Last night I got to taste some of Whole Foods’ Top 10 Holiday Wines along with a delicious cheese plate. Thanks to Jeanette and Arwen at the Montrose store, for a very educational evening! (Note: If you’re really into cheese, go to Whole Foods and talk to Arwen. She knows her stuff!) You can read Whole Foods’ description of the 10 wines, along with recommended cheeses and recipes, here. Whole Foods has a good summary of the wines, so I’ll just add my impressions of the 4 I tasted.
Roger d’Anoia Cava
Cava is a sparkling white wine from Spain, which is made using the same method as Champagne, but with different grapes. This Cava is dry, but fruity. I would put it somewhere between a California sparkling wine and Champagne – it’s fruitier and less toasty/bready than Champagne, but not as fruity as a California sparkler. This may have been my favorite of the evening, and it paired beautifully with the Parrano cheese (as recommended at the link above). Parrano tastes similar to parmigiano reggiano because it’s made with the same cultures. This Cava also paired nicely with strawberries, and I think would be good with anything that pairs well with Champagne. (I have it on good authority that popcorn and Champagne are a good match, so Cava probably is too.) At $10 per bottle, this is a crazy good deal.
This Greek white wine is made primarily from the Greek grape Moschofilero, though I believe it has some Viognier blended in. It had a fuller body than I was expecting, with lots of fruit up front and a clean dry finish. I liked this one better paired with the cheese than I did on its own (not necessarily a criticism – different wines are better at different things). We paired the Anassa with a Seaside Cheddar (which is not the same as the pairing listed on the site), which was a good match. The Seaside Cheddar is amazing – so rich and buttery, yet quite sharp – and only sold at Whole Foods. This wine is also reasonably priced at $12.
Santa Julia Innovacion
This dry red is a Bonarda-Cabernet blend from Argentina, and comes in a 1 liter bottle (instead of the usual 750 ml) for only $10. It has dark fruit flavors and medium-to-high acid and tannin. It has many of the flavors of a Cabernet, but is leaner and lighter due to the Bonarda. It had a touch of bitterness at the finish, but I’d still recommend it at $10, especially with food. It held its own against the green olives, so you know it can stand up to any strong flavors you might be serving.
We tasted this along with a wonderful cheese called Jasper Hill Cloth-Bound Cheddar. This cheese won 1st place at the American Cheese Society, and I can see why! It’s less sharp and less rich than the Seaside Cheddar, but more earthy, and with a bit of smoke. (It turns out that the slight smokiness is not from actually being smoked – it’s from the type of mold!) It reminded me of a cross between white cheddar and smoked Gouda. Fantastic.
Mat Kearney Verse and Chorus Napa Valley Red
This rich, fruit-forward red had lots of black currant and plum flavors, with some earthiness – think nuts or coffee. It was moderate in both acid and tannin, and would be a crowd-pleaser I think. At $25 it was the most expensive of the wines we tasted, but it was also pretty darn yummy. We tasted it with Emmi Le Gruyere (as recommended on the website), a nutty Swiss cheese which paired nicely.
(I've been thinking lately that saltier cheeses (like cheddar and parmesan) work better with white wines, while creamier, less sharp and salty cheeses (like brie, blue cheese, or swiss) work better with red wines. I'll try to notice this more in the future and report back...)
All these wines would be fine choices at a holiday party or dinner, but the cheeses were the star of the night for me, and a good reminder that the right wine and the right cheese can really bring out the best in each other!