Wine: Wine Cheese and Granny Smith
A tasty way to put wine to the test
Two weeks ago a strange newspaper started showing up on my porch.
It was different. The paper had a pinkish tint and had been expertly wrapped in a waterproof plastic bag, bound tight with an elastic band. Despite all the care and attention someone had lavished on it, I picked it up and deposited it unread into the recycling bin. Until last Saturday, when I saw they had a wine column.
The paper turned out to be The Financial Times, a business newspaper. Very reputable, very British, right down to the Anglicized spellings. The wine column was in the Weekend Section and it was by my one of my favorite wine writers, Jancis Robinson, also very reputable and very British. She has the distinction of being the only British journalist to have passed the rigorous Master of Wine course, an exhaustive ordeal that encompasses all facets of wine knowledge. It was from reading her work that I came across the old wine merchant’s adage: “Buy wine on an apple, and sell it on cheese.” The acidity of the apple wilts only the most self-assured wines and cheese can make even a weak and saggy wine taste fuller.
I decided to put some white wines to the apple test, the criteria being that the wines were affordable and accessible. While I’m sure that a 1985 Chateaux Laville-Haut-Brion would have been wonderful with even Cheese Doodles, its price tag of $190 made it too expensive. Even the 1999, which needs eight to 10 more years to mature, was $90 so that too was out. But I wanted to include some of the less common whites, especially a white Bordeaux, or Graves, which are sometimes blends of sauvignon blanc and semillon and present a different experience for those accustomed to chardonnay.
Narrowing the white Bordeaux field, I chose Chateau Carbonnieux at $22.99 over Chateau Tourteau Chollet at $12.99, because the Carbonnieux was a blend of sauvignon blanc and semillon and the Touteau Chollet was all sauvignon blanc.
From Germany I went with a young riesling so I could see how the sweetness of the wine and the apple matched. From Italy, a country that makes lots of good white wine, I selected an Orvieto. California provided the chardonnay and since I’d tasted several delicious Chilean wines recently I grabbed a chardonnay as well.
Australia provided a semillon/chardonnay mix, just to see how it would stack up against the French. New Zealand of course was a sauvignon blanc, and finally back to France for something from the Loire region.
The tasting started at 2 p.m. Experts say the best time to taste wine is in the morning, when the tastebuds are at their most sensitive, but it was a Saturday and I just slept ’til noon to alleviate that problem.
The apples were Granny Smiths. Greenskinned and tart, they’d pose quite a challenge to our contestants. The wines were served at 58 degrees. OK, I didn’t take their temperature but I took them out of the fridge about 30 minutes before serving. I opened them and let them aerate and warm up a bit.
The protocol called for a small bite of sliced apple, then the wine. Later a second and third taste were conducted without the apple and then with the apple Here’s how they stacked up.
2002 Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt RK Riesling QbA from Germany’s Mosel Saar Ruwer region, which runs along the Mosel River Valley from the French border to Koblenz. $13.99. A slightly sweet wine with fresh honeysuckle aromas and the taste of honey, lemon and quince. The QbA in the title designates the wine as the second highest in quality of German wines. There’s Tafelwein (table wine), Landwein (better and at least half a percent higher in alcohol content), QbA and QmP, which designate the must weighs and sugar content of the grapes. QbA is often called Quality Wine and QmP is Qualitatswein mit Pradikat or Quality wine with Distinction. These are usually the most exported and available German wines.
The Kesselstatt Riesling seemed a bit subdued with the apple, and would have been better with apple pie. Apple Grade C-, wine good, but it would have been better at $11.99
Melini Orvieto Classico Orzalume 2001 $7.99 a fresh, young wine that has a sunny taste of apricot, pineapple and escarole. Its freshness and low sugar content made it a nice touch with the apple, and I even dipped a piece in and tasted them together. Bellisimo!!!
Apple Grade B, but the wine was less successful on its own.
Jekel Chardonnay Gravelstone Monterey 2002. $10.99. From the Salinas Valley near Monterey, California. A heavy, oaked wine that completely blew the apple flavors away.
A bit tannic, but buttery with vanilla and creamy finish. Apple Grade A, the wine was a sleeper hit for me, and very good.
Santa Alicia RSV Chardonnay 2001. $8.99. Try to avoid the even number vintages from Chile. Santa Alicia makes my favorite Chilean merlot and the chard was tannic and wane.
Apple Grade D, the wine was something you’d taste at an art opening. More of a cocktail wine than a food wine. Strong aftertaste of alcohol.
Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough, New Zealand 2002. $14.99. Kiwi, lemongrass, lime and pineapple flavors float in your mouth. Lots of backbone, some structure and multiple layers of taste. Apple Grade B+. Who needs Cloudy Bay, with Oyster Bay?
Patient Cottat Sancerre Vieilles Vignes 1999. $16.99. From the Loire Valley. A good age to drink, at a nice price. It presented lemon water and tarragon flavors with a mineral backbone that was endive-like. Apple Grade C, but the wine would have been a little more enjoyable with oysters. .