Rob’s most annoying daily question: “What do you want for dinner, hun? Anything in particular?”
Carey sags a little at the thought of coming up with ideas for dinner, and my ideas are always the same—flatbreads, or baguette burgers. Most of the time she puts on a gas face, starts picking at the ends of her hair, and we just end up with pierogies. But, last night was different.
It was Friday—and she actually answered the dreaded question. “What if… we get some different cheeses… and some grapes. We can pair wine with them.” I put a bottle of white wine, a Bonny Doon Viognier, in the fridge and off we drove the 150 feet to the Putnam market, where we chalked up another 5000 feet circling the parking lot. Nerts to efficiency. And foreshadowing.
Carey has an innate ability to choose delicious cheese. The guy behind the counter eyed her with respect when she rattled off 4 names confidently, then circled around the olive bar while he sliced. She worked the case—Carey Burden: fashionista and amateur fromagier. “I spread it out,” she confided to me while our cheese was wrapped in perfect packages, “2 cow, 1 sheep and 1 goat. It’ll be great.” We also managed to cover the United States, France, Spain and the Netherlands. I am a Gouda guy, so that was my only request. Smooth, nutty, full-flavored, with a texture similar to cold butter. Calcium lactate crystals, the delicious crunchy specs commonly found in Parmigiano-Reggiano, offset the divinely creamy texture.
Our first wine, the Bonny Doon Paso Robles Viognier, expressed a beamingly floral nose of lilac and white mountain flowers, and rich apricot and apples on the palate. Sweeter than I was expecting—but offset by gravelly minerals and a decent acidity. Lovely with the Manchego. There is a definite fattiness to this wine, which in this case was a departure from the winemaker’s notes. But, I have heard that Viognier can present an oiliness of texture at the height of ripeness.
Carey appreciates the romance and lovability of a fine Spanish cheese. I mean, who doesn’t? She always fancied raw milk Manchego as one of life’s little luxuries—a preference carried over from her mother to her—from a simple crumbled bite, to leek and Manchego mac and cheese. This floury, air-pocked wedge is buttery and compact with a decorative rind stamped in an zig-zag, ear of wheat pattern.
“If you could have one bottle of wine in this entire store, what would it be?”
This I asked of my friend Bill, an older gentleman with a wealth of wine knowledge, who works at my favorite local haunt, Purdy’s. He didn’t hesitate. No California cult Cabernets, no old guard Bordeaux, no Tre Bicchieri Brunellos. He went to Spain and the 100% Tempranillo Bodegas Numanthia. He then broke into a lengthy, and magical, story about his most extraordinary Numanthian experience. Alas, I could not afford the $70 big boy, but the $27 sibling named Termes I could afford. In fact I purchased it for my father for Christmas, which I was lucky to be able to share with him. Since then, I found one bottle of Termes at an incredible price. Termes pulls ratings that range from 90-98 depending on the year—shocking for a wine priced under $30.
[The Truffle Tremor in all it’s glory, leaning in to whisper sweet nothings to a slice of Manchego.]
Termes from my notebook:
Much softer than the 2006 Termes—no Ox blood. Red fruit and cedar—sweet, musty barrel cellar aromas, cherry and cranberry dominate the fruit basket and a slight edgy tartness still masks the true age of this vintage. Heavy fennel, toast, and cedar.
Not a hint of raisin on the palate, not a shade of brick in the glass—I would never have guessed this wine was 8+ years old. Intense raspberry, a twist of maple.
Oh, but how quickly things change. Post-pulled cork deterioration is where this wine’s age become apparent—I have seen it many times before with other wines. It is quickly progressing through its final moments. What opened with a tart, fresh, energetic posture is unraveling minute by minute. A very different profile, one of salt cured meats, cooked fruit, and nutmeg remain only hours later. Still delicious, but ready to be retired.
Port Salut. Carey told me that happy Parisian cows made this cheese—or was it happy Trappist monks? Regardless, it’s mild and mature, creamy and consistent, with muenster-like orange crust. In her European way, she even spread it on a crusty piece of baguette for dessert while I noisily spooned a Snack Pack down the hatch.
The true indulgence of the night was the Truffle Tremor—the most recent creation from Cypress Grove Chevre, the makers of Humbolt Fog, a mold-ripened goat cheese with a layer of edible ash. The Truffle Tremor is divinely earthy—multi-layered with a bloomy rind, briny-cream sub-layer, and velvety, truffle flecked filling that likes to live stuck to the roof of your mouth. Truffle Tremor is truly transformative—adults will swoon, children will gag—a true measure of how good something really is.
We danced around the cheeses for the better part of 2 hours, sipping wine and listening to Coltrane, trading dance partners. The guilt of our indulgence was nearly palpable as the evening wound down—every movement as if we were underwater, the cheese taking over our meek digestive systems while brain functioning slowed to a halt.
I highly recommend it.