Wine tasting is fun. Wine and cheese tasting: Even better.
Winefornia recently sent a trio of wines and a half dozen cheeses for us to taste as part of series of launch events for its 2020 Innovatus viognier. Made by Napa’s only Korean female winemaker, Cecil Park, the company is also showcasing two reds to pair with the collection of cheeses, including a syrah and a red blend made under the Fermentation Lab label. While in-person events are now starting up again, we attended an online session and did our tasting at home.
The wines were all paired with artisan cheeses from Laura Chenel and Marin French Cheese Company, the latter of which is located just a few miles from Drinkhacker HQ. While I’m well familiarized with its products, the company had some cheeses on the table that I hadn’t ever tried, including a jalapeno brie.
Thoughts on each of the three wines and my favorite cheese pairings for each follow.
2020 Innovatus Viognier – 2020 wasn’t just a tough year for the world, it was a tough year for Napa, as it was ravaged by wildfires that destroyed crops and wineries — and tainted so much juice that many wineries decided not to bottle this year. Innovatus’s viognier was picked two days before the fires hit, and it appears to have come through unscathed. It’s a fairly mild expression of viognier, more floral than fruity — with an ample yet moderated apricot character, notes of lemon, grapefruit, and a touch of coconut. Lots of acidity helps to give the wine a clean, crisp finish. Favorite cheese pairing: Marin French Supreme Brie, its creamy body offering a yin to the viognier’s acidic, floral yang. A- / $55
2014 Innovatus Cuvee – 47% syrah, 23% cabernet franc, 15% petite sirah, 5% pinot noir. I didn’t find this to be as aggressively beefy as many syrah-heavy wines are, its expressive fruit really popping most clearly from the start. Plums, almost pruny, are heavy up front, with a floral element coming into focus quickly after. Some Maraska cherry notes wind their way into the mix on the back end. At 7 years old, this is starting to settle into a groove — but I still found it to be on the sweet side, probably with plenty of years ahead of it. Favorite cheese: The Laurel Chenel Truffled Goat Cheese is a nice pairing, but I liked it best with Marin’s Ash Brie. B+ / $36
2015 Fermentation Lab Syrah – 94% syrah, 6% petit verdot, from Sonoma Valley. A clearer and more aggressive syrah, with a bolder, meatier body than the Innovatus Cuvee. Blackberries, some spice, and a subtle licorice note are all in the mix here. Some smokiness on the finish. Rich and soulful. I’m saving the rest of this one to pair with a mojo pork shoulder tonight. Favorite cheese: While I learned that you can mix chocolate pot de creme with brie and get a beautifully rich dessert, I didn’t enjoy it at all with this wine. Instead, I went back to the Ash Brie and Supreme Brie, two delightful cheeses that stand beautifully on their own but which show even better with this wine. A- / $NA