Even cooler Cali pinot
Terrific deluxe meritage from Two Sisters
A cool California chardonnay
Pinot grigio beats chardonnay!
Frame-up: The Beer Store, beer tax and beer prices


Dynamic Duos

Published in Lifestyle magazine. December 2008

Fine wines and artisanal cheeses have never been more available, but the variety can also be overwhelming. So when putting together a sensual sampler, where do you start? Here's an idea: Uncork that tall skinny gift from last Christmas that's been gathering dust on the back shelf and open it: icewine is a great companion for blue cheese. If you’re feeling extra decadent, serve it on a square of dark chocolate. The contrast of the pungent, salty, creamy cheese and the sweetness and acidity of the icewine is what works the magic. Port is a more typical (and excellent) blue cheese pairing, as are Sauternes, late-harvest rieslings and gewürztraminers. If you’re a little uncertain about a strong, mouldy cheese, these wine pairings will have you reconsidering. 

Anne Martin, a Toronto-based sommelier and wine consultant has a few suggestions for matching wines and cheeses. “You can pair like with like, or you can contrast,” says Martin. “To pair a wine and a cheese, you need to look at the structure of the cheese as well as the wine. Is the cheese very earthy or is it more clean and citrussy like goat’s cheese. Is it harder and more piquant like a pecorino or parmesan?”
Martin says chardonnay is the most all-round cheese-friendly wine and she generally recommends whites. “Salty hard cheeses are the only ones I think go well with red wines, but even then you have to be careful that there’s not too much tannin in the wine because the astringency will be too great – that’s nasty in any food pairing.”
Toronto’s Cheese Boutique has been around since 1970. “It’s the city’s finest,” says the affable manager Afrim Pristine, the third generation to work in the family business. Afrim ages many cheeses and will not release them until he deems his  product ready. “Right now we’re selling a ton of our 10-year old raw milk northern Quebec cheddar which we’ve just released from our cheese vault after sitting on it for eight years.”
It’s rare to find a cheddar that old, and it’s extremely good – rich, dense, moist, and flavourful, not dry and crumbly like some old cheddars. It would work beautifully with a quality Bordeaux of a similar age, tannins smoothed and softened over time. However, Anne Martin warns that “with a younger more tannic red wine, your mouth would just be all puckered up.”
It’s one thing to think about matching the cheese with the wine but, says Pristine, “you want to eat what’s in season. Creamier cheeses from France and Spain are best right now. The cows, goats and sheep eat the tall rich grasses in spring and summer and that translates into better quality milk, and we start to get those cheeses here in the autumn – Thanksgiving to Christmas. That’s when you have the widest selection of cheeses.” Depending on the origin and flavour profile of the cheese, you’d want to pair chardonnay, sauvignon blanc or, with more delicate ones, riesling. In winter, you’re better off to go for harder and more aged cheeses, which is just as well as you’d probably rather have the matching cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, beaujolais (a lighter red made with gamay), or Barbera from Italy.
Anne Martin suggests an easy shortcut for pairing European cheeses: “regional is a great way to go – pair the cheeses from the region with its wines.”
But maybe you want to see how the pros do it. At the very stylish Trevor’s Kitchen and Bar in downtown Toronto, Trevor Wilkinson offers a cheese plate that changes every week. In addition to three very different cheeses, the platter has a bowl of honey, a selection of dried fruits and nuts, and raisin crispbread. “We offer ports, dessert wine and nine other wines by the glass so all the bases are covered.” Trevor himself usually likes a tawny port.
“Eat local” is all the rage in food, and cheese is no exception. On the one hand, most cheeses are aged, so who cares if it spends a month in cargo class from Europe? On the other hand, “production here in Canada is now top notch,” says Afrim Pristine. “There’s lots of great cheeses from Quebec. In Ontario, Monforte Dairy in Millbank is making fantastic product. Forfar Dairy, a cheddar producer, are also doing a great job.”
With the holiday season approaching, it’s good to get cheesy. And even better to get it right.
Team Canada Fantasy Cheese Plate
Sommelier Anne Martin selects three Canadian wines to go with cheesemonger Afrim Pristine’s three Canadian cheese choices.
Riopelle (a brie-like cow’s milk cheese) with Henry of Pelham Reserve Chardonnay 2006 - the creamy, buttery character in the cheese is matched by the oak notes in this rich, fruity chardonnay that has enough balancing acidity to add refreshment. 
Chevre Noir (an aged cheddar-like goat’s cheese) with Avento Elige 2005 - an elegant Bordeaux blend of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc from Niagara, this subtle red will pair beautifully with this robust and flavourful cheese.
Ciel de Charlevoix (a blue cheese) with Cave Spring Dolomite Riesling 2007 - an off-dry riesling that has gorgeous mineral notes and just enough sweetness to counterbalance the salt and also citrus to cut through the creamy fat in the cheese.


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