Last Tuesday, as a part of PALATE 2009, Nena and I attended a wine and cheese seminar led by Shannon Brock from the New York Wine & Culinary Center. Shannon is someone that I've known in the virtual world for some time now, so it was a great pleasure to finally meet her in person. In it's-a-small-world style, Shannon is also the niece of good friend of my in-law's.

The seminar started with a little less on tasting wine — you know, all the S's etc. It was actually very similar to a class Shannon teaches at the Center, the main difference being the wine and cheese selections. Typically she'll include wines and cheeses from throughout the state, but for PALATE, the three wines and the three cheeses were all Finger Lakes born.

CheesesThe cheeses, seen here (from 10 o'clock and moving clockwise) were Red Buddy from Muranda Cheese House, Red Meck from Finger Lakes Farmstead Cheese and Cayuga Blue from Lively Run Goat Dairy.

Of the three, my favorite was probably the Red Buddy, which is a semi-hard cow's milk cheese that tastes mostly like Swiss cheese with a little cheddar character as well. But, all three cheeses were delicious.

The three wines that we tasted, first by themselves and then with the cheese, were Sheldrake Point Vineyards' 2006 Reserve Riesling, Red Newt Cellars 2005 Cabernet Franc and Arbor Hill Grapery 2007 Vergennes. Far and away, my favorite of the three was the Sheldrake riesling, a wine that I included in the New York Cork Club a few months ago and have several bottles of in my cellar.

Before I move on to the pairings themselves, let me tell you a bit about this Vergennes, which is actually a varietal wine made from the Vergennes grape, a vinifera-labrusca cross named for the town in Vermont with the same name, where it was originally found. Shannon included it because it's something different, but it apparently was very popular amongst the wine judges from California in last years New York Food & Wine Classic. What did I think? I didn't think much of it, honestly. There was some melony-grapey fruit there, but also an overwhelming detergent (as in Tide) character. Unique, yes. Good, no.

As part of the seminar, Shannon had us taste each cheese with each wine. Here are my notes.

Red Buddy with…

…Sheldrake Riesling: Best pairing for the cheese. Makes the wine a bit more floral. Acid cuts some of the cheese's richness.

…Red Newt Cabernet Franc: The cheese softens the tannins, but the wine really overpowers the flavors of the cheese. Okay though.

…Arbor Hill Vergennes: Wine completely overpowers the cheese. And not in any sort of good way.

Red Meck with…

…Sheldrake Riesling: Cheese dominates the wine a bit, making the finish much much shorter.

…Red Newt Cabernet Franc: The cheese softens the wine a bit, and accentuates the fruitiness. The best pairing of the three.

…Arbor Hill Vergennes: Strangely, the wine seems to mute the flavors of the cheese and vice versa. They almost cancel one another out. Weird.

Cayuga Blue with…

Sheldrake Riesling: Cheese is just too strong for the wine, pummeling it's delicate flavors.

…Red Newt Cabernet Franc: Again, the cheese dominates, but not as much. Probably the best of the three.

…Arbor Hill Vergennes: Makes the wine better, but that's probably because it overpowers the wine, muting the flavors.

The thing that makes these kinds of seminars/classes so interesting is just how different everyone's palate is. There were people who absolutely loved the Vergennes. There were people who thought the riesling (my default cheese wine by the way) was the best pairing for all three.

It just goes to show… you shouldn't trust anyone's palate but your own.