American Cheese was hosted by Laura Werlin, James Beard award winning author of The All American Cheese and Wine Book, and Anthony Giglio, author of Food & Wine magazine’s Wine Guide 2009 and 2010. These two have been giving wine and cheese presentations together for awhile, and it showed. They had a natural chemistry, and both focused on the accessible approach to pairing wine and cheese. Anthony raised the important point that each of us has a different palate and won’t always think the same thing of a wine, a cheese, or a pairing. Because we also follow this school of thought, we were on familiar turf. We learned quite a bit, but mostly enjoyed the range of wines and cheeses they presented. Key takeaways:
- Cheese will impact the flavor of wine more than vice versa, so taste the wine first, to get an idea of its true flavor, then taste the cheese, then sip more wine.
- The fat content of cheese plays an important role in the pairing.
- Cheese should be served at room temperature, to bring out the most of the flavors.
- Cheese rind is edible but usually does not pair well with wine simply because the flavors of the cheese have become so concentrated in the rind.
On a humorous side note, up until the day of the tasting, Tina was expecting American cheese--aka the American cheese slices from her childhood--and was impressed to find everything but the nasty orange cheese she had been expecting.
If “American Cheese” was a “low brow” event, the Perrier-Jouët 200th Anniversary Seminar was
the opposite. The event was hosted by Hervé DesChamps, the Chef de Cave of the Champagne house since 1993. This is an extremely prestigious position: DesChamps is the 7th Chef de Cave in the house’s 200 year history. He has an intense, deep knowledge about his Champagne, having been apprenticed and then promoted to this current role. It takes years of training in a Champagne house to be able to detect the nuances that differentiate a quality champagne from one that is slightly “off.” The role requires constant tasting and adjustment to insure the quality and consistency in the champagne year over year. He imparted a lot of knowledge to us in the short tasting, mostly about champagne production. It was also a great opportunity for us to try some very expensive wines that would normally be out of our reach. For example, of the 6 wines, at least 3 of the bottles retail at $350 each. Key takeaways:
- Brut Champagnes were actually invented by Perrier-Jouët, as a dry wine to serve with dinner. This is a style that had been favored by the British.
- Most Champagnes are Non-Vintage (NV), meaning a blend of different years to achieve the characteristic flavor of the Champagne house. Vintage champagnes are only made in the very best year, where the Chef de Cave can make the ideal wine. In the case of Perrier-Jouët, the years 2000 and 2004 are the most recent vintage years but DesChamps explained he expects 2008 to be a vintage year, as well. However, he won’t know as Champagne production is a 6-year process. So, 2008 will be released in 2014 if all goes well.
- Champagnes are made in a style specific to the house, with little to no variation from year to year. The secrets of production are passed down from Chef de Cave to Chef de Cave.
- Sparkling wine producers from regions outside Champagne are not required to follow the same rules and restrictions set in Champagne. This allows for greater flexibility for the winemaker but has resulted in the lack of an established style. There is more variance in other regions.
Tasting a range of wine and cheese in a fun and casual environment was fun. Antonio and Laura kept us all entertained, and managed to impart some wisdom, all while presenting us with some wonderful pairings. A chance to taste Champagne should never be missed, if its not going to break the bank, and there is no one better to learn a few tidbits from than a master winemaker who has been working with the same product for more than 20 years. The two events we attended could not have been more different, even though the subject matter was the same. The weekend reminded us of the fact that the world of wine is as variable and complex as it is similar. There is something for everyone; wine is there to be enjoyed, whether you prefer to take the high--or the low--road. Sometimes, you like to meander between the two.