wine and cheese

If you want to throw a wine and cheese party, and I definitely think that you should, the first thing you should know is that it won’t be cheap. Oh sure, all the how-to Web sites will tell you that you don’t need to buy expensive wine, and that’s true, but presumably you’re not inviting everyone over to sample and savor the taste sensations of wine from boxes and jugs, although that would be kind of funny, wouldn’t it? People come over for a swanky wine and cheese tasting, and you say, “this is from the $3 jug, vintage yesterday; I believe the grape varietal is concord”. And if you decide to go that route, seriously invite me, because that sounds like a totally fun party. I might bring my own wine though.

Otherwise, this party is going to cost a few dollars. You want to have a variety of wines for the guests to taste and compare, and you want to have extra because you never know which one they’ll really like and want to taste a lot. So, say you include five or six wines, and you get a couple of bottles of each, and you spend between $10 and $25 per bottle… but you like your friends, right? They’re worth it.

You’ll probably end up spending a few dollars on cheese as well, unless you’re planning to go with Kraft singles and cheese whiz, which again, I think would be awesome.

Another option is to have each guest bring a bottle of wine, and that’s really not a bad idea. Just be prepared for a wide variety of tastes. You might give them a few guidelines. “Bring your favorite bottle of Italian white!” or something. Except then you might have everyone bring the same bottle, if it happens to be on special at the local Safeway. Have a back-up plan just in case, if you don’t want to have to say “here’s that same wine again. Only this time it’s from this bottle. Does it taste any different?”

P. and I had a wine and cheese party a few weeks ago and I overdid it a little with the cheese part. Not that anyone complained, but we did have a lot left over that obviously, we had to eat, and it’s possible that all that cheese and cream and butter had a little to do with my current participation in Weight Watchers.

We did a tasting of each wine with assorted cheeses and other accoutrements. Then, we all grabbed a glass of our favorite and I brought out the cheese-centric entres.

The tasting went a little like this:

“And here’s a taste of the first wine. It’s a Chardonnay from…”

“Hey, that’s practically a full glass! Are you trying to get me drunk?”

“Ooh. Come pour mine. You can pour for me anytime.”

And then we all tried to be snobby and describe what we were tasting.

“Gamy!”

“Really?”

“No, I just wanted to say that.”

“Earthy on the nose with a long floral finish.”

“You mean you actually know what you’re talking about?”

“No, I just read some of the words off the back of the bottle.”

We tasted two Chardonnays, two Rieslings, and a Gewurtzraminer. We stayed with whites to keep it simple, if simple means utter confusion involving alcohol. We made little score cards so that everyone could rate the wines, but after a couple of wines, not many of us could add very well and only one of our friends was even attempting it.

After a while it was:

“Yum! Bring on more wine!”

The favorite cheese was the Wensleydale with cranberries, so if you do have a party, you should definitely include that one. Especially if you’re inviting me. The least favorite wine was the Chateau Ste. Michelle Indian Wells 2001 Chardonnay, which we all agreed tasted mostly like burnt rubber. One friend arrived late after having a spectacularly bad day.

“Don’t make her drink the burnt one!” Came a slurred shout from somewhere in the room. We made her at least try it for the sake of completeness. She pronounced it burnt. (I suppose the more snobby thing to say would be that it tasted of toasty oak, but really, it didn’t. Just charred.)

In Chateau Ste. Michelle’s defense, their Reserve Chardonnay is one of my favorites, and their Indian Wells vineyard produces other really great wines, but this wine just doesn’t do it for me, being burnt and all.

We had nuts and dried fruit and olive oil and truffle oil and spicy mustards, but it soon became apparent that we’d better start serving actual food. We served:

Pasta salad with ricotta salata and broccolini
Tomato salad with arugula and shaved parmesan
Puff pastry filled with gouda and topped with jalapeno jelly
Wild mushroom tartlets with goat cheese, shallots, garlic, and truffles
Pizza Rustica filled with ricotta, mozzarella, and parmesan cheeses, spinach, and hot Italian sausage
Goat cheese ravioli with butter sauce, crisp pancetta and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

It was not the most healthful, diet-conscious meal. The tartlets were the most fun to make. I love wild mushrooms, but they look like something from another planet. I mean, who first looked at these and thought, “wow, I bet those are tasty!” But they did turn into fantastic appetizers.

My favorite was the goat cheese ravioli (and with two sticks of butter and heavy cream in the sauce, how could it not be?), but the pizza rustica was a close second.

Once we were all stuffed from all the cheese and wine and accoutrements and food, obviously, it was time for dessert. We had two dessert wines, including Bonny Doon Framboise served in little chocolate cups. And P. made a cheesecake, because it is my favorite dessert in the entire world and he is very good at making it.

There’s a lesson in all of this. Have wine and cheese parties as often as possible. Make lots of things with cheese, but probably not quite so many things. You don’t need recipes, just combine butter and cream with some herbs. Believe me, no one will complain about the cooking. Have a variety of wines on hand. When a guest says the wine reminds him of his mother-in-law as it’s her favorite, make sure you have back-up wine to provide. Score cards just get in the way of the drinking. I mean, of the sniffing and the tasting. Even calculators won’t help, so you may as well keep the counter space open for more cheese.

And make P. bring the cheesecake.

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