food enthusiasts, I simply can't visit New York City without spending more time, money and calories than I really should at good places to eat.

During a short visit last week, we made the usual rounds of Hong Kong noodle shops, South Indian vegetarian spots and a couple of upscale eateries, crowning it all by joining a friend for dinner at Picholine near Central Park West, a longtime culinary temple where Chef Terrance Brennan recently earned a rave and a lofty rating from The New York Times.

Frankly, I can't say I go along fully with Times dining critic Frank Bruni's praise for the "reinvigorated" Picholine. Although dinner was enjoyable and many of the dishes innovative, I found the concepts more creative than the execution. Small plates bore large price tags, service was brusque and not always well-informed, and frighteningly pricey three-figure bottles dominated the lengthy wine list.

Still, there's a lot of excitement here, and at its best, Picholine shines. And Bruni may well have been on target with his observation that Picholine (whose chef also runs the cheese-savvy Artisanal on Park Avenue) "has the best cheese presentation in the city."

Armed with an after-dinner selection of three moderately strong and lovably "stinky" European items from the cheese cart - a French goat cheese wrapped in chestnut leaves, a Montenegro sheep cheese from Spain and a potent Basque blue - I entertained myself by taking bites of cheese and alternate sips from glasses of red and white wine, hoping to add a few more data points to the debate over whether red wine or white goes best with strong cheese.

The wines, both imports by Vignaioli Selections, NYC, were pricey but delightful regional wines from Northeastern Italy's Friuli-Venezia Giulia: Ronco del Gnemiz 2004 Colli Orientali del Friuli Schioppetino ($105), a juicy and tartly acidic red wine redolent of white pepper and red fruit; and Ronco del Gnemiz 2004 Friuli Bianco di Jacopo ($45), a medium-bodied, structured Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio blend.

Although my lifelong instinct is to call for a red wine with cheese, and I still believe that reds serve well with milder, creamy cheeses like Cheddar, I've gradually, somewhat grudgingly come around to believe that dry whites are the pick with strong, stinky cheese.

This random combination of wines and cheeses, however, surprised even me. The good body, delicate apple and pear fruit and well-defined acidity in the white seemed to balance out the cheeses in mouth-watering style. The red, in contrast, which had been delightful with both rare lamb medallions and a mushroom-and-duck risotto, went all out of whack with the cheeses, coming across as thin, tart and watery. It was especially unpleasant with the blue, a match that finished with a twangy metallic note.

The rule here is clear: If you're choosing strong goat or sheep cheeses or tangy blues, play it safe and go with a dry white wine. Save your red for the meat course.

Just to reassure myself, though, when I got home I pulled out a chunk of simple, sharp Wisconsin Cheddar and tried it with a couple of red wines, a modest Cotes-du-Rhone and Sean H. Thackrey Pleiades XIII, the robust California red blend featured in today's tasting. Much to my relief, this combination still works delightfully for me: The creamy, sharp but clean dairy aromas and flavors of the cheese seem to round out the wine, diminish tannins and produce a mellow and appetizing flavor combination. Red still works with Cheddar.

Pleiades XIII Sean H. Thackrey Pleiades XIII Old Vines California Red Table Wine ($23.49)

This wild California blend, a mix of vineyards and vintages issued not by year but in a Roman-numbered series, features an oak-accented assemblage of Syrah, Barbera, Carignan, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel and Sangiovese plus a dash of white Viognier. Seven grapes, named after the Pleiades, the ancient "Seven Sisters" of astronomical lore. (For details see my March 2004 report on Pleiades XII, "Wine rating: Seven stars.") Pleiades XIII is dark ruby in the glass, showing reddish-violet glints against the light. Mouth-filling and ripe, bold cherry-berry flavors offer a bowl of juicy and tart Bing cherries with a splash of raspberry liqueur and a squirt of lemon, with oaky vanilla playing counterpoint. More focused on fruit and less on earth than some of its predecessors, but good structure and depth make it much more than a mere "fruit bomb." (Dec. 10, 2006)

FOOD MATCH: This bold and complex red would work very well with grilled meats and other hearty fare, and it proved an exceptional red-wine match with sharp Cheddar cheese. Its flavors went very well with a Cajun-style dinner of red beans and rice with pork sausage, with the caveat that fiery spices may heighten the "burn" of relatively high-alcohol wines.

VALUE: The middle $20s are certainly an appropriate neighborhood for a wine of this quality, but it's worth shopping, as shows most retail prices varying across a rather broad range from $22 to $30.

WHEN TO DRINK: Fine now, although fans of Pleiades note that it takes cellaring well and tends to develop more complexity and elegance over several years.

The deliciously offbeat winery Website doesn't tell much about the winery or its wines, but it affords intriguing browsing through historical information, art, quotes and essays about wine:

The winery Website offers a partial database of distributors:

Look up vendors and check prices for Thackrey Pleiades XIII on

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This week on

April on Wine: Bring on the Bubbles!
In 2005, Americans consumed 185,400,000 million cases of wine, but only 12,045,000 cases of that was Champagne or other sparkling wine. We can do better, says writer April Eichmeier, offering these tips and recommendations.

Bucko's Wine Reports: Winter 2006 Releases
Early winter is an exciting time, with crackling fireplaces, burning leaves, the roar of football fans ... and a lot of new red-wine releases. Reds comprise more than 70 percent of the wines Randy "Bucko" Buckner reviews in this month's report.

Hot topics in our WineLovers Discussion Groups
Our WineLovers' Discussion Groups are the best places online to ask wine questions and participate in the civil and intelligent discussion of good things to eat and drink. Our WineLovers Discussion Group (WLDG) is the Internet's original wine forum, a non-commercial venue intended for wine-related conversations that range from apprentice-level to wine professionals. Our WineLovers Community on the Netscape/CompuServe service is dedicated to wine education, a friendly place to get quick answers to your questions about wine, beer, spirits and all good things to drink.

Buller fortified/chocolate masterclass
Most of us could only look on in amazement as an Australian participant in our WineLovers Discussion Group reports on a remarkable tasting of artisan chocolates and fortified Aussie dessert wines at a "masterclass" during the Sydney Good Living Wine Show. Even if you don't have access to the wines and chocolates, it's worth the read for general chocolate-matching principles and, simply, vicarious enjoyment.

Best wine choice with cheese?
Matching today's Wine Advisor topic, our weekly CompuServe/Netscape Community poll asks a simple question: When you're enjoying cheese and wine, do you usually pull out a red wine or a white? Click the following link to vote your choice, or feel free to enter a more nuanced response in either forum.

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). I was traveling last week, so we published only a Monday edition:

 Brunello's brother (Dec. 4, 2006)

 Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:

 Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:


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Monday, Dec. 11, 2006
Copyright 2006 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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