Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Wine and Cheese - 10 Pairings To Please

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching and many people are searching for the perfect wines to pair with chocolates. (If that’s you, check out my Chocolate and Wine post @

If you’re ready to think outside of the Valentine’s box, impress your sweetie by pairing wines and cheese - for an evening to please.

To start, decide how you want to pair the cheeses and wines. One way is to balance them with each other: a tangy Gouda goes with a tart, sparkling wine. Or contrast flavors by pairing a pungent Gorgonzola cheese with a rich, sweet Port. Don’t be afraid to experiment. But, when in doubt, pair a wine and a cheese from the same region for an amazing taste sensation.

Now to decide which of these ten cheese and wine pairings will “whey” in big with your Valentine ...

1) Brie
Brie is a soft cheese with a buttery taste and creamy texture. It originated in France and is made from cow’s milk. Versatile enough to serve with fruit, nuts, and crackers, it’s a very wine-friendly cheese that pairs well with most vinos including Chardonnay, Moscato, Champagne, Merlot, and Syrah.

2) Goat Cheese
Also known as chèvre, goat cheese is a soft cheese crafted from goat’s milk. The flavor is sharp and tangy with hints of herbs. Goat cheese can be packaged plain, rolled in peppercorns or covered with herbs. The herbaceous notes should point you to Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris. If you’d prefer a red wine, try Merlot, Beaujolais or Cabernet Franc.

3) Havarti
This semi-soft Danish cheese is mild and creamy with a buttery, sweet flavor; aged Havarti may have a sharper flavor. Havarti also comes in a variety of flavors such as caraway, dill, horseradish, jalapeno, and chipotle. Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc pair well, along with Pinot Noir or Beaujolais.

4) Swiss
Swiss cheese is a generic name for several similar varieties of cheese. With its firm texture and mild, sweet, nutty flavors, it is usually crafted with ‘eyes’, those holes that make Swiss cheese recognizable. Keep in mind, the larger the holes, the more flavorful the cheese. Swiss pairs with just about any wine including Riesling, Pinto Gris and Moscato. That said; don’t reach for a Syrah or Sherry, that’s just too much of a “good thing.”

5) Asiago
Made from cow’s milk, this Italian cheese can be crafted in different textures ranging from smooth for a fresh cheese, to crumbly for an aged cheese, but it is generally considered to be a hard cheese. The flavors are full and sharp with a pungent aroma. Red wines stand up well to Asiago and a glass of Beaujolais, Malbec, or Zinfandel is amazing. For a white wine, try Riesling or Pinot Gris to complement the cheese flavors.

6) Gouda
Gouda is actually pronounced “how-da” in the Netherlands where it originated. This semi-hard cheese is crafted from cow’s milk and is one of the most popular cheeses in the world. With a crumbly texture and sweet, nutty flavor, Gouda can be crafted in a variety of ways by including herbs, peppercorns or smoked flavors. Pour a glass of Merlot, Malbec, Chardonnay, or Riesling with this cheese, or save it for the last tasting and savor with a Sherry.

7) Fontina
This hard cheese was developed in the United States and crafted in the Swedish-style. Its creamy texture makes it easy to spread on crusty breads, while the mildly yeasty yet somewhat tart flavor makes it perfect for Italian cooking. Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and Beaujolais are great accompaniments.

8) Parmesan
In Italy, this famous cheese is known as Parmigiano-Reggiano and it's crafted from cow’s milk. A hard cheese that’s grainy and dense in texture, this is another of the more popular cheeses in the world. The sharp, nutty flavor pairs well with Chianti (Italian cheese + Italian wine), Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling or Champagne.

9) Cheddar
This is an English cheese made from cow’s milk. The flavors of the crumbly hard cheese become sharper and more distinct as it ages. Now, crafted all over the world, cheddar is sold as mild, sharp and extra sharp. A glass of Cabernet, Merlot or Malbec goes nicely with sharp Cheddar, while Chardonnay or Pinot Gris will work well with mild cheddar.

10) Gorgonzola/Bleu/Roquefort
These veined cheeses can be made from cow’s milk, goat’s milk or sheep’s milk. Their distinctive blue-green veining comes from inoculating the cheese with a Penicillium mold. The flavors of a bleu cheese are sharp, salty and tangy and are a pairing sensation with sweet wines that don’t overpower the pungent flavors. Port is an excellent choice, along with a fruity Zinfandel or Cabernet Franc. For a white wine, try a floral Riesling.

To make your tasting complete, stock up on a variety of crackers, crusty breads, fresh fruits like grapes, figs, apples and melons, plus an assortment of nuts and olives.  If you intend to make this a meal, add some slices of ham, turkey and pate.

And don’t be shy about asking your deli or cheese shop for cheese samples to taste. They may also have the perfect nibbles to nosh for your Valentine’s feast.

~ Joy

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Six Smokin' Tips for Pairing Cigars and Wine

My profile photo has resulted in several questions about how to pair wine and cigars.  As when pairing wine and food, remember that it’s all about body and taste. Consider the intensity of flavor in the cigar and the wine, match the sweetness levels of both, and keep the acidic/tartness levels about equal.

Of course, you could simplify it to the point of pairing a white wine with a light-bodied cigar and a red wine with a medium or full-bodied cigar, but that does take a bit of the fun,  mystery, and great pairing potential out of the experience.

While white wines are not as easy to pair with a cigar as red wines, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try – just be patient and realize that not every pairing is going to make your taste buds happy.

As when complimenting wines with food, it’s all about your taste preferences, so keep notes on what works and what doesn’t. A journal can help guide you to your perfect wine and cigar matches.

With that in mind, here are six smokin’ tips to matching your favorite vino with a stogie.

1) Pair a light-bodied white wine with a cigar of the same type. If you have hints of grass and herbs in your vino (perhaps a light-bodied Sauvignon Blanc), opt for a light-bodied cigar with similar descriptive notes. (You might consider Drew Estate and one of their herbal blended Acid cigars to start.)

2) The wine’s flavor profile will skew the cigar’s, and vise-versa. Expect that. Remember, it’s all about enjoyment and the experience, not a “perfect match” every time.

3) I'm biased. That said, red wines pair the best with cigars. A cigar with the flavors of cedar and spice is best paired with a bold red vino with the same flavor profile. Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Malbec or even Merlot will adequately, sometimes fantastically, stand up to your stick.  (My go-to is Penfolds Koonunga Hill Cab/Shiraz.)

4) Ports are the go-to for most wine-lovers when pairing vino with cigars. These fortified wines lend themselves to a satisfactory match, thanks to the Brandy addition in the fortification process. Experiment with Ports and cigars from the same country and see what develops.

5) Sherries are another dessert wine that can make your stogie more flavorful. Again, it’s all about matching flavors, and having patience. If at first you don’t succeed … grab another vino and try again.

6) Sparkling wines and cigars can make an amazing pairing; sparkles enhances the smoky flavors, but stick to a crisp dry sparkling wine. The price point is not important, an inexpensive sparkling wine paired with a medium bodied cigar could make you a fan forever.

Of course, the traditional 
pairing of cigars and spirits is always a good match, but experimenting and discovering which wines pair well with your favorite cheroot can result in an enjoyable, smokin’ evening.

Anyone have a great wine/cigar combo to share?

~ Joy

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Appeal of Vintage Wine Posters

Posters have been used frequently for over 100 years as a way to advertise products, films, festivals, musical events, political candidates, and for propaganda purposes. 

Posters came into vogue during the late 19th century as a form of cheap advertising. Throughout the years, the poster has echoed the changes in our society and the way we do business by romanticizing, and sometimes mirroring, our attitudes and interests.

Lithograph Stone
The lithograph was the forerunner of the poster. It was developed in 1798, but was far too expensive to produce and took too much time to print to be used as a regular means of advertising. The lithograph struggled along until the 1870s when Jules Cheret developed a stone lithographic process consisting of three colors: red, yellow, and blue, which, when mixed together, offered a spectrum of intense colors. This process made the poster something that could be mass-produced at an affordable price. Suddenly the poster was embraced for commercial purposes in Europe and the U.S.

The major cities in Europe understood how to utilize the poster by including images and colors that would interest and entice the viewer. In 1891, the Moulin-Rouge poster, created by Toulouse-Lautrec, raised the status of the poster to an art form. By the end of the 19th century, the Arts and Crafts Movement, along with Art Nouveau style, dominated poster designs. These were the posters which featured wine prominently, namely Champagne, along with other alcoholic beverages.


Leonetto Cappielllo
Poster art changed again in 1901 when Leonetto Cappiello scorned Art Nouveau’s intricate style and opted instead for a simple image that captured the viewer’s eye.  With the start of WWI, posters took on a different use – propaganda; this became the biggest advertising campaign that had ever been attempted. Posters encouraged men to sign up for the service, urged people to support the war funds, boosted morale and fueled indignation against the enemy. In American alone, over 20-million posters were printed during the war. The U.S. had begun to grasp the idea that enticing images and vivid colors sold products and campaigns better than massive amounts of text.

A.M. Cassandre
After the war, Modernism took hold of the country, and in 1923 the first Art Deco poster, designed by Adolphe Mouron Cassandre, appeared. His modern style touted travel, wine, liquors and fashion. Cassandre’s ideas were embraced and he led the poster market with his designs for several decades. But Cassandre was not alone; poster designers throughout the world were crafting Art Deco posters that promoted the sleek, modern structures and forms that made Art Deco appealing.

With World War II came another chance for posters to
Betty Grable
gain recognition across the world, but this time posters shared the stage with other media: radio and newspapers. Stone lithography was being replaced with a process known as photo offset (using a dot pattern that made up the image), and actual photos were becoming more accepted on posters. The pin-up poster became a morale booster to the servicemen of WWII since society had loosened it’s morals, and “real” images were now in vogue.

After the war, a more informal approach to advertising began. Images were borrowed from Pop Art and Surrealism as we made our way into the “Brave New World" of the 1950s, and into the social upheaval of the 1960s. The computer age unleashed advances in poster designs that had not been considered before. By the 1980s, designing and printing a poster was something anyone could do in their home or office. Images went from cutting edge to modern to a more retro look and could be changed at a moment's notice.

While the poster has evolved, it is not nearly as popular as it was from the 1910s through 1940s. Our manner of social interaction has changed dramatically, and the media have also changed our way of receiving information throughout the world. Posters are still a go-to form of advertising for festivals, theatre programs and political campaigns, but sadly not so much for wine and liquor, which means those nostalgic posters from the past should be regaled and treasured even more.

~ Joy