By Jim Boyce | Five years ago today, the shop Cheese & Wine and I organized a pairing of nine Chinese wines and nine French cheeses—and eventually three non-Chinese wines—for 108 possible combinations. The since-closed shop stocked over 40-plus French cheeses at its height and there was no place quite like it. Here is the original post with some light editing.
Two weeks ago, I left my severely damaged computer at a repair shop near Chaoyang Park and found my severely stressed self walking south. I spotted the shop Cheese & Wine, decided I desperately needed a break, and within an hour—and aided by a few glasses of wine—created a plan with owner Christophe Pompeani to raid his walk-in ‘cellar’ of 40-plus French cheeses for a tasting. Funny how things work out. We held that tasting this week, with ten people gathering to pair nine wines from China and nine cheeses from France.
One of our goals: to address a belief that milk and cheese have the same effect on lactose-intolerant people. The process of making cheeses tends to reduce lactose, especially with hard aged cheeses, and means many lactose-intolerant people can enjoy them. (If you are lactose-intolerant, I suggest doing your own research on this topic.)
Another goal: to see how northwest China wines fare with quality French cheeses. These wines are made with locally grown grapes, as opposed to wines that include imported bulk wine, and include some of the country’s best brands. Some areas of north China also have long histories of consuming dairy products.
Anyway, three journalists, two sommeliers, one wine-maker, one winery manager and one restaurant manager experimented with the following:
Camembert au Calvados
Brie de Meaux
Ste Maure de Touraine (goat cheese)
Crottin de Chavignol (goat cheese)
Comte (aged 24 months)
Abbey de Belloc (ewe cheese)
Brique des Flandres
Grace Premium Chardonnay 2009, Shanxi,
Grace ‘Tasya’s Reserve’ Chardonnay 2009, Shanxi,
Grace ‘Symphony’ Muscat 2009, Shanxi,
Sunshine Valley Pinot Noir 2009, Gansu,
Grace ‘Tao Fu’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Shanxi,
Silver Heights ‘Family Reserve’ Bordeaux blend 2010, Ningxia,
Jia Bei Lan Dry Red Wine 2009, Ningxia
Grace ‘Deep Blue’ Bordeaux blend 2009, Shanxi
Tuoling Dry Red Wine, 2009 (I think), Xinjiang
We also had two French wines, Roger Sabon Cotes du Rhone (and Camille Giroud Cote de Beaune Village 2002, provided by Pompeani, and one Spanish wine, a bottle of Bosque De Matasnos Crianza 2009, provided by winery GM Jaime Postigo, who attended the tasting.
So, what did we find?
- That having 12 wines and nine cheeses meant 108 possible pairings—quite a lot for a “school” night. Luckily, Pompeani and others suggested the most likely agreeable pairings.
- That using different cheese categories—hard, soft, goat, etc—helped as they allowed for strong contrasts. (I found the Calvados-washed Camembert especially interesting.)
- That the Chinese wines showed well and seemed more flavorful and balanced than on their own. Jia Bei Lan drew appraisals such as “winter herbs”, “creme de mure”, “wild raspberries”, “almost like it has sun-dried fruit”. Silver Heights ‘Family Reserve’ displayed a nice jamminess while Grace ‘Deep Blue’ had a touch of smoke. Both worked well with certain cheeses. Tuoling, which I didn’t enjoy much in Xinjiang, was fruity and easy to drink in this context. The Grace ‘Tao Fu’ impressed as an accessible wine.
- That I found this tasting more useful than food pairing, that is, with a specific dish from a specific cuisine, where the taste can depend on a given chef’s style, available ingredients, and so on. There is something more simplistic—more primal—about pairing cheese and wine.
As for pairings, I asked Philip Ostenton, a sommelier and consultant in Beijing, for his top picks that night. They were:
- Jia Bei Lan with Stilton
- Grace Premier Chardonnay with Crottin de Chavignol (goat cheese). He thought a younger wine, even by one year and with more acidity, would have been even better.
- Sunshine Valley Pinot Noir with Abbey de Belloc (ewe cheese)
- Silver Heights and Brie de Meaux
Nicolas Carre, sommelier and wine teacher, said he liked the Grace Symphony Muscat with the Comte, since the saltiness of cheese paired well with the acidity of the wine, and the Silver Heights with both Brie and Camembert. Wine maker Li Demei, involved with Jia Bei Lan, also thought that wine paired very well with the Stilton. (Note: This was the Jia Bei Lan estate wine, not the reserve wine that won that Decanter award last year). I’ll add more reactions from attendees as I get them.
Overall, a good tasting, although I learned a few things to make future endeavors better. Things like writing down the wine and cheese names so guests don’t have to repeatedly ask how to spell them, having a more delineated wine lineup (we were heavy on Bordeaux blends), and so on. But for a first effort, organized on a chance encounter, it went well.
Note: Pompeani donated all of the cheese. As for wines, Torres China / Everwines donated the Silver Heights, Grace ‘Deep Blue’ and Grace chardonnays, Globus donated the Sunshine Valley, and Judy Leissner of Grace Vineyard donated the ‘Tao Fu’. I bought the Grace ‘Symphony’, received the Jia Bei Lan a few months ago as a gift and got the Tuoling on a trip to Xinjing.)