Narrowing a wine and cheese tasting down to one favorite vintner and one style of cheese is a great way to deeply explore both. For this tasting with a twist, we explore the classic pairing of goat cheese and its most compatible reds and whites. The occasion calls for a beautiful yet simple presentation that, like the food, expresses superior quality. We chose two favorite local California producers, Cypress Grove Cheese, known nationwide for their chevres, and La Crema Winery, acclaimed for their handcrafted Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. Selecting individual producers who are specialists in their field is a smart strategy for both novices and connoisseurs alike. The sharp focus means that every taster develops an expertise faster and has the pleasure of tasting for nuance as well as for knowledge.
Wine and goat cheese have a long history together. Your tasting should start with the mildest cheese and progress to the strongest. Fresh chevre, typically soft, white and tangy, is often paired with dry whites like sauvignon blanc and Sancerre, and with light-to-medium-bodied reds like Merlots and French country reds. Aged chevre, typically dry, rich and intense, can take on classic heavy reds like Cabernet Sauvignon.
A few hours before the party, remove the cheeses from the refrigerator, unwrap them and allow them to warm to room temperature to fully develop flavor. Present them without crowding on separate cheese boards or plates with one cheese knife for each and cards or signs displaying their names. Use glass domes to contain exceptionally fragrant, ripe cheeses so that they don’t overwhelm the others. In our video with Cypress Grove founder, Mary Keehn, you’ll learn more about goat cheese storage and tasting.
Thirty minutes before guests arrive, uncork the La Crema Pinot Noirs and Syrahs to give them time to aerate and develop their flavors and bouquets. Fill ice buckets to keep your uncorked La Crema Chardonnays and Pinot Gris chilled. Set out wine-glasses, making sure to wash and dry them if they smell musty from storage. Don’t forget the dump jar – a bucket or deep bowl – where guests can empty their glasses. After each taste, dump the wine out, and rinse the glass with water before moving on. Our video with Melissa Stackhouse, winemaker for La Crema Winery, discusses the fine points of wine tasting and pairing.
Whether it’s on a buffet or spread across an entire dining table, your tasting should be set up for easy access and traffic flow. A buffet like our Benchwright Buffet is a great solution for a small space, allowing guests to help themselves to glasses, plates and napkins in the drawers and cupboards underneath. For larger parties, place everything in the open, with food, wine and pitchers of water on the main table, and dishware, glasses, flatware and napkins on a smaller table nearby, where they can’t be bumped and broken.
Whatever the size, a bountiful table is a thing of beauty. Think of your tasting as a way to stimulate the taste buds by engaging all the senses. Let tasters taste not just wine and cheese, but their natural relationship to grapes, olives, honeycomb, pears, cured meats, breads, candied ginger, quince paste, plain almonds or fresh figs – all vibrantly colored, edible decorations.
Your own unique touches add a sense of fun and personal style. Let guests play with different styles of corkscrews and wine keys to get a feel for the equipment. Monogrammed cloth napkins, unique wine stoppers instead of corks that make the bottles easy to distinguish, wine charms for glasses – these details are often the most memorable of all. And don’t forget the mood music with a playlist you make yourself. Or even easier, just take ours!
Keep in your own home the same wineglasses used in high-end restaurants and hotels. German producer Schott Zweisel has created a special kind of glass that’s highly resilient to dishwasher use, breakage and chipping – but looks exceptionally delicate. Watch our video on Schott Zweisel to see their process.
Our Schott Zweisel glasses come in sets of six shaped especially for white wine, Bordeaux, Burgundy, and an all-purpose red wine glass. For your tasting, give each guest a set of glasses consisting of at least one smaller white wine glass shaped for a more delicate bouquet and a larger red wine glass shaped for swirling. The glasses can also be monogrammed for a more formal look.
It’s a treat to have vintage wine accessories like wine makers and collectors. The Wine Opener and Bottle Opener of our Sentiment Collection have the look and weight of antique iron. Our rustic Founders Entertaining Collection creates ambience, adding a sense of history and character to your tasting. The Standing Wine Opener looks like an antique but works like modern machinery. Keep extra bottles in the distressed wood Wine Box, and present cheeses on our elevated wood Founders Cheese Stand, made for easier access than regular plates.
Wine Stoppers are some of our favorite accessories. Their different shapes add personality to the table and help distinguish special bottles. They prevent wine from oxidizing over the course of a tasting, and when the party’s over, they make thoughtful gifts to send home with guests.