Wine, Wine Blog

Wine, Cheese, Panettone Bring Holiday Merriment

Pulling out the stops (literally) during the holidays brings merriment

Were it not for this blog, I might have looked to the holidays for the usual gather-the-family-in-my-embrace. But this year, I also searched variations on the same foods — wine, cheese, panettone — to write about.


I decided to take my palate on a short adventure that veered a bit from the usual California pinot noirs and chardonnays, but didn’t wander too far. Carménère. Since waxing poetical is not my thing, let me just say I loved it. Warm, fruity, and mellow, it worked both as an aperitif and as the perfect accompaniment to holiday food.

But more detail is needed, beyond the fruity. I wonder, Is it necessary to wrack my brains to conjure images of specific fruit or trees or rocks? I try to think honestly whether my unwillingness to taste the different fruit arises from my inability to do so (sour grapes, pardon the pun) or if it stems from a genuine resistance to the idea that wine or coffee (and soon, no doubt, marijuana) have to be described using designations that do little to enhance the enjoyment.

It is a little like trying to describe literature in scientific terms, a strange concept to an Eastern mind. Is this necessary or is the analysis an attempt to prove that literature is every bit as precise as science? Some of us feel literature is critical to the development of our humanity but a science it is not. Others disagree, looking at literature as an indulgence that only advanced nations can afford. One thing I know: Analyzing literature as a science sucks the pleasure out of reading. Ask any high schooler.

That said, I did taste blueberry in my carménère.

Although my bottle came from Chile, I found that the carménère grape is also grown in California. On 74 acres, according to California Department of Food and Agriculture Report for 2015.

Wine descriptions

At a wonderful little restaurant in San Francisco, we opened a bottle of a 2004 Viña Tondonia Reserva from the Rioja region in Spain. I had bought this bottle in Barcelona this past summer and written about the experience of visiting the shop I had been saving it to drink with my family. A blend of tempranillo, grenache, graciano and mazuelo, the wine was great. As it aired in the decanter through the evening, it tasted better and better. Thinking hard of the fruit it could hark back to, my family tasted blackberry and black cherry.

Even as I write this I wonder if using words such as ‘great, excellent,’ and ‘exceptional’ give a feel for the wine. These words convey a limited meaning, as all descriptions about food and wine must. However, descriptors such as stone fruit, tropical fruit, peppers, leather(!), and slate do impart more depth. Also limited, these words nevertheless add layers of flavor to the drink. Where do I stand then, from a few paragraphs ago?

Perhaps the flaw lies in relying too much on these characterizations and assuming a position of gustatory superiority for being able to identify something that is quite subjective. In the end, the pleasure we derive from a glass of wine is a very personal one.

Seasonal cheeses

Staying with the theme of the unusual, I called food writer Janet Fletcher for tips on holiday cheese platters. Fletcher recommended seasonal cheeses. Looking for the seasonal in a cheese shop in San Francisco, I came across Devil’s Gulch, sprinkled with sweet and spicy pepper flakes, from Cowgirl Creamery. It paired well with sparkling wine.

At my local Whole Foods I found Ovalie Cendree goat’s milk cheese from France (I chose it for its charcoal look and packaging) and Blue Flora Nelle, neither of them seasonal. Fletcher had mentioned the seasonal Rogue River Blue from the Oregon-based creamery, but by the time I got to Whole Foods, they were all out. The Blue Flora Nelle from Rogue is available throughout the year. The choices were great, though, and at my new year’s day party the leftovers told me that I had chosen well.

The Panettone

Last but not the least, the chocolate panettone decorated with sugar pearls From Roy was beyond belief. It came as a gift from my family in Canada, who told me all about Roy Shvartzapel, who lives in the Bay Area.

How should I describe it? A sonnet is beyond my capability. The terminology of a food critic escapes me. Writing a composition as for class would be a grave injustice to a bread so fine.

Just bang it out, voices from past editors whisper to me.

I put my bread knife through the crunch and pearls, cutting through the paper, and then sliced the whole loaf, leaving it on the kitchen island. My guests had already discovered the pleasure of consuming it before I ambled up.

I broke a tiny piece first. It was light but substantive. In disbelief, I broke some more. Not like the cottony panettone I’d eaten in years past. It was fluffy, but gave something to chew on. The chocolate bits, the crunchy pearls. The perfect balance between light and heft. Then more. I was hooked.

Toward the end of the party I snuck out the last, lonely piece on the platter for breakfast the next day.

Sometimes, hospitality has its limits.

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  1. Priya

    March 9, 2017 at 7:10 pm

    Will explore the world of cheese and wine through your blog. Happy writing and posting.

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