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Sauternes ‘n’ cheese

I have a rough, tough life. Aline Baly, whose family owns and operates Chateau Coutet, a Grand Cru Classé Sauternes vineyards in Barsac, Bordeaux, France, dropped into the shop and opened up full bottles of their 1989, 1997, 2002 and 2003 vintages with the hopes of finding good pairings to accompany them. I was joined by cheese & food writer Janet Fletcher (who lives nearby in downtown Napa), Master Sommelier Peter Granoff, and my partner in cheeses & monger extraordinaire at our Oxbow cheese shop, Ricardo Huijon. Needless to say, it wasn’t one of our hardest days on the job…

Chateau Coutet produces about 3500 cases of wine a year—it’s a small, wonderful Sauternes producer. They are literally next door to Chateau d’Yquem (the creme de la creme for many in that category) and share many of the same resources that d’Yquem does with regard to grape growing and production. The wine itself–made from Sauvignon blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle, touched by the “noble rot”—is rich yet incredibly delicate, ranging from ripe apricots and honeysuckle in the younger wines to peach kernel and a light minerality in the older bottles. I was most interested in how clean it tasted and how soothing it was to the soul… and I am still thinking that I’d like to have it alongside my Thanksgiving turkey as well as the requisite pies for dessert.

We tasted it alongside a dozen cheeses, and here are some of our notes:

  • Domaine du Vallage (triple creme): Butter and cream! Though more luscious would even be better, it was lovely!
  • Tomme Dolce (firm goat washed in pear brandy, Andante Dairy, CA): Nutty sweetness, silky texture, balanced out the acidity for a perfect pairing.
  • Gruyere (firm cow): Roasted nuts, warm butter, same profile as a Comte.
  • Fenacho (goat with fenugreek, Tumalo Farms, OR): Perfect and fun pairing, neither overpowered. Especially good with the 1989.
  • 4 year old Gouda: Roasted butternut, also works well with an older vintage.
  • Parmigiano reggiano: Sweet and salty combination is great! 
  • Flagship Reserve (cow’s milk cheddar, Beechers Handmade, WA): Overpowered the 2002 but was gorgeous with the 1997.
  • Big Woods Blue (sheeps milk, MN): Everyone knows that Sauternes and blue cheeses works. This did, absolutely. Though perhaps not the best of all in the line up.
  • Manchego (firm sheep, Spain): Evened out the acidity, again. Great pairing with the older two vintages.
The verdict? Try to find a cheese that DOESN’T go with Sauternes. That’s the challenge. I’m game to keep trying!
Look for this wine, and go for an older vintage if you can find it. Get a big bottle (750 ml) because if you just get the half bottle, you’ll wish you did! It’s perfect for summer and for the holidays. 

Lassa Skinner

Lassa is a cheesemonger and one of the co-founders and owners of culture: the word on cheese. When not teaching classes on cheese and wine in Napa, Calif., you can find Lassa entreating fellow mongers to stock our magazine in their shops.

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