Cheese series: Virginia wines with French cheeses? Mais, bien sur!
I spent this past weekend in Washington, D.C. to celebrate my best friend’s bachelorette party. One of the activities we did over the weekend was visiting a winery in Virginia – Fox Meadow Winery. Even though California is the most famous wine-producing region (and produces about 90% of all American wines), Virginia is historically the first producer of wines in the US, dating back to the 17th century. Virginia is still the 5th largest producer of grapes in the US.
Fox Meadow Winery sits on a hill in Linden, VA and the scenery is just gorgeous!
We did two separate tastings. The first was a mix of their various wines – white and red – in the main reception area. While I wasn’t too impressed with their whites, the reds were quite nice – especially the Reserve Cabernet Franc.
The second tasting took place in the vat/barrel room, focusing only on their Renard Rouge with five different vintages – 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012. I loved the 2007 and the 2010, which incidentally correspond to drought years. Droughts lead to low-yield grape production, which in turns produces a wine that is really concentrated in terms of flavor and aroma.
We ordered a bottle of the 2011 Reserve Cabernet Franc for our picnic. I bought a second bottle of the Cabernet Franc and a bottle of the 2007 Renard Rouge to take home with me.
Cabernet franc is a grape very commonly found in the wines of Bordeaux and St. Emilion. I really like this grape as it often has aromas of sweet spices as well as some complexity added by some tobacco and coffee nuances. This Reserve Cabernet Franc also has great fruity aromas, such as red and black fruits. It is a lighter wine in color and appearance with a beautiful ruby red color.
So now for the food… I brought lots of cheese from Paris for the picnic and some of the highlights are (I was so excited when we sat down for the picnic that I forgot to take pictures of the cheese so these pictures were taken after I got back Paris and replenished my cheese supply 🙂 ):
A perfectly ripe raw cow’s milk Camembert by Isigny Sainte Mère, that is neither too hard nor too soft.
One of my favorites! Epoisses cheese made with cow’s milk by Berthaut.
Raw goat’s milk Grataron D’Arèches from Savoy. This cheese has a wonderful thick crust, which gives it a nutty flavor.
Raw sheep’s milk U Pecurinu, a tangy, salty, and creamy cheese from Corsica.
I tried the wine with all of the cheese and the best pairing was the Epoisses. Epoisses is a delightfully stinky cow’s milk cheese. As the cheese is made, it is regularly washed with Marc, a pomace brandy from Burgundy. This process gives the cheese a much more complex and stronger flavor. I think the best characteristic of Epoisses is its runniness so it’s best enjoyed after it’s been out of the fridge for an hour or two. It fact, a spoon is a much better utensil for this cheese than a knife.
Since Epoisses can be quite pungent, a sweet wine is the best pairing. I absolutely love a late harvest gewurztraminer with this cheese! However, I think that the cabernet franc was another great choice.
The Epoisses has bold flavors so you want a wine to match the cheese’s boldness. Being a stinky cheese, it has, for lack of a better word, “funky” characteristics. I think the cabernet franc is bold enough to match the cheese and the coffee and the tobacco hints in the wine also give it the funk that goes well with the Epoisses. Yet, Epoisses is also really smooth and refined so you don’t want a wine that is too robust either. Amongst red wines, I think a Syrah or a Cabernet Sauvignon would be too strong for this cheese. The cabernet franc is softer and more feminine to match the cheese and just complex enough to match the strength of its flavors and aromas. I think this is a great match with neither the wine or the food overpowering the other. This cabernet franc also has some soft and silky tannins balanced by a bit of acidity. The richness and creaminess of the Epoisses – it just melts in your mouth – seeks just that to compliment it. A wine with stronger tannins would be an undesirable match with such creamy cheeses, leading instead to a metallic aftertaste.
Amongst the rest of the cheeses, the Camembert was good too. Camembert is another super creamy cheese that has more complexity of flavors than the brie. Though I’d prefer to eat Camembert with a lighter and fruitier red wine or preferably with a cider from Normandy.
The rest of the cheeses did not work so well and that’s no surprise. If there is one thing I learned in my wine classes, it’s that lumping together a bunch of cheeses – such as in a cheese platter one orders at the end of dinner – with a single wine is a big mistake. My wine instructor, in fact, emphatically exclaimed that “c’est une catastrophe!” and cringed at the thought. Generally, it is one wine with one cheese and that is what I do if I have a dinner party. At the end of dinner, I bring out one cheese at a time, each paired with its own wine.
So I ate the Epoisses like there is no tomorrow. I even skipped the baguette and spooned it directly in to my mouth. It was so amazingly good!
Overall, I have say that Fox Meadow is a beautiful winery and they make great reds. It is so nice to sit outside and have a picnic with that beautiful scenery to enjoy. There was even live music.
All four of us really enjoyed our picnic and all three of us – 4 minus 1 pregnant friend, Kate, who is not drinking during pregnancy 🙂 – really enjoyed the wine. I will be coming back to this winery next time I’m in the region.
The mandatory jumping picture with the bachelorette 🙂 :
Jeewon, Juli, Kate and me loving the scenery: