Essayist M.F.K. Fisher once wrote: “Wine and cheese are ageless companions, like aspirin and aches, or June and moon, or good people and noble ventures.”

Natural partners but the pairing often promises more than it can deliver. The butterfat in cheese has a tendency to coat the palate masking all those subtle flavors in wine. Cheese seldom enhances a wine.

So I was intrigued by but skeptical of the The San Diego Wine Society’s wine and cheese pairing dinner held last Saturday at the Red Marlin Restaurant. 10 wines with 10 cheeses? Plenty of opportunity for a pairing faux pas.

As usual the wines were extraordinary. The emphasis was on Italy with a fine 1999 Barolo and a tasty but unusually tannic Brunello. But the star of the show was a surprise—the Ribeca, a lovely, powerful, fig-and-fennel-driven blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Nero D’Avola from Sicily. Sicily is a region with enormous untapped potential and the Ribeca is an example of the new breed of quality wines emerging from that region historically known for cheap, bulk wines.

What about the cheese pairings? Adam’s research and Joey’s careful attention to detail avoided a pairing faux pas. The cheeses were sourced from France, Italy, Spain, and Holland. Each was interesting and none detracted from the wine. Blue cheeses worked well with the bigger wines;dry, salty, aged cheeses with the softer, lighter wines. By choosing wines with lively acidity and soft tannins, the wines and cheeses avoided conflict, and by eschewing stinky, soft, fat-oozing cheese, the flavors of the wine were allowed to shine.

The best pairing was the goat cheese paired with the Crus Beaujolais from Regnie–the tangy zip and nutty character of the cheese was a perfect foil for the fruity, earthy wine.

You can sign up for future meetings of the society here.

Here is a list of the wines that were poured:

  • 2010 Guigal Condrieu VIOGNIER, Rhone Valley, France
  • 2010 Domaine des Braves GAMAY, Regnie, Beaujolais, France
  • 2009 Chateau Pedesclaux CABERNET SAUVIGNON, Pauillac, Bordeaux, France
  • 2010 Faustino Rioja TEMPRANILLO , Spain
  • 1999 Marasco Barolo NEBBIOLO, Piemonte, Italy
  • Bonus wine: 2005 Pingus TEMPRANILLO, Ribera del Duero, Spain
  • 2010 Jean Monnier, Premier Cru Pommard, PINOT NOIR, Burgundy, France
  • 2004 Pinone Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva SANGIOVESE, Tuscany, Italy
  • 2008 Marcarini Ciabot Camerano, BARBERA, Asti, Piemonte, Italy
  • 2008 Ribeca Super Tuscan NERO D’AVOLA and Cabernet Sauvignon, Sicily, Italy
  • 2009 Cantele Salentino, NEGROAMARO, South Italy