Fri 8 Mar 2013
In our era of globalization, instant access and general impatience, the notion that the best food and wine matches are those that pair the traditional food and wine of a region seems naive. The planet’s great cultural, geographical and electronic melting pot has opened vast opportunities in terms of the availability of food and wines and culinary ideas from other countries. Who’s to say now that coq au vin and boeuf bourguignon must have only red Burgundy in the dish and on the table or that rixi e bixi (risotto with pancetta and peas) must be accompanied only by a white wine from the Veneto?
Still, the romantic ideal of perfect regionality is enticing, and it extends to cheese, though let’s admit that some of the world’s finest cheeses, authentic Camembert, for example, originate in regions that have no wine tradition. And, doing the devil’s advocate thing, does Comte have to be nibbled with a white wine from the Jura, either a lean elegant chardonnay or savignin? How with about a 20-year-old red Bordeaux?
Idiazabal is a cheese made from unpasturized sheep’s milk — specifically sheep of the Latxa breed, though the Carranzana breed is allowed — in what’s referred to as Basque country, in northeast Spain. The cheese is named for a town in the Goierri region in the province of Gipuzkoa. The other Basque provinces are Biscay and Alava, and it’s in Alava that the Beldui Txakolina 2011, Txakoli de Alava, is made from the indigenous white grape hondarrabi zuri, 80 percent, and the ancient Gascon grape, petit courbu, 20 percent. I received as samples the Beldui Txakolina 2011 and two versions of Idiazabal, smoked and unsmoked, produced by the Artzai Gazta cooperative, with the obvious intent of seeing how they worked together. (Image from artisanalcheese.com.)
The answer, briefly, is: Great.
The unsmoked Idiazabal is nutty, a little grassy, richly savory and a little buttery, but quite “dry,” a little salty, and even the unsmoked version tastes a little smoky. (The smoked version is treated over beechwood, hawthorn or cherry.) The texture is firm, and, if the cheese is aged a few months, capable of being grated. The smoked Idiazabal was fine, but I thought that it didn’t really require the additional smokiness added to the natural slightly smoky quality of the “regular” cheese. This is not, as you can see, an opulent or extravagant cheese, relying more on its understated character for its effect of authenticity.
I have seen recommendations to drink a “Spanish red wine” with Idiazabal, meaning, apparently and generically, tempranillo, but the white the Txakolina worked perfectly.
Beldui Txakolina 2011, Txakoli de Alava, is completely not chardonnay or sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio. The color is mild gold with a hint green. I could summarize this wine by saying that it’s savory, and yet it’s even more saline than savory, like, um, a brisk sea-breeze astir over a campfire, and I promise not to extend the metaphor to its baroque conclusion. Notes of lemon drop and roasted pear are wreathed with a floral aspect, but in a pale astringent manner; there’s a touch of sun-brightened leafiness and hints of fig and green olive. The whole package is enlivened by pointed acidity and elements of cloves and dried thyme; the finish is spare, lean and stony. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $21.50.
The savory, saline character of the wine and cheese, the complex flavors cut by spareness and a slightly rustic quality, kept us going back for another sliver of cheese, another sip of wine.
Beldui Txakolina 2011 was imported by ENYE Distribution Group, Elk Grove Village, Illinois.