Data Science to Easily Pair Wine and Cheese? Yes!

How many times have you wondered which cheeses pair well with your favorite wines? Or perhaps you’ve debated which wines complement your favorite cheeses.

You might have conducted online searches or looked at books for advice. Ultimately you probably found the answers, but how long did it take?

Now, thanks to data science and a Canadian professor, you can find results in an instant.

University of Toronto professor Gary Bader specializes in biological network analysis; he and a team of computer scientists and molecular geneticists developed a free interactive website, Wine and Cheese Map, to suggest pairings for about 100 red and white wines, and about 270 cheeses.

“You just quickly look at a picture and see patterns that would be very difficult to find if you were looking through data spreadsheets one row at a time,” Bader told the BBC.

The website process is very simple. To find which wines pair best with your favorite cheese, just type the name of the cheese in the search box. In an instant, you will be shown red and white wines that pair well with it. Similar cheeses will also be identified.

For example, if you have some delicious Gorgonzola in your fridge, and wonder what wine to drink with it, simply type in “Gorgonzola.” You will discover that it goes very well with California Cabernet Sauvignon, as do three similar cheeses, Cashel Blue, Stilton and Fourme d’Ambert.

Or if you have a bottle of Shiraz ready to pour, and want to know what cheese to pair with it, simply type in “Shiraz” and you will see the answer (as shown in the map below): Gruyere, Winchester Aged Gouda and many other cheeses.

In addition, the map’s interactive features allow you to move between different wines and cheeses. For example, if you click on “Gruyere” in the above map about Shiraz, you will be shown a new map (below); and you will discover that Gruyere also goes well with California Sauvignon Blanc, Tuscan Sangiovese, Syrah and California Zinfandel. Again, other similar cheeses are also noted.

The map can be used for planning parties or even when you’re shopping. So next time you are visiting a cheese bar in your favorite grocery or specialty store, or choosing wine from your cellar to go with that special cheese in your fridge, open up Wine and Cheese Map on your mobile device to help make your selections.

Cheers!
Margot and Dave

Madrigal Family Winery

Nestled between Howell and Diamond Mountains in Napa Valley, Madrigal Family Winery is best known for its Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc. Winemaker Chris Madrigal is a third-generation vintner, which shows in the wines he crafts.

We were fortunate to receive samples of three Madrigal wines, as the winery celebrates its 20th anniversary.

Madrigal Family Winery Petite Sirah 2012 ($34)
The winery made its name with Petite Sirah, and just one sip of this vintage will explain why. This intense wine is inky in color, with aromas of berries, licorice and dark chocolate. On the palate, there are rich, yet smooth flavors of dark fruit with spices on a long finish. You could pair this wine with grilled meats or sausage dishes, or sip on it before the meal, while nibbling on hard cheeses such as parmesan or sharp cheddar.

Winemaker Tasting Notes: “Inky black-blue color precedes perfumed aromas of cassis, espresso, and dark chocolate. Intense dark currant, blackberry, and plush plum flavors initially fill the palate. This heady, explosive wine then finishes long with BBQ rub spices, sweet toasted oak, and round tannins.”

Madrigal Family Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($48)
An Australian winemaker told us that she thinks about wines based on their “Yum Factor.” This Cabernet Sauvignon definitely has you saying “Yum!” Cab Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Merlot are blended with the Cab Sauv, resulting a robust, rich and beautiful expression of Napa Valley, where Cab is King. Now let’s get some steaks on the grill to pair with it!

Winemaker Tasting Notes: “From the outstanding 2012 vintage, this is a big, rich Napa Valley Cabernet with dark fruit and spice aromas and a hearty core of currant and black cherry flavors. The wine has excellent balance, soft tannins and a long, delicious finish.”

 

Madrigal Family Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2014 ($20)
We typically enjoy Sauv Blancs on the deck on warm evenings, but this lovely wine also works well during these cooler nights, particularly when paired with seafood. (We enjoyed it with garlic prawns and rice.) We love Sauv Blanc with 100% stainless steel fermentation, like this one, which results in a crisp, fresh taste of summer. Citrus and grassy aromas turn into smooth flavors of vanilla, melon and green tea.

Winemaker Tasting Notes: “Light straw color with the brilliance of sunlight through a forest canopy. Aromas of grapefruit, pineapples and orange peel. Flavors of pineapples and honeydew melon that are creamy and viscous on the palate. Nice crisp acid that finishes clean and refreshing.”

Next time we are in Napa Valley, Madrigal Family Winery will definitely be on our list of wineries to visit.

Cheers!
Margot and Dave

Fantastic Value Wines – Columbia Crest H3+

img_0191We’ve been fans of H3 Cabernet Sauvignon since Columbia Crest Winery sent us samples of the 2012 vintage a couple of years ago. We ended up buying cases of this extremely good value wine during the year, and the pattern continued for the 2013 vintage. Columbia Crest recently sent us samples of their 2014 lineup, and we are happy to say that their winning streak continues.

Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, 2013, 2014 ($15)
We recently decided to taste through a vertical of H3 Cab Sauv. Not surprisingly, the 2012 was the most complex of the three vintages, and drinking very nicely with a couple of extra years under its belt. But to us, at this vertical tasting, the 2013 was the clear winner. That being said, the new 2014 release is lovely, showing promise of outperforming both previous vintages. We can’t wait to try it again in about six months – we have a feeling it will end up being our favorite. Enjoy this wine with almost any beef dish, hearty pasta or even before a meal with strong cheese.

Other new releases sent to us were:

Columbia Crest 2014 Limited Release Gold Red Wine ($12)
Every year, this limited release wine is popular for the Thanksgiving table. (You also could pair it with grilled meats and vegetables.) Columbia  Crest’s winemaker sets aside a couple of barrels of wine each year that represent what he considers to be the gold standard vineyards and grapes in the Columbia Valley. This year’s blend combines Cabernet Franc (45%) with Syrah (36%), Malbec (17%) and other varietals to round it out. As you can tell by the grapes in this blend, you’ll find a big, rich and flavorful glass of delicious.

Columbia Crest 2013 H3 Les Chevaux Red Wine Horse Heaven Hills ($15)
Named after the horses (Les Chevaux in French) that once roamed Horse Heaven Hills, this is a lovely, vibrant red blend of Merlot (59%), Syrah ($36%), Viognier (4%) and Cab Franc (1%). You can enjoy this with strong cheeses such as blue or stilton, or with well-seasoned pepper steaks, beef stew or lamb.

Columbia Crest 2014 Grand Estates Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley ($12)
This is a great value estate Cab to pair with beef tenderloin, hearty pasta, blue cheese or chocolate. This wine features dark fruit, a wonderful mouthfeel, and a smoothness, complexity and structure not often seen at this price point.

Columbia Crest 2015 H3 Sauvignon Blanc Horse Heaven Hills ($15)
We’ve enjoyed previous vintages of this Sauv Blanc as a summer sipper on the deck, but this fall, we tasted it on a rainy, windy day, paired with garlic prawns, and it was delicious. The Sauv Blanc features citrus notes and crisp minerality, just the way we like it. You can also pair it with halibut, crab or quiche.

Columbia Crest 2014 Grand Estates Chardonnay Columbia Valley ($12)
If you like Chardonnay with creamy, buttery notes, with a bit of creme brûlée and butterscotch, this one is for you. Interestingly, 22% was fermented in stainless steel, which brings a freshness to the taste as well. Where we live, Chardonnay pairs well with fresh crab in August and September, or crab cakes all year round, along with chicken pot pie or pork tenderloin.

Any of these wines would be paired well with different Thanksgiving dishes — and at these prices, you can stock up for the whole family!

Cheers,
Margot and Dave

Stag’s Leap at Semiahmoo

img_0136We’ve been fans of Stag’s Leap wines for years, so we were delighted to find out the winery was holding a dinner on Nov. 3 at nearby Semiahmoo Resort. What an evening of taste sensations!

Chef Bruno paired each of Stag’s Leaps wines with a delicious five-course meal, while Kirk Grace, Stag’s Leap director of California vineyard operations, talked about the winery’s history and  winemaking. He made time to talk to everyone throughout the evening, and we learned that Stag’s Leap is one of California’s earliest wine estates, growing grapes in Napa Valley since the 1880s.

img_0150We enjoyed the company of two couples from Semiahmoo and Bellingham at our table, with a beautiful sunset forming a backdrop to the festivities at the scenic resort.

We are fortunate to live in this beautiful part of Washington state, and so close to friends and family in B.C. too.

Now onto the explosions of tastes that we enjoyed that night!

First Course: In a word, heaven.
Maple Cured Sockeye Salmon, Smoked Salmon Roe Pickled Cucumber, Red Miso Mayonnaise
— 2015 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars “Aveta” Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, CA

img_0137Second Course: A wonderful pairing
Pan Seared Neah Bay Black Cod Penn Cove Mussels “Paella”
— 2014 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars “Karia” Chardonnay, Napa Valley, CA

Third Course: A lovely red blend
Foie Gras Terrine, Candied Purple Grapes
Sour Apple & Charred Blood Orange
— 2013 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars “Hands of Time” Red Blend, Napa Valley, CA

img_0147Fourth Course: Absolutely delicious – our favorite course and favorite wine
Japanese Wagyu Beef Tenderloin
Black Truffle Spätzle, Chanterelles, Red Wine Jus
— 2013 Stag’s Leap Cellars “Artemis”, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, CA

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Dessert: Yummy!
Warm Roasted Plum Tart, Pomegranate Sauce
— Chateau St. Michelle Late Harvest Ethos Riesling, WA

Congratulations to Stag’s Leap and Semiahmoo Resort for a special evening.

This event was part of the resort’s Vintner’s Dinner Series.

Cheers!
Margot and Dave

 

 

Murrieta’s Well

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 8.18.34 AMTwo years ago, we wrote about how we enjoyed Murrieta’s Well 2011 The Spur from Livermore Valley ($25). We just tasted the 2013 vintage, and we liked it even more. While the price has increased to $30, so have the flavors, with a higher percentage of Petite Sirah and Cabernet Franc, and the addition of Merlot this year.

Crafted by the new director of winemaking, Robbie Meyer, this unique red wine blends 40% Petite Sirah, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon,10% Petit Verdot, 8% Merlot,  8% Malbec and 8% Cabernet Franc. In other words, the Petite Sirah forms a beautiful foundation for the classic Bordeaux varietals.

Each type of grape was harvested, fermented and handcrafted separately to achieve their greatest varietal expression, and then blended into The Spur. From the winemaker’s tasting notes:

“Beautiful fruit aromas of black cherry and blueberry are highlighted by subtle notes of sweet oak and earthy spice. A ripe tannic structure and balanced acidity make this wine perfect by itself or paired with your favorite recipes from the grill.”

We think this big blend would pair well with roasted or grilled meats, dishes with red sauces or rich cheese.

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 8.32.58 AMThanks to Murrieta’s Well for sending us a sample of The Spur, as well as 2014 The Whip, a white wine blend also from the Livermore Valley. While white blends aren’t our favorites, we know many people who would enjoy The Whip ($24).

The Whip blends 29% Semillon, 27% Chardonnay, 18% Sauvignon Blanc, 12% Orange Muscat, 8% Muscat Canelli and 6% Viognier; as with The Spur, each varietal was fermented individually. From the winemaker’s tasting notes:

“This unique wine showcases juicy fruit flavors of white peach, pear and melon with bright acidity and a touch of sweetness that creates a smooth and creamy finish.”

Murrieta’s Well is one of California’s original wineries, propagated in 1883 with vineyard cuttings from Chateau Margaux and Chateau d’Yquem in France. Need we say more? Oh, one more thing — Murrieta’s Well is owned by Philip Wente of Wente Vineyards, the country’s oldest, continuously operated family-owned winery.

Cheers!
Margot and Dave

Kaiken Winery in Argentina

Screen Shot 2016-08-21 at 10.07.34 AMBeat the August heat with a new summer sipper from Argentina — Kaiken Terroir Series Sauvignon Blanc 2015.

We paired it with cilantro-lime prawns on the deck, savored the refreshing flavors, and then kicked back and enjoyed our view of the lake. You could also pair this Sauv Blanc with fish tacos or grilled chicken. The aromas were intense on the nose; on the palate, this wine was fresh, with peach and citrus flavors and mineral notes.

A couple of weeks later, we barbecued flank steak skewers to pair with Kaiken’s 2013 Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon, also part of the winery’s Terroir Series. According to the winery, BBQ has been big in Argentina for longer than the U.S. has been a country, so it seemed like a perfect choice.

Blended with a touch of Malbec and Petit Verdot, this Cabernet Sauvignon is a deep red color and medium-bodied. The wine is still young, so we decanted it for a few hours. Once it opened up, the potential was apparent. A smooth wine, this Cab Sauv revealed a predominance of red fruits like plums, in addition to a touch of chocolate and vanilla. Its fruity aromas and flavors would also pair well with a number of other meat dishes, such as a juicy hamburger or lamb chop.

Both wines have a price point of $17, making them great choices for an every-day value wine.

Thank you, Kaiken for the samples.

Cheers!
Margot and Dave