The organiser/hostess was Jo Guy, who together with her partner Mark had attended two previous open ticketed evenings that had been arranged as part of Goldbricks ongoing and popular events calendar, ably engineered by Katherine Minton, manager of weddings & events for the restaurant.
So enamoured were this couple, that they managed to convince over 30 other people that this was truly a great social way to spend an evening. In fact so efficient was the grapevine that a journalist from Folio magazine who was researching a piece on how young professionals in Bristol meet new people without resorting to singles nights, called and asked for an invite.
Great Western Wines usual host, Patrick Pigny, was unavailable and a colleague, Graeme Ewins stepped into the breech. He had never done a joint presentation before and with only a few days planning clashing with other commitments on both sides, we managed only a brief 20 min meeting prior to flying headlong into the evening where I gave Graeme a run through of the cheeses I would like to show & the reasons why, largely being local & seasonal. He left enthused & a couple of days later e mailed me the wines he had selected as matches.
To say they knocked me sideways is perhaps a little too much hyperbole, but they certainly surprised me. Not only had he decided to begin with 2 reds, before 4 whites, he also put those reds up against the 2 variations of our own Gorwydd Caerphilly, which every previous wine collaborator had been convinced worked best with whites.
Not only that, but he also asked that we change the running order so that the cheese I had included as number 5, working up through strengths, be moved to number 3, and also be included twice, once with the second red, and again with the first white. Such audacity was either a sign of a very confident wine buff, or a disastrous failure on my part to explain the complexity of the cheeses. With so little time for negotiation, and always desirous of new experiences, I took a deep breath and decided to let the evening play out in whichever manner.
In the end, I think there were some lessons learned on both sides, & I certainly had a couple of preconceptions challenged. So here are the cheese & wine selections, along with my thoughts, and those of the assembled tasters.
Gorwydd Caerphilly with Negro Barbera D’ Alba 2008 Italy
To be fair, this was not Graemes’ 1st choice, which would have been Burlotto Dolcetta d’ Alba but was out of stock. This was picked as another low tannin red in a similar style. Far from being the clash I feared, the citric flavours from the Caerphilly breaking down the fruit & leaving only harsh metallic, iron filings, the soft fruits did sort of act as a counterpoint to the creaminess of the cheese, think cherry tart & clotted cream. It was not the best match I have tried, but maybe the less full Burlotto with a slightly more aged/deeper breakdown on the Gorwydd could have done both more favours, so benefit of doubt to Graeme on this one.
Gorwydd Washed Rind with Bodega Vallobera Pago Malarina Rioja 2008 Spain
Sometimes a cheese/wine match can sneak up sideways & take you unawares, it happened once at Avery’s with Dorstone & a NZ Pinot Noir, and it happened again here. I really enjoyed this pairing, the wine adding real depth and what I can only describe as meatiness to the cheese. My brain was picking up really savoury bacon flavours, but one woman said it made her think of liver. Was this just an association, or were we getting entirely different proteins? As always these things are so personal, and I will never know if we were close or miles apart. Suffice to say it worked.
Danegeld with previous Rioja, then Vina Leyda Lot 5 Chardonnay 2008 Chile
Danegeld is made by Jamie Montgomery of Monty Cheddar fame, using rich Jersey milk in an Assiago style cheese, the rind rubbed with olive oil. For those into continental breakfasts, this is a superb morning cheese. I felt that neither of the wines made this cheese sing, or vice verse, but of the 2 the red worked better. As I said on the eve, I could imagine a tapas plate with cubes of this cheese, some salted Marcona almonds, perhaps some gigantes beans & a glass of the Rioja.
The Chilean Chardonnay was an amazingly complex .and beautiful wine, & in retrospect I wish I had tested it against other cheeses there. Gorwydd, Tymsbororough? Who knows what may have happened, but the rich, oleaginous Danegeld did it no favours.
Tymsborough with Wickham Special Release Fume 2009 Hampshire
I had hopes for this combination, I appreciated Graeme wanting to include an English wine, & to demonstrate that British wines, like British cheeses have advanced immeasurably in recent years. The Fume style particularly led me to think that we could truly have an English goat cheese/wine combo to match any French classic. The reality was disappointing, and the fault lay with neither party. As with the Chardonnay/Danegeld mix, here were two guests at a cocktail party that the hostess really wanted to like each other, but the chemistry just wasn’t there.
Old Demdike with Champalou La Cuvee des Fondraux 2005 Vouvray France
My heart leaped when I saw this pairing, & this time there was no let down. Vouvray is one of those wines that has inexplicably gone out of fashion. True, many, as this one are slightly off dry, which in modern thinking appears to be an inexcusable crime, but there are occasions when they truly step up to the mark. Old Demdike is a local, washed curd sheep’s cheese, moist, sweet & delicate, in fact so much so that the first piece I tasted with the wine puzzled me. I swiftly cut a fresh piece, & realised what was going on. By the time the room got to tasting this, the surface had dried significantly & the moistness which carries most of those sweeter sheep’s milk notes had evaporated. I offered anyone who wanted to try a fresher sample with the wine the chance to do so, and the buzz in the room from those who accepted validated my wish to show the true integrity of the maker.
Beenleigh Blue with Domaine du Petit Metris Coteaux du Layon Chaume 2005
The match of blue cheeses & sweet wines is well documented, but in my opinion the temptation to go too big & sugary misses the mark. Some of the best matches I have encountered have been with naturally botrysised wines rather than sweetened wines, One day I may explain that more fully, but as a rule of thumb I would say pay more for a good half bottle than go for a bottle at the same or lesser price. Here the balance was perfect, this wine tasted sometimes of honey, sometimes of marmalade, tanginess & sweetness, as I say perfect balance. Alongside the saltiness (salt & sweet are very close on the taste buds) of the cheese this was close to nirvana, and a fittingly high note to close the evening on.
As I said, this was Graeme’s first experience of demonstrating wines that he knows intimately, and is passionate about, alongside cheeses that we feel equally protective of. He threw me a few curved balls, but I really enjoyed the evening,& it certainly was not text book stuff. The response from a very enthusiastic room was invigorating and I look forward to broadening my horizons with other such open minded people soon.