Each one of them is artisanal and bursting with flavor. Together, they are devastating. Dolce wine and bleu d’Auverge cheese—the single best way to celebrate National Cheese Lovers Day, which is today.
For some time I’ve been thinking about the idea that the most accessible of all the world’s extraordinary pairings is a hunk of cheese and a glass of wine.
Not just any wine or any cheese however. Because, a great pairing between the two hinges on getting a complex equation of oppositional components–fat, acid, salt, and alcohol—just right.
It’s too hard to predict something this knotty. Which is why most of us fall back on the classic methodology–taste a bunch of combinations until something clicks.
It clicked big time recently when I was visiting Far Niente. There, in a “tower” of the old 1885 stone winery, I had a glass of the langorous Dolce and a wedge of the blue d’Auvergne. It was one of the best simple wine and cheese experiences I’ve had. Here are a few things to know:
When it was created in 1985 by the late Gil Nickel and his partners (Nickel also founded Far Niente), Dolce became a Napa Valley sensation. First, because the wine was so mindbendingly decadent. And second because creating a late harvest botrytized wine in the manner of a great Sauternes was considered virtually impossible in a dry climate like California. Nickel was not only undeterred, he was galvanized by the challenge. Today Dolce is the only winery in the Napa Valley devoted exclusively to a single desert wine. Great sweet wines are defined not by their sweetness (a given) but by their balance and acidity. (It’s the acidity in the wine–along with the sweetness –that makes the wine such as great counterpoint to blue cheese). Dolce’s immaculate balance means the wine rolls over your palate in waves of lusciousness lightness. The wine is exceedingly difficult to make. (A mere 800 to 3500 cases are made each year). It starts with a vineyard in tucked into a sheltered corner so that fog settles and huddles there for hours each day, (moisture is necessary for botrytis to form). Even given the fog, the winery employs special misters which can replicate morning dew. During the harvest, vineyard workers (who must go through the vineyard numerous times) use special shears to painstakingly cut out all berries that are not infected with botrytis mold (sometimes a cluster provides a mere single usable berry). If a good worker can pick 500 pounds of chardonnay grapes in an hour; a Dolce worker can pick just 15 pounds an hour. Because of the high sugar content of the juice, fermentation takes half a year. The wine is expensive—a half bottle is $85, but of course one sip goes a long way. In the end, Dolce, with its grand Art Nouveau-inspired label, is a wine worthy of the complexity required to usher it into existence.
As for bleu d’Auvergne, this French blue cheese is creamier, more buttery, and less pungent than its cousin, Roquefort. It’s named for the mountainous Auvergne region of south central France which is famous for its cheeses and charcuterie. Like many of France’s top cheeses, bleu d’Auvergne has its own appellation. Because it is so creamy and because it tends to have less salt and is less “blue” than many other blue cheeses, bleu d’Auvergne is especially good with a glass of sweet wine.