Sunday 15 April, 2012

Wine and Cheese, If You Please: Beyond the Star Chefs at LA Food + Wine

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The Los Angeles Food & Wine festival (ambitiously declared “First Annual…” I guess they have a crystal ball) was an incredible assemblage of Star Chefs from both LA and elsewhere in the US, modeled after the Pebble Beach and Aspen events organized by much of the same team–but perhaps bigger than either. I would love […]




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The Los Angeles Food & Wine festival (ambitiously declared "First Annual..." I guess they have a crystal ball) was an incredible assemblage of Star Chefs from both LA and elsewhere in the US, modeled after the Pebble Beach and Aspen events organized by much of the same team--but perhaps bigger than either.

I would love to deliver a full report and foodpornage of all 70 events that took place from October 13-16 (including an incredible $2000/pp dinner requiring every guest to bring a vintage bottle valued over $5000!) but unfortunately a variety of other events–some of which I'll also be blogging shortly–conspired to cut my participation down to a mere three. But those three, as it happens, form an interesting theme, because two of them involved pouring vintage wines, and two involved pairing wine with cheese. It isn't just a rationalization to say these smaller aspects of food festivals are really more interesting and edifying than the big tent circuses with the famous folks. These are engaging, those are really more about engorging.

Kent Torrey (far right) and the Torrey Posse ;-)

Kent Torrey (far right) and the Torrey Posse 😉

The first was called "Cult Wines and Perfect Pairings-A Rare Wine Tasting With Formagier Kent Torrey." Though well known to central coasters, Torrey, who runs an estimable cheese shop in Carmel, CA, is virtually anonymous down in LA, where he joked about being confused with the folks behind the Beverly Hills Cheese Shop (I can't say I've done scientific analysis, but I think he may well whip their well-respected butts).

Joining Kent were--from left, Kim Beto, Southern Wine & Spirits; William Sherer MS, Aureole Las Vegas; and Richard Betts MS, Scarpetta Wines.

That's about 200 bucks of juice right there. ;-)

That's about 200 bucks of juice right there. 😉

Along with a plate of seven gorgeous, well-varied cheeses (six announced, one surprise), Torrey poured three Napa Cult Reds and three very special Bordeaux wines, all from the 1999 vintage, with the general objective being to play with the pairings and learn more about how the art of pairing raises both wine and food. Rather matter-of-factly, Willi Sherer noted that 1999 was actually considered something of a "B Vintage," not necessarily stellar in either Napa or Bordeaux, but in some ways that offered more opportunity to judge the wines' separate merits without too much expectation. (Note: I could be wrong, but it didn't appear that they decanted the wines, just let them sit for some time in the glasses)

The Harlan Estate (currently selling around $900 online) quickly emerged as a front-runner, very well balance, juicy black fruits, a little glove leather and a dash of pepper on the finish.

The Château Latour Pauillac (poured from magnum, but about $700 online for a 750ml) was more complex, with astringency and tart notes of cherry, red berries and a little iodine balanced by earthy vegetal, even roasted squash, and a lovely soft finish.

Abreu Cabernet Sauvignon Madrona Ranch (only around $200, lol) was also astringent, with a still-tight structure, notes of citrus and graphite wrapped around the expected plums, cherry and just a touch of cacao nib...ending with slightly vegetal red pepper.

Château la Mondotte (also $2-300) I felt, in this company, felt the most restricted, but also velvety on the palate and probably an exquisite food wine.

Dunn Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon (around $100) had a lot of bright, even green notes, but also soft vanillin amongst the plum and licorice.

Finally, Château Valandraud ($2-300) had a huge, funky nose (underbrush? compost?) very ripe plum, iodine, coffee, currants, leather and more. Sherer called it the "most evolved" of the bunch. Wish I could've spent more time with it.

Close up on the cheese: Clockwise from the top, Camembert with Calvados, Trou du Cru, Pleasant Ridge Reserve, L'Etivaz Alpage Gruyere, Raspberry Bellavitano, Noord Hollander (with some dried flowers, fruit, jams and almonds, and the surprise gouda in center)

Close up on the cheese: Clockwise from the top, Camembert with Calvados, Trou du Cru, Pleasant Ridge Reserve, L'Etivaz Alpage Gruyere, Raspberry Bellavitano, Noord Hollander (with some dried flowers, fruit, jams and almonds, and the surprise gouda in center)

As for the cheeses, I know you're probably expecting me to comment on their pairings, but really each was so exceptional and savory that there weren't any bad pairings, just harmony vs. contrast.  Of all, the last three, Raspberry Bellavitano (crisp but creamy on the palate), Noord Hollander and the "surprise" coconut cream Gouda are cheeses I would bring only to someone I wanted to sleep with me. They were that seductive.

One of these days I will figure out the difference between "Formagier," "Affineur," and "Cheese Monger." But this is not that day.

Somehow I couldn't get a straight shot of this dynamic panel. That's Darius Allyn with his nose in the glass ;)

Somehow I couldn't get a straight shot of this dynamic panel. That's Darius Allyn with his nose in the glass 😉

From here, I jogged downstairs to the concurrent "Burgundy's Brilliance: A Decade of Wines from Domaine de Hospices de Beaune." That title promised a lot (especially with Raj Parr on the panel, next to Darius Allyn MS of Montage Beverly Hills, and Food+Wine's Megan Krigbaum). But it was actually something of a promotion for the Christie's auction (the 151st from Hospices de Beaune, a unique charity fundraiser), with four selections contrasted in their 2005 and 2009 vintages--not really "a decade," but I'm not complaining.

I tasted the three reds (the white Meursaults were poured when I was out of my seat):

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Pommard 1er Cru, Cuvée Dames de la Charité

2009: The only notes I could conjur were "tart" "peppers" and "sharp." Densely structured, it might be amazing in several years, but right now didn't hold my interest.

2005: Softer and significantly more juicy with bright berries, a bit of wood, and a long finish. Very nice.

Corton Grand Cru Cuvée Charlotte Dumay

2009: Macerated cherries and wood-spice with a very long, dry finish. The kind of wine to impress a collector with, now, or in another 5 years.

2005: Softer and more restrained, with what I'd call "happy tannins" on the aft.

Darius Allyn called these "bolder, more textured and broader scale." I think he meant "good."

Volnay-Santenots 1er Cru, Cuvée Jéhan de Massol

2009: The fat lady sings--plump, supple fruit with an almost chalky dry finish.

2005: Softer again (no surprise) with pleasant red fruit notes and more spice on the long finish.

Laura Werlin (right) being introduced by Food+Wine Editor Dana Cowin

Laura Werlin (right) being introduced by Food+Wine Editor Dana Cowin

The last of the three events took place later that afternoon: "Grilled Cheese & Great Wines with Laura Werlin" wins the prize for least artful, most honest title. San Francisco's Werlin is not only a leading cheese whiz (sorry, couldn't resist) but in particular, an aficionado of many grilled cheese variations, as her two (yes, two!) grilled cheese cookbooks attest. It's probably needless to say that this cheese and wine pairing was a bit less rarefied than the earlier one. But there was actually some crossover, and every wine--all Californian--was excellent:

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Brazin 2008 Old Vine Zinfandel (under $20) had a ripe juicy nose, with lots of cherry, raspberry and plum on the palate, and a soft black pepper finish.

It was paired with a Double Cheddar and Tomato Jam GC, made with Wisconsin Bleu Mont Dairy Bandaged Cheddar. Probably my favorite.

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Noble Vines 2010 Single Vineyard 446 Chardonnay (around $13) had a very appley nose, but more creamy pear/apricot-dominant mouth (over more apple) and a spicy finish.

Laura paired this with "The Californian," one of her themed creations, made with classic Humboldt Fog Goat, Point Reyes Toma, with fruit, chilies, adobo, and crusted with almonds.

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Irony 2010 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir (Around $12) Soft, gentle fruit on the palate with some ash, and a sharp finish. It's Russian River, how bad could it be? 😉

This was paired with a soft and earthy Camebert and Comté with Mushroom GC on a baguette, an easy, creamy contrast to the juicy grape (we noted the Comté's raw herbaceousness melted away literally in the mixture).

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Lastly, Ledona Vineyards 2009 Malvasia Bianca was a nice, complex dessert wine with a nectary honey noes and viscous peach, apple and honey notes on the palate.

For this Italian varietal (grown in Monterey), Werlin gave us a Gruyere and Gorgonzola recipe--a Northern Italy-inspired creation, in which she replaced the first with Holland's Family Gouda, and used BelGioso Creamy Gorgonzola, both Wisconsin, augmented by hazelnut butter and honey. Yum.

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For some reason, Werlin faced an oddly rowdy crowd (didn't these people overpay to get in here?), but never the less, managed to sneak in a few tips: Always grate cheese for better melting (she likes coarse grating); make sure the bread is never too thick; when pairing think of texture as well as flavor; Kerrygold butter is her favorite; English style cheddars are usually best for red wines.

Salut!

ORIGINALLY PUBISHED OCTOBER 2011


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