Festival flavors: Wine and cheese



Notes from two seminars that were part of this past weekend's 20th annual Wine Festival of Colorado Springs.

Before reading on, check out my brief slideshow. (Details on what you're seeing are below.)

The first seminar ($35) was called "Spanish Wine, But What Cheese?" and was held at the super scene-a-licious (as in, amazing views) Garden of the Gods Club.

Whole Foods' specialty specialist (yes, that's her real title) Carin Meese joined Denver's Steve Lewis of Giuliana Imports and three wine representatives who spoke for several different Spanish regions (Maite Esteve, Barbara de Miguel and Sonia Rodriguez) to discuss pairing cheeses available at your local Whole Foods with Spanish wines featured this past weekend that are available at Coaltrain Wine and Spirits.

The format was simple: Lewis and Meese would briefly introduce each wine and cheese and then let the respective Spanish guest speak a little more on the particulars of the wine: the growing region, did it see American or French oak barrels, etc.

We'd all taste the wine first, then two different cheese options paired with each wine, discussing as a group the flavors and success of the pairings. Really, it was a whole lot less snobby and stiff than I'm making it sound. The atmosphere was quite relaxed and fun, and my bullshit meter never ventured into the red zone.

It was quite interesting, for example, to taste how different Manchego cheese is when aged for three months, six months or a full year, and consequently, which wines each of those pairs best with.

I learned a new, somewhat common-sense saying: "What grows together goes together," spoken not in reference to inbreeding but in reference to Manchego being a wonderful pairing with any Tempranillo-based wine.

Among all the pairings, which truly were excellent — kudos to Meese — my favorite was the pairing of drunken goat cheese (with a wine-soaked rind) with the Emilio Moro 2009 Resalso from the Ribera del Duero region. The great news is that bottle retails for only $14.99, and the cheese is affordable as well.

For more info on pairing wine and cheese, chat with Meese at the Powers Boulevard Whole Foods location or Jim Little or Peggy McKinlay at Coaltrain. (Though the stores obviously benefit from purchases, 100 percent of the Wine Festival's profits benefit the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.)

And on to lunch at Amuzé at the FAC ($65), where Indy writer and Wine Festival volunteer Monika Mitchell Randall helped chef Bill Sherman organize a fantastic meal built around not only Spanish wine pairings, but also molecular gastronomy techniques.

Between courses, Spanish winemaker from Peñalba López Ricardo Peñalba introduced his wines, while Spanish wine reps Marc Picon and Andrew Holod discussed other features of some of the wines we were served, as well as Spanish grapes in general.

We were particularly encouraged to visit San Sebastian on the north coast of Spain, where we were told the largest concentration of Michelin Star restaurants exists.

Sherman started us with a killer first course: melon caviar with prosciutto de parma in a black sesame cone. As you'll see below, the melon caviar looks just like fat fish eggs. To achieve the texture, Sherman uses both sodium alginate and calcium chloride . As the links I provided show, the combination allows a person to create little liquid bubbles engulfed in a jelly exterior. Super-cool and a trick that makes for an impressive presentation, particularly inside a cone with delicious Italian prosciutto (granted a Parmesan note by pigs that were fed whey).

Did it go with the Pares Balta organic Cava Brut? Oh yeah, it did.

A portrait of molecular gastronomy in action.

As for other molecular gastronomy touches, Sherman has not the equipment, man-power, budget nor time to execute some of the high-level tricks involving materials like liquid nitrogen, à la famous eateries like Chicago's Alinea. But he explained that technically speaking, the first caveman to roast a sparrow over a fire was experimenting with altering something on a molecular level — as if to say most all of cooking could arguably be embraced by the term — though we've come to use it as foodies in quite a different way now.

For a second course, he prepared beets sous-vide style, which involves vacuum-wrapping them and cooking them for a long time at only 140 degrees. The result is a bright beet with all its flavors — usually lost to the water in which you boil them — intact and amplified by a nice Colorado goat cheese pairing.

Add the 2009 Peñalba López Blanco, made from Tempranillo and limited to 5,000 bottles (really rare in the wine world), and you've got a lovely accent to the beets' inherent sweetness and mild goat cheese tang.

Though I could go dish-by-dish, I'm sure I would bore you, so let's skip to the highlight reel and the family-friendly, easily digested take-home message:

Sherman placed a cherry cola demi glace with seared duck to match the 2007 Pares Balta Mas Petite 's Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon blend; sprinkled corn starch onto beef and toasted it (citing the Maillard reaction) to provide a charred appearance (on an otherwise rare cut of steak) minus the charcoal taste; and dished his trademark New Mexico red chile crème brûlée (another scorched item) with the outstanding 2008 Silvano Garcia Monastrell Dulce dessert wine.

As for the take-home message: I lied. There isn't one, really. You should still drink whichever wine tastes best to you for whatever amount of money you wish to spend. But if you can afford a special food event such as this, which really highlights particular wine qualities that match gourmet food, it's a real treat.

I found a new appreciation for Spanish wines this weekend and was glad to find most of them in a reasonable price range ($12.99 to $39.99). I already knew that Sherman could throw down, but this experience just served to reinforce Amuzé's creative excellence.

Cheers to the Wine Festival folks for organizing another great year of events.

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