As I have mentioned in this space a few times, I get offers to try out products quite a bit. Wine, of course, is the most obvious, but I have been asked to review everything from bike tires to electrolyte drinks to wine-chilling “systems” (at least two of those reviews are forthcoming).
Many of the requests I ignore since they really don’t fall anywhere close to the scope of this blog. Including these emails:
- “Eucalyptus Infused Hand Sanitizer That With Kill Germs and Moisturize Your Hands At The Same Time!”
- “Flyrite Chicken goes Vegan”
- “SwampButt Men’s Underwear Declares Size Matters Especially for Fat Guys”
Um, well, yeah. Although I am sure all of those products are very well made, particularly for, well, “fat guys” none really fall within the scope of this little blog. Back in December, though, there was a subject line that caught my attention and required a bit more exploring:
“Imposter syndrome? Not here.”
I clicked and discovered that the email was from the fine folks at Le Gruyère AOP which promotes the fantastic cheese from Switzerland. They wanted to know if they could send me a few samples so that I could better understand the cheese. Even the casual wine drinker knows that wine and cheese pairings are perhaps at the center of wine appreciation so my response was brief and to the point.
I let them know that I have been a fan and consumer of Gruyère since my first days leading bike trips through Europe, but that only solidified their resolve to send me a couple of cheeses. After a bit of wrangling with the customs officials in the U.S. (god forbid any rogue mature Swiss cheeses are allowed to sneak in undetected), I received two cheeses, a Gruyère AOP and a Gruyère AOP Réserve.
Unbeknownst to most, like most of the wines produced in Europe, many of the cheeses produced there fall under an appellation d’origine protégée (AOP) system, which has strict production requirements as well as protects the integrity of the name. Just as only wines produced in Champagne can be called “champagne” the producers in Gruyère believe only cheeses produced in the their region of Switzerland can be called “Gruyère”.
If it were only that easy.
Before we continue, Gruyère AOP cheese comes from Switzerland and has no holes in it. The Swiss cheese with holes is called Emmenthaler, an entirely different species. So yes, Gruyère is Swiss cheese, but no holes. Got it.
There is a French gruyère and it does have holes, but it is not, at least in my opinion, nearly as good as Swiss Gruyère (or Emmenthaler, for that matter). To make matters even more confusing, a U.S. District Court ruled that “gruyère” had become a generic term and thus the Swiss (or the French) could not register it as a trademark in this country. The ruling was upheld in March of this year by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
So make it easy on yourself: only buy Gruyère that is clearly labeled with either “AOP”, “Switzerland”, or both. You will be delighted.
Now onto the cheese.
The AOP Gruyère (which is usually $15-20 a pound), is aged for at least five months and might have slight cracks in the cheese. It is quite creamy, nutty, and a bit salty with a grainy texture. The Reserve (which runs about $5 more per pound) and is aged for at least ten months, is quite a bit smoother and creamier, with more intense nutty flavors, well worth the additional cost–if you can find it.
The rule of thumb that I adhere to in almost all wine and cheese pairings is to pair wines and cheeses from the same region. Well, good Swiss wines are very hard to come by in the States since most of the best wines never leave Switzerland. Instead, I decided to pair the Gruyère (as my son would say: “bars”) with four wines from Chablis, which I was sent from the fine folks from the Chablis AOP around the same time.
While most of the rest of Burgundy has become essentially unaffordable, values and high quality can still be found in Chablis, the northern-most part of the famed wine region.
2020 La Chablisienne Petit Chablis Pas Si Petit, Burgundy, France: Retail $25. 100% Chardonnay. Under synthetic stopper. Petite Chablis, the “younger” sibling to Chablis is still 100% Chardonnay, but it is generally a fresher, meant to drink sooner wine. This particular bottling comes from the area’s largest cooperative, La Chablisienne, and is quite frankly delightful. Pale straw in the glass with citrus, minerality, and a rather distinct nuttiness wafting out of the glass. The palate is pure Chablis: tart, mineral, subtle fruit, great balance, and that nuttiness, particularly on the finish. Very Good. 89 Points.
2020 Domaine Louis Moreau Chablis, Burgundy, France: Retail $35. Under agglomerated (non-DIAM) stopper. 100% Chardonnay. From the broad Chablis appellation, this is pale straw with a brilliant green tint. Shy citrus fruit, but near-intense nuttiness and wet-rock going on. Quite tart on the palate, with considerable lemon-lime initially. The finish is equally tart and rather lengthy, with that zinginess carrying on all the way through. Really nice. Excellent. 90 Points.
2020 Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis Domaine Sainte Claire, Burgundy, France: Retail $25. Under DIAM5 stopper (although the only photo I found was a screw top). 100% Chardonnay. Brilliant straw in the glass with a nutty creaminess that is a bit of a surprise coming from Chablis. There is also some lemon/lime rind and a distinct mineral note as one would expect from the region. Rather austere on the palate, with subtle fruit but intense acidity. The nuttiness and wet rock aspects also come through, leading to an above-average finish. Very Good. 89 Points.
2020 Domaine Laroche Chablis 1er Cru Les Vaudevey, Burgundy, France: Retail $65. Heavy bottle. Under cork. 100% Chardonnay. A decided step up in quality, 1er Cru Chablis represents only 14% of the production from the region. I am going to stop writing now as this wine is corked. Ugh. Flawed.
Since that last wine was corked, I decided to delve into my cellar for a similar wine, albeit slightly older….
2014 Domaine Adrien Besson Chablis 1er Cru Mont de Milieu, Burgundy, France: Retail $45. Under cork. 100% Chardonnay. I purchased this back in 2017 from Last Bottle Wines and this wine is stellar. Pale, brilliant straw in the glass with lovely lemon rind, wet rock, and a faint hazelnut. The palate is clean, tart, and loaded with zing. This wine is fruity, layered, and balanced, this is fantastic. Excellent. 92 Points.