Buena Vista, Bueno Gusto

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BVC_Ramal+Vineyard+Estate_Windmill.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

As an incorrigibly food-obsessed individual, my favorite wine tastings are those that involve snacks as part of the experience. I was recently invited to visit Buena Vista Carneros to try their current releases and check out their Carneros Room tasting, the food and wine pairing program offered to visitors on Saturday mornings.
On one side, your placemat with the four wines and tasting notes: 2006 Ramal Vineyard Chardonnay, 2006 Ramal Vineyard Pinot Noir, 2006 Ramal Vineyard Syrah, 2006 Ramal Vineyard Merlot. On the other, a plate of assorted nibbles: Port Salut cheese, a slice of lemon with rind intact, fresh chèvre, white cheddar, kalamata olives, some sliced salami, and a pair of baguette slices. These snacks are all specifically chosen to represent different flavors and textures that are commonly found in foods: acidity, creaminess, saltiness, yeastiness, meatiness, nuttiness, fattiness.

Rather than let you attack the offerings as you would at home, the tasting room staff guides you through the tasting, making you examine and discuss the way each flavor/texture fares with each wine. This meant that I was forced to drink barrel-fermented chardonnay with kalamata olives and lemon slices, something I would not normally do of my own volition. It was a fascinating experience, though--the salty, briny olive brought out the nuttiness and fruitier aspects of the wine. The acidic lemon, in contrast, amped up the creaminess of the chardonnay, making it seem rounder and richer than it had with the smooth, creamy Port Salut cheese.

Tasting through the different food consistencies (soft, semi-soft, and hard cheeses, grainy olive, fatty chewy salami) also helped illustrate the way wine and food connect on a textural level. While many of the foods had natural flavor affinities with certain wines, those same foods prompted a wholly different set of fireworks with other wines because of their textures. Case in point: the syrah. Its white pepper notes and structure rose to the challenge of the highly seasoned, meaty, and (pleasingly) fatty salami. With the white cheddar, the wine's white pepper again came to the fore, but in a silkier, nuttier texture that enhanced the natural sweetness of the wine.

Four wines + seven foods means how many possible combinations? Math was never my strong suit, but this kind of experience opens your eyes to far more than twenty-eight specific pairings--it arms you with principles to play with at every meal and snack for the rest of your life.

Buena Vista Carneros
18000 Old Winery Road, Sonoma, California 95476
Tasting Fee for the Carneros Room Tasting: $20; reservations required.

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