When I walked through the doors of the West Indies Wine Company, I didn’t expect to come away learning as much as I did from its Wine 101 class, offered Monday evenings at the tasting room-cum-shop on the Paseo at Camana Bay. Free to the public, the hour-long class is conducted by its resident sommelier, Josh Wludyka. This particular class was on wine and cheese pairing; not only was it informative and fun, but also not the least bit intimidating.
Much to learn
Having worked previously in Chicago at the famed fine dining restaurant Charlie Trotter’s under the tutelage of master sommelier Larry Stone, Wludyka’s specialty is in food and wine pairing, especially for larger-coursed menus. His time working under Stone taught him a lot, including that you don’t have to be a wine snob to enjoy wine. “There is a snobbery to wine but there is no skill about ordering the most expensive bottle of wine during dinner,” says Wludyka, who adds that the Wine 101 class is a bit misleading in name as it’s not just for beginners.
His classes can, in fact, get quite in-depth, depending on attendees’ knowledge. Wludyka’s “students” run the gamut from one-off hotel vacationers to regular locals who make frequent bookings. He doesn’t like to bore people, and judging from my first class with him, it is anything but boring – and if you’re not careful, you may find yourself tipsy by the end of it. (Perhaps, the secret goal for some on dreaded Mondays.)
He had an easy way of demonstrating the varietals and regions of wine, pairing the wines with different types of cheese, and even included a tip-sheet _ a colorful wheel of correct pairings of cheese to wines.
“To me, it’s about the functionality of the wine, and I just hope people will gain something once they leave and are at home,” he says. “It’s also really down to the value of the wine, and finding great wines for the consumer is the goal.” Each of the four wines (two red, two white) presented at this class are in the reasonably priced $20 range and were paired with two cheeses.
On the tasting menu was St. Andre triple creme cheese, which was paired with a 2011 French chardonnay, Pouilly-Fuisse, as well as a 2013 Portuguese wine, Vallado Douro, made from a blend of grapes that has a similar taste to a sauvignon blanc. Light, crisp and clean, it contrasted with the cheese, whereas the chardonnay seemed to complement it. Of these two, my favorite was the Pouilly-Fuisse due to its smooth, buttery taste, and it was not at all like most chardonnays I’ve tasted before, which I tend to not care for. I may have also passed the taste test as it was a French cheese paired with a French wine (more on that next).
The second set of pairings involved Pecorino Romano cheese, which is a salted rind cheese, paired with two red wines: a 2012 Etna Rosso, which is made from an obscure grape from Mount Edna in Sicily called “Nerello Mascalese” and is similar to a pinot noir with its high acidity; and a 2010 Chianti, Ser Lapo, which is full-bodied with silky tannins. The makers of the latter are decedents of Dante, which made for interesting trivia. Ironically, this “elegant” wine was my favorite pairing with the Romano cheese, which had nothing to do with its historical background, of course.
What we discovered was a very good rule of thumb: white wine goes best with soft cheese and red wine goes best with hard cheese. A second and equally important rule of thumb is to match the intensity of the food with the intensity of the wine. And the third piece of information we learned was “what grows together, goes together.” For example, it’s best to pair French wine with French cheese (essentially embracing the farm-to-table movement).
Building on the above rules, Wludyka breaks it down further: “The best pairing with soft cheeses like a triple creme St. Andre cheese include Champagne, sparkling wines, high acid white wines and wines from cooler climates. Alternatively, you can try to match this type of creamy, buttery cheese with that of an oak-y chardonnay, particularly a white Burgundy.”
His logic is that creamy cheese like St. Andre increases the cheese’s fat content to 75 percent: “Since the cheese is so rich and decadent, your palate wants something crisp and refreshing to clean up the fat. Acidity is your friend in pairing food with wine, and particularly in the case of Champagne, the bubbles and acidity creates a pleasant mouthfeel.”
The Romano cheese was aged for five months and was continuously hand-salted.
“Hard cheese traditionally stands up better to red wines, so think of the typical Italian varietals, such as Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Primitivo, or even lesser known varietals like Nerello Mascalese or Aglianico. Due of the saltiness present in the cheese, the fruit in a red wine will be more prominent, thus complementing the cheese. Hard cheese can stand up to a bigger, more tannic wine, so although Italian varietals are typically recommended for a cheese like this, even something like a cabernet sauvignon or zinfandel could work nicely.”
The West Indies Wine Company offers a selection of 80 wines by the glass, served at the perfect temperature via state-of-the-art wine stations. Quite a few wines sold at West Indies are exclusive to the store, which is owned by Cayman Distributor’s Group. And if you’ve ever bought wine from a store in Cayman only to open it up at home to find it has already spoiled – this seems to happen a lot to me, ironically, whenever I am entertaining guests – rest assured that Cayman Distributors actually doesn’t ship in wine in the summer for quality control purposes, in part due the fact that hot weather is notorious for spoiling wine if it sits out too long.
Wludyka’s Wine 101 class covers a different topic every Monday at the store from 6 to 7 p.m., and it’s a great way to whet your palate while also gaining insight into the wonderful world of wine. For more information or to book your spot, contact West Indies at 640-9492.