Wednesday, August 14, 2013

If at First You Don't Succeed - Pair, Pair Again!

Right up there with my love for wines from Spain is my love for cheese from Spain.  A pairing some red Rioja with Manchego or Cabrales blue cheese is one of my favorite food and wine combos in the world.  During our last trip to Spain, we brought home a bit of another cheese made exclusively in the province of Asturias - Gamonedo.  

Gamanedo is a blue cheese made with a unique process that has the wheels of cheese placed in a small “cabaña” where they’re lightly smoked and allowed to gently dry for one month before they are transferred to a cave for additional maturing. 

To pick a wine to pair with this special cheese treat, I used a couple of simple rules:
  • It's a safe bet to drink Spanish wine with Spanish food (you can substitute any other country and the rule still holds true!)
  • Fuller bodied, fruity reds typically stand up nicely to the saltiness and hint of sweetness present in blue cheese.
Based on these two rules I picked a 2001 Berberana Rioja Reserva Viña Alarde, a nice fully bodied Rioja that I first tried during a trip to Pasadena, CA a couple of weeks ago.  We had this wine with a tasting menu - and it was a very food friendly red, and had wonderful aromas of dark fruit and lots of vanilla.

Confident in my pairing choice, Wino4Life wife and I sat down to enjoy the wine and Gamonedo along with some other spanish cheeses from a great Spanish store in California La Española Meats. The first taste of this very special cheese was quite interesting, buttery, acidic, and a nice level of smokiness that did not overpower the other flavors in the cheese. 

Now comes the wine... and the result is... AWFUL!  The flavors of the cheese became almost chemical, and the fruity flavor of the wine was destroyed - leaving only the feeling of tannins in the mouth. What happened? Was the wine bad? 

We tried the wine with Manchego and quince paste (one of my favorite cheese bites in the world), some drunken goat cheese, and some soft goat cheese rolled in paprika. With each of the cheeses the wine pairing was excellent.

This just goes to show you that the rules of food and wine pairing don't always work. But don't give up - everything out there in the food world probably has some type of wine companion that will make a nice marriage.  I took another taste of the cheese trying to figure out what characteristics made it clash so much with our delicious Rioja.  I noticed the smokey aftertaste was similar to a roasted nut, which made me think of another Spanish specialty - a nice dry Sherry, which tend to have an aftertaste of roasted nuts.  I happened to have a bit of a wonderful Amontillado Sherry, a Gonzalez Byass Del Duque. A piece of Gamonedo and a sip of the Sherry - and bingo!  A really nice pairing that made the smokiness of the cheese taste even more pleasant, and mellowed the intense flavor of the Sherry.

I was lucky to find a nice pairing with just one more attempt - some pairings may take many experiments to find something that works - but keep at it, and pair, pair again! It is worth the effort when you find that food and wine combination that just sings. 

Have any favorite or surprising food and wine pairings? Share with us in the comments below, or tweet @wine4lifeblog.  

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