Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Cheese?

Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Cheese?

First of all, apologies for my prolonged absence. I’ve been a)sick and b)busy. I know, lame excuses, but it’s been an unusually crazy few weeks here at STBNY HQ. My new job is all-consuming, and I’ve been doing a bunch of wine stuff that isn’t directly related to the site like studying for my latest wine exam (boring) and working a flower arranging/wine tasting-themed bridal shower (fun — check it out on the very cool wedding site 100LayerCake. If you’re looking for a florist, you must check out my very talented friends at Blossom and Branch.)

Anyway, enough excuses. Last Monday I had the chance to attend an intriguing wine/cheese tasting courtesy of Artisanal, New York’s temple of all things cheese, and V. Sattui Winery, a family-owned producer based in the Napa Valley. (I know, poor me, right? Seriously, I have no right to complain. Ever.) I feel the same way about cheese that other folks feel about, say, chocolate or bacon, so  this promised a lovely way to while away a few hours.

In many ways, it was. The wines from V. Sattui were well-made and enjoyable. The Vittorio’s Vineyard 2008 Sauvignon Blanc was intensely aromatic, reminding me of grilled pineapple drizzled with lime. (I know, awfully specific — but that’s a fan favorite of ours in the summer, and the taste is a familiar one to me.) Sadly, they’re getting rid of Sauvignon Blanc in this vineyard to plant the more economically rewarding Zinfandel. The 2007 Napa Syrah was good enough, but the high alcohol seemed a tad out of balance. I liked the 2006 Preston Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, but it lacked the intrigue and intensity that I associate with the finest examples of this variety. I loved the idea of the Moscato, a lightly fizzy and sweet sparkling wine, but because the wine was poured long before we sat down to the tasting, it had already lost its delicate fizz.

The 7 cheeses were wonderful — not surprisingly — but there were just too damn many of them. My favorites were a creamy, tangy Robiola from northern Italy, and a salty/sweet aged Gouda resplendent with little crystallized nuggets of cheesy goodness. But after a certain point, everything started to run together. The point of the evening was to try every possible combination and permutation of cheese and wine and rate them from a scale of -2 (the worst combo imaginable) to +2 (a match made in heaven). There’s value in understanding how wine and cheese work together, and seeing how they can bring out the best and worst in each other, but the sheer number of cheeses on offer made it almost impossible to draw any valuable conclusions. Just look at the picture I posted of my illegible score sheet. Blame the fact that I’m overwhelmed right now (see the first paragraph of this post), but sometimes too much is just too much. The experience would have been much more enjoyable had we focused on only a handful of cheeses.

Sometimes I wonder if I should take this same approach to wine. What would happen if I spent six months drinking only Alsatian Riesling and Oregon Pinot Noir? I don’t think I’d be bored. On the contrary, I think it would be incredibly rewarding to focus on these regions and varieties and learn all of their nuances. (It would also do some serious damage to my checking account.) Too often we let our appetite for novelty take over. We’re living in the golden age of wine — never has so much good wine, from so many regions, been accessible to so many of us — but we do pay a price for that choice. We risk being dilettantes, flitting from an Argentine Malbec one night to a Washington State Merlot the next, enjoying them well enough but never really understanding them.

For those of you who already know a little about wine and feel confident in your choices, I’d encourage you to try settling on a variety or a region and try to learn a little more about it. Buy a case of those targeted wines and work your way through them, attend a focused tasting  (if you’re in New York and want to home in on Spanish wine, the Cervantes Institute has some excellent classes) — or drop me a line and ask me for some guidance.

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