California wine takes a dip

Shipments of California wine to market, the numbers that track the volume of wine actually sent out from wineries, bottled or in bulk, are the most useful indicator of the status of the California wine business. For most of the past three decades, they’ve increased year-to-year, with only a few occasional and slight recessionary dips; progress seemed pretty much inevitable as wine became more and more commonplace in American life. However, 2009 saw a decrease, the first in 16 years, that may be different—and telling.
       On a percentage basis, it wasn’t a lot: shipments were down by 1.6 percent; still, that amounts to more than 4-million cases of wine. Furthermore, while past decreases reflected temporary

Cheese, please

I’ve almost given up trying to convince people to try having white wine with cheese after dinner, but not quite. (I hardly ever have dessert, preferring a bit of cheese, something simple like Comté, aged Gruyere, Cheddar, or Fontina—just one to relax with.) Slightly sweet white with good acidity just seems to make a perfect fit with a lot of different cheeses, and it doesn’t end the meal on a heavy note, the way many “dessert” wines can. We had a good example a few weeks ago when a bottle of Alsatian Riesling turned out to be a little too sweet for the grilled fish we were having for dinner (the back label just said “opulent,” which was not quite helpful); we had some Comté in the fridge, left over from a weekend splurge, so that match-up was a treat afterward.
       A few days later, we went to dinner at Le Café Anglais, chef Rowley Leigh’s classy bistro. It was a set dinner, for a group of favored customers and one lucky journalist, with Olivier Humbrecht, of Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, and featuring a splendid array of his wines. The food was mostly of the sort that you and I aren’t going to cook, so descriptions aren’t really relevant (except perhaps for an assemblage of smoked eel, beets, and horseradish cream that was a knockout with two of his superb Rieslings). The notable match, though, opened a door to an interesting set of possibilities that had never occurred to me: Gewurztraminer (Hengst 1998) with Montgomery Cheddar (pretty sharp). The wine was moderately sweet and quite spicy, classic lychee-and-gingerbread, and the alternating bites and sips just kept reinforcing each other in a delicious interplay of flavors, never flagging. I’m sure most of us haven’t lost any sleep wondering about food matches with Gewurztraminer, but this one (and probably Gruyere, aged Monterey Jack, Pecorino, or even Taleggio) really should be tried.
copyright 2010-2017 by Brian St. Pierre