Wednesday, April 25, 2007

French Appellationg= Simple Cheese Pairings, to come: more on the cheese

Part 2: While it can feel little nothing less than a pain in the cork for those trying to remember and match varietals with appellations, it can help us when we are trying to pair French wines and cheeses. Finally a bone is thrown our way, and we discover, as millions have known for centuries in France, that French cheese and wine gems from the same region pair perfectly. No need to consult the Wine Bible to see what cheese goes with a Sancerre. Pick a goat cheese from Loire Valley, where Sancerre is located.
Go to your trusted cheesemonger and say,
“Hello cheesemonger, I’ve just purchased a Sancerre [say just the appellation name, it’ll make you sound impressive], and would like a cheese from the same region, or from Loire Valley.”
Anything from the Loire Valley or Sancerre should fit. Why? Because people have been making cheese for a very long time in France, as they have wine, and while eating locally has been marketed as somewhat of a revolution for those of us in the U.S., its old news in France. Quite simply, people in the Loire Valley make cheese that taste good with their local wine. And that wine is Sauvignon Blanc. And that cheese is goat cheese, the perfectist of all cheeses with that grape.
Then again, why is a tough question.
The wine part is simple. That wine grows best in that area. So it is grown.
But why is goat cheese the main cheese in the Loire Valley, exactly? Where the goats in the region before the wine, or was Sauvignon Blanc in the Loire Valley before the kids? Do goats grow best in that area too? Perhaps they like mineral soils because it reminds them of the mineral-laced tin cans they used to munch on at gramma’s house. Did the people of the area try goats and cows before they settled on goats, as winemakers likely did with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc grapes in the Loire Valley before they decided on SB? I have no idea.
But the fact remains- and yes, it is undisputed, everywhere- Sauvignon Blanc is the best white grape grown in Sancerre, in the Loire Valley. And it is absolutely the best match with some of Sancerre’s goat cheese, such as the Crottin de Chavignol featured in the lovely picture above, which I wish I took. And, everything can get more specific. If you have a chance to try a Sancerre from Chavignol with a Crottin de Chavignol, oh lord, this is the best match ever. You gotta sit down. Yet in general, if you match a wine from the Loire Valley (the red, Cabernet Franc works smashingly too), with a cheese from the general Loire Valley area, you are set. Super set!
And remember, your wine and cheese mongers are paid to help you. You pay them. If the appellation isn’t marked clearly to you on the wine, ask your wine salesperson. They should know.

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Pesky French Appellations

Whenever you pick up a bottle of French wine and look for some inkling of the grape type yet find nothing but snobby French terms like "le" or "Chateaux," don't be too discouraged. Slap yourself on the hand and remind yourself, while the appellation system may be as annoying for most blue or red or white blooded Americans as Velveeta is to a French person about to tip a corn chip in a Tex-Mex Salsa-con-processed-"Queso," they can come in handy too.
When? Oh, good question. With French cheese and wine pairing.

Part 1. I love Sancerre. And Sancerre loves goat cheese.
Sancerre is a French town inside the Loire Valley appellation. It is one of the many appellations within the Loire Valley region. A wine made in Sancerre is always Sauvignon Blanc. Legally. Punishable by death.
Resulting from Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée laws enacted in 1953, French wines are always labeled in reference to the region in which the wine is grown, not the grape. The government mandates what can grow where. Likewise, if a French wine has a grape varietal, like Chardonnay, printed on the label, you’ll know that the winemaker isn’t growing the wine in the region specified by the government. If they were, they wouldn’t need to state the varietals. It would be clear to winos everywhere in Europe. The trick to knowing what type of wine is in that bottle you're holding is knowing what grape varietals the French government allows its wine producers to grow in which appellation. In Sancerre, the government specifies that only Sauvignon Blanc should be grown.
You might be thinking this is crazy. It’s certainly interesting. But it's also smart, and will later help us pair French wine with French cheese. It's smart, first of all, because after centuries of growing grapes in France, the French know what grape grows best in what area. Sauvignon Blanc likes sun, but low heat, maritime climates, and mineral-strewn soils. If Sauvignon Blanc is the best white grape to grow in the Sancerre region, in the Loire Valley, where the often naturally limestone-flecked vineyards nurture the mineral flavors in the grape, so grow it. Or grow it legally in the neighboring Loire Valley towns of Touraine or Quincy…..Bordeaux is also an excellent environment for Sauvignon Blanc. And so there it is also grown, with Sémillion, which also thrives in the region. With permission from Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée team housed in Paris.

See for more info about Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée laws.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

First Blog: Why Rose Membrillo?

My name is Rosé Membrillo. Today. But be advised that my name will shape shift when it feels fit, when it's so inspired by a wine and food pairing that it can't stand to exist in its present gastronomic state any longer.

Why Rosé Membrillo today? Because the flowering trees outside my apartment window remind me that its Rosé season (a.k.a: spring), and one of my favoirte pairings for the pink juice is membrillo served over Manchego cheese slices, set down next to a chilled Rosé of Grenache. Preferably also next to Marcona Almonds. Classic Spanish pairing.

Rosé (not white zin) is a wine made from crushing red wine grapes such as Pinot Noir, Grenanche, etc.... and only leaving the juice briefly in contact with the squashed grape skins. The wine absorbs a rosey hue rather than a dark red because the color is dictated by the length of time that the skins are left in the tubs. The less time in the tank, the closer color to Barbie's pink mansion. Leave the skins in longer, and the hues going to more resemeble Julia Robert's lipstick in Pretty Woman.
Membrillo is made by cooking the quince fruit- believed to be indigenous to Greece- with sugar and lemon like you're making jam. Upon cooling, the high-pectin quince forms a thick, preserves-like paste that can be sliced. It's sweet, a little tart, and floral. Hint-when I buy this stuff already made into a paste at Mexican markets, it is of top quality and just as good as the overpriced membrillo sitting on gourmet shops shelves.
Manchego is a Spanish sheep's milk cheese with a sharp, bold taste that begs for sweet membrillo.
Marcona Almonds are skinless Valencian almonds that have been fried, salted, and oiled. As addicting as the crunchy things in the bottom of a KFC extra crispy bucket.
With this blog I hope to introduce and deepen the conversation of wine and food pairing online. Without snobbery. As revealed in my profile, I manage the wine bar section of a wine shop in the SF Bay area. I graduated from the California Culinary Academy in 2000, cooked in California and NYC, studied anthropology in UC Berkeley, and now continue to explore food and culture through cooking and wineful means. I love that my job gives me the oppurtunity to play with food and wine, talk about pairing wine and food, in public. Maybe this blog will extend that oppurtunity.

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