By Corey Nuffer on July 8, 2011
After covering wines involving other people for a full year now – our anniversary party was back in April – Gozamos finally hosted its own wine tasting. Adhering to our cardinal rule of writing about what we’re passionate about, we didn’t take lightly the self-imposed assignment of wine tasting. After all, discovery helps along the passion. To construct something worthy of such passion is an altogether different animal.
We discussed the different wine tastings we’ve attended. We argued about what we liked about them and what we wanted to see more of and what it meant for a group of writers to conduct something that usually happens within the confines of a restaurant. In the end, we decided it was what we didn’t see that ruled the day. And so it was decided to do exactly that: a wine tasting in the dark.
Billed in its more familiar vernacular – blind tasting – we followed in the footsteps of a somewhat new trend of dining in the dark. The idea behind this is when you do things in the dark, your other senses, often seen as lesser senses in the realm of things, are heightened. As science writer Jonah Lehrer remarked in his wonderful book, Proust was a Neuroscientist, “we long ago traded away nasal acuity for better color vision.” He goes on to mention that “parmesan cheese and vomit…are both full of butyric acid, which has a pungent top note and a sweetish linger. As a result, blindfolded subjects in experiments will often confuse the two stimuli.” While we didn’t actually discuss puke and parmesan cheese, the tenets of the conversation were in the air.
Armed with such information, we all gathered together in the lofted art space of Gozamos headquarters, lit candles, turned off the lights and inhaled deeply the dimly lit wines held precariously in the dark.
The Pairings (all purchased at Marion Street Cheese Market)
2009 Rapido Pinot Grigio
Paired with Shepherd’s Hope, a sheeps’ milk cheese from producer Shepherd’s Way Farms in Northfield, MN. Pinot Grigio is a delicate white wine. While the Rapido Pinot Grigio has more complexity than a lot of Pinots out there, it is vulnerable to being overwhelmed. And this is part of why it is so popular, for it’s not a show horse wine. Instead, this is the wine you can drink everyday. Why spritz a lemon in your water or drink a fizzy mineral water when you can have both in a Pinot Grigio?
Shepherd’s Hope turned out to be a wonderful pairing because it latched on to everything that was complicated and compelling about the wine and held them in place.
2008 London Cab
Paired with Rogue Smokey Blue, a raw cows’ milk from Rogue Creamery, OR. It was sweet with caramel and nut flavors imported by slow smoking over hazelnut shells balance out the sharpness of this blue. This pairing was the winner of the evening. Was it that people were told it was a blue cheese and reticent of blue, they had low expectations of complexity? Or was it just so good that people couldn’t help but moan a little while quietly eating in the dark? Maybe.
The London Cab is a warm weather Cabernet. This is a shorthand way of saying that it is fruitier and closer to dessert in a glass than other wines. What made it – for me – worthy of selection was that it brimmed with complexity. I’m not good enough yet to speak with authorital concerning just what was brimming in such dark, loveliness and hiding behind the very strong presence of French oak – spices of nutmeg and cinnamon – along with the dark, jammy fruits and then, as always, currant. But it was enough to give me pause and wonder just what the hell I was sensing. And with such great mystery, one is provoked to inhale again and again and ponder.
When paired with the Rogue Smokey Blue, these secondary complexities in the wine burst forth. Smoke and savory qualities filled the palette. And everything lovely in the cheese also seemed to intensify. And this is one of the trickiest things about the wine-cheese pairing, that the wine (and I imagine beer and other pairings do the same thing) tends to greatly intensify certain qualities in the cheese. With funkier cheeses, even if they don’t seem as funky, initially, wine can render them a different cheese. And I know this goes against one of the tenets of wine pairing, that, “Food changes wine and not the other way around,” something that was preached to me from Master Sommelier, Randa Warren a couple years back. But still, there are cheeses out there that seem to need wine in order to be their truest self…cheese.
2007 Apaltagua Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon
Paired with Kunik, a blend of goats’ and Jersey cows’ milk from Nettle Meadow Farm in Thurman, NY. The idea behind this pairing was fat and simple. Apaltagua (Apple-tah-koo-wah) Cab tends toward what many refer to as a cold weather profile or more vegetative qualities than sweet. With a base fruit flavor of currant, Apaltagua brims with tobacco, black pepper spices, smoke and green pepper-ish aromas. There might be dust and even dark, dry chocolate intermingling, but these more delicate scents are negotiable. Structuring it all were strong tannins. Having tried this wine against cheeses that fit the textbook profile of triple-cream cheese as well as cheese that’s leaner (less fat) and more complex, the Kunik proved to calm the racier, harsher notes of the Cab and left exposed a soft underbelly of more delicate notes. The buttery loveliness in the cheese seemed to ignite against such chemical complexity. It was as if time slowed down and that buttery, full, richness just lasted and lasted.
And just in case there was someone who had never had honey comb, we added a little bit of that to each plate.
With wine poured and perfuming the air, we channeled a sort of impulse control not often needed at a wine tasting. Namely, we did nothing but listen to a podcast on umami and the other sense. We discussed the importance of glasses and smelled the wines from different glasses, noting to ourselves that the wines had virtually no smell in some glasses and bloomed deliciousness in others. Special mention should be made concerning opaque or dark glasses you can use when flipping the light switch isn’t an option.
Plans are already in the works for the next Gozamos wine tasting event. This time, we’d like to involve input from our readers. If there’s something about wine that keeps you up at night, something that you feel doesn’t get enough attention, or something you just are curious to know more about, let us know!
Until then, Cheers!