Welcome to the latest edition to our blog: monthly wine and cheese pairings brought to you by Ziggy our wine buyer and Josh our cheese monger. We hope to educate and entice.
This month, we bring you Port and Stilton.
Josh: Stilton, England’s only name-protected cheese, is the pride of the British cheese-making culture. It is known world-wide by fans as the “King of Cheese”. It is made of full-cream cows milk from iron-rich pastures in select counties, and has a full, complex flavor. Stilton’s texture is creamy yet it crumbles nicely for salads or little snack-sized morsels. It is a beautiful aged blue with a signature naturally-forming crusty rind.
Port wine and Stilton is one of the classic pairings. The sweet complexity of the wine compliments the full salty flavor of the cheese without getting lost in it, creating a backdrop that helps to exhibit the layered flavor profile of the cheese. Try this combination for a gastronomic experience fit for a king. At the Kiva we offer Long Clawson Stilton, $15.45 per pound. Also try the Shropshire Blue, (Stilton’s cousin), which is $15.60 per pound.
Ziggy: While American Port-style wines are often given that name, true Port is a product of the Douro Valley in Portugal, which has been famous for production of these wines since the 18th Century. It is a fortified wine, meaning that during production the fermentation is halted by the addition of neutral grape spirits, which results in higher residual sugar and alcohol content.
Most Ports are sweet, rich, and silky, though the sweetness varies a great deal by brand and style. They have traditionally been served as dessert wines or aperitifs (before a meal), which coincides with the serving of cheese, which is often used as an appetizer and even more often as a dessert treat, especially in Europe.
Some of the most basic styles of Port include Ruby, in which the wine is fermented in concrete or stainless steel tanks which prevent the oxidation that gives Tawny Port its characteristic color. Ruby Port is a deep burgundy color, with more of the fruitiness of the grapes intact and a slightly thinner texture. Rubies are the least expensive and most produced of the Port family. It is meant to be consumed without long aging.
Tawny Port is aged in wooden barrels which allows oxidation and evaporation, resulting in a “tawny” color, a nutty flavor, a more concentrated palate and a thicker mouth feel. Tawny Port may be aged for many years.
White Ports exist in a variety of ages, qualities, and degrees of dryness. It is often served as an aperitif and used as a mixer in cocktails.
Rose Port is a recent addition to the lineup, first produced in 2008. I find that it pairs well with chocolate (another traditional pairing with Port) but not as well with Stilton as other ports.
Port and Stilton cheese are a longstanding traditional pairing, especially during the winter holiday season. Right now, in the dark, dank, cold February of Eugene, Port and Stilton can offer a delicious, cheering, and warming after-dinner treat. Opposites attract! The rich, creamy, salty, and pungent tastes of Stilton are complemented and enhanced by the silky sweetness of Port; they blend well in the mouth, resulting in a fascinating alchemy of flavor that begs for another bite and sip.
While Tawny Ports are often paired with Stilton and other sharp blue cheeses, I find Rubies are my favorite in this pairing–their higher acidity seems to complement the cheese (this is a personal taste, however–your mileage may vary). Ziggy’s favorite picks: Noval Black Porto ($20 on sale, regularly $30), Kopke Ruby Port ($17), and Fonseca Ruby Port ($15.75). All are sweet and rich, but to my palate have plenty of flavor and depth to back up the sweetness.
Other Ports in stock include Dow’s White ($16.75), Dow’s Fine Tawny ($14.75), Dow’s Late Bottled ($23.25); Kopke 10-Year Old Port in 750 ml bottles ($35) and 350 ml bottles ($21); Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve ($22).
American “Ports” we have include Marietta Port from California (excellent but out of stock right now); Alex Eli “Conversation” Port from Oregon ($15.75 for 375 ml, 100% Sangiovese. An ethereal and moderately sweet Port-style wine which would pair well with many blue cheeses–I would recommend trying it with Oregonzola), and Terra d’Oro Zinfandel Port ($10.50 for 375 ml. I balk at calling this Port, though it is an excellent Zinfandel dessert wine which would pair well with many sharp cheeses).
Other wines which pair well with Stilton and other pungent blues include sweet sherries and dessert Muscat wines.
Other classic pairings with Port include chocolate (especially dark chocolate) and rich chocolate desserts and smoked sausage and fish.