December 2015 Wine & Cheese Club

December 2015 Wine & Cheese Club

Black Bubbles Sparkling Syrah
There’s lots to celebrate between now and your next Wine Club pickup- but a sparkling Syrah? What? In Australia, it has become a tradition, and it’s just lots of fun. Winemaker Quincy Steele learned the process while working at d’Arenberg Winery, and brought the idea back to Northern California.  We’ve seen a variety of oddball experiments from Shooting Star over the past few years. The label is an offshoot of Steele Winery, whose Cab Franc we featured on the June 2015 Wine Club (it was given to those of you who receive two red wines).

Let’s talk about sweetness and wine.  Discussing a customer’s preference (or dislike) for sweet and off-dry wines is one of the most common conversations we have here. But sweetness is one of the trickiest and subjective wine descriptors.  The seriously geeky wine aficionado refers to residual sugars (aka “R.S.” in the business) when talking about a wine’s sweetness. R.S. is the sugar in the juice that is not consumed by yeast and converted to alcohol. A completely dry wine has no residual sugars, but off-dry wines, like some Rieslings, have a little. Actually, r.s. is present in more dry wines than you might suspect- they can enhance the body and fruit flavors, and also temper unruly tannins. Just because they have some r.s. doesn’t mean they are considered sweet wines- in many cases, it’s less than .1%, but it can make a real difference in what aspects of the flavors come out.

There’s certainly some residual sugars in this sparkler, but we stop short of calling it a sweet wine. It enhances the dark fruits, but the bubbles keep it from becoming too cloying- but sweetness is not the main event here. Although a bit unusual, Syrah is actually a good grape for this kind of treatment, because there are some herbal and somewhat savory elements that balance the fruit.  It is like a song by Barry White: The sweetness is Barry’s deep voice, saying “come on, take another sip…that’s right.”  It’s what draws you in, makes you relax and just enjoy. (The bubbles are the “bow chicka wow wow” of the guitar in the background, if you must know)

This is also a fun bottle for riffs on Champagne cocktails. Here’s one we came up with:

The 76 Washington*

  • 3 oz. Black Bubbles,
  • 3/4oz. Crème de Violet,
  • a few dashes of an aromatic bitter, such as Abbot’s Old Fashioned bitters.

Place Crème de Violet and bitters in a Champagne flute, top with chilled Black Bubbles.

*We call it a 76 Washington, because it’s a riff on the classic French 76 cocktail, and our address is 76 Washington Street.

Cheese Pairing: Shropshire Blue

One wine club member has been patiently asking us to bring this cheese in for quite some time. It’s finally here, and it makes a fantastic pairing for this wine. Traditionally, blue cheese is paired with white sparklers or port. The bubble cleanse the palate and keep the blue from becoming too intense. The sweetness of port contrasts a blue’s pungency, and the salty cheese prevents the port from being too cloying. In Black Bubbles, we have the best of both worlds-some bubbles and a little sweetness set the stage for a very inspired pairing!

Until recently, Shropshire Blue had never been made in Shropshire. It started out as a Scottish attempt to replicate Stilton cheese but with a subtle twist of adding annatto to the milk to give it an orange hue.

Conn Creek Herrick Red, Napa Valley 2013
46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Syrah, 6% Merlot, 6% Malbec, 4% Primitivo

Herrick Red is a tour of top Napa Valley vineyard sites in a bottle, including the longtime Conn Creek source vineyard in Yountville for which the wine is named and which forms the backbone of the blend.

One of the more interesting aspects of this wine is its antique recipe, which is a bit rare these days: it is a nod to Bordeaux blends from a century ago. It is a blend like the Bordeaux our great-great grandparents might have tasted.  Since 1935, all red wines produced in Bordeaux and labeled as such can only use Cabernet, Merlot, Cab Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot.  Before it was illegal to do so (and even after it was illegal), many winemakers preferred to import Syrah from the South to bolster their wines and add extra depth and oomph. These days, some Bordelais say that it might be time to start actually planting Syrah in Bordeaux and re-think regulations. Winemakers in the region are observing rising average temperatures, which means that the kinds of grapes that shine in this tradition-entrenched region could change, perhaps within our lifetime.

Cheese Pairing: Rondin Ewe’s Milk This pasteurized sheep cheese from the Roquefort region (not too far from the Rhône) is semi-firm, dense and in a buche (log) shape. The natural rind is thin and aromatic. The flavor profile is big, bold, with hints of walnut and olive.  We also get a distinctive haybarn flavor that makes us imagine the rustic hills where this cheese is made. Made by Papillon, the most prominent producer of Roquefort blue cheese. The same sheep’s milk that goes into their Roquefort blue is pasteurized and used in the Rondin.

The White Doe
80% Chenin Blanc, 20% Viognier

January is here, and we’ve got a few months more of winter. It’s a tough time to be a white wine drinker…especially if you favor crisp, more citrusy whites like Sauvignon Blanc. Enter Viognier. It’s a more aromatic varietal, like Gewürztraminer, and lends itself well to blending with others. The Chenin Blanc is certainly the core, crisp with minerality and light fruits. The Viognier gives it a silky weight and a little perfume, adapting the wine’s tone to the cold weather without altering its personality all together.  We had a bottle with spicy shrimp over cheddar grits- delicious!

Cheese Pairing: St. Angel
If you think triple crème cheeses aren’t decadent enough, there’s St. Angel. Not only does the maker “ultra filter” the cow’s milk to concentrate the flavor, they also add cream to the mix to make it even more lush! The citrus and acid of the wine cut through the cream, and the stone fruit and floral components almost turn this into a dessert-like treat.

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