Since Valentine's Day is all about pairing up and then spending too much money to celebrate that fact, talking about pairings might be a good way to prepare you for the holiday. Since one of wine's best food mates is cheese, I turned to the experts at Santa Barbara's C'est Cheese, owners Kathryn and Michael Graham and their staff, for some advice. And since love is a many splendored thing, I asked them for a series of pairings that might reflect some very different love stories. And remember, even after a stinky cheese, love means never having to say you're sorry.
Romantic Pairing: Ewephoria + Municipal Winemakers Bright Red
"Obviously the name of this cheese is a perfect fit for new romance," the C'est Cheese team wrote in an email. "And given that young love can often make us turn Bright Red, we thought the wine was a perfect fit in both name and, as it happens, flavor too." Ewephoria is a delicious sheep's milk Gouda-style cheese from Holland that's a crowd pleaser, so sure to satisfy just two on the big day. It has a sweet, nutty flavor that plays nicely with the bright, fresh fruitiness of the Muni Bright Red, a Rhone blend of five different grapes, primarily Grenache.
Long-Time Together Pairing: Parmigiano + Quinta de Rossa 10 yr. Tawny Port
"This pairing shows that many things, including wine and cheese, get better with time," C'est Cheese wrote, partially because they've been open since 2003. Parmigiano is often referred to as the King of Cheese due to its long traditional history as well as the fact that it is beloved around the world. Like a partner in a long-time couple, people often forget how good this cheese is by itself. It has a great sharp, sweet, saltiness alongside a dry, crumbly yet still creamy texture. Due to its long aging time and depth of flavor, Parmigiano stands up nicely to this 100-year Tawny Port. The Quinta de Rossa Porto tawny has a rich caramel flavor with a clean nutty finish that balances beautifully with the cheese.
Valentine's Day with the Kids Pairing: Honey Bee + Point Concepción Pinot Noir
"This pairing is playful and an easy crowd pleaser for all ages," the C'est Cheese staff wrote. "Honey Bee is an extremely popular cheese for both kids and adults alike. Made with pure goat's milk to which a little honey has been added, this Gouda from Holland has a sweet, creamy flavor that is hard to resist." They opted to pair it with the Point Concepción Pinot Noir, made by winemaker Peter Cargasacchi, since the wine "has a light, fresh flavor with hints of raspberries and fresh cherries. The wine cuts through the creaminess of the cheese while still offering enough acid to compliment the rich honey flavors." Don't share the wine with the kids. Unless you want them to go to bed early, of course.
"How to Prepare for a Break Up" Pairing: Pont l'Eveque + Stolpman Estate Syrah
"We chose a cheese that is strong and stinky alongside a bold wine with some spice in an effort to get someone's courage up before breaking up," the C'est Cheese staff wrote. Pont l'Eveque is a traditional cow's milk cheese from Northern France made in a similar style to a Brie but the rind is rubbed with salt during aging, lending the cheese more pungency and flavor. The resulting cheese is soft and creamy in texture with a deep mushroom and garlic flavor that stands up nicely to the body of the Stolpman Estate Syrah, one of the defining syrahs from Santa Barbara County. This wine has deep red currant and dark cherry flavors upfront that move into nice spice and dried herbs in the mid-palate, finishing smooth and satisfying. The wine should provide courage, with the garlicky cheese as some repellent.
The Opposites Attract Pairing: Naked Goat + Graham Beck Sparkling Rosé
Naked Goat is essentially an aged raw goat's milk Manchego style cheese from Murcia in southeastern Spain. It has a bright lemony flavor and the word naked in its name -- what's not to like? "We paired it with the Graham Beck Sparkling Rosé since most people choose rich, creamy cow's milk cheeses for sparkling wines," the C'est Cheese staff wrote, "however, the richness of the South African Brut Rosé balances the tanginess of the cheese while bringing out a nice richness in the wine." The Graham Beck is made in the traditional Champagne method with a blend of pinot noir and chardonnay grapes, leading to a beautiful pink color. The finish for both the cheese and wine is refreshingly crisp and clean, leaving lovers ready for more.