I’m what you might call an amateur sommelier. Whenever my husband and I go on vacation—or even just sneak in a weekend getaway—we try to find a local winery that offers a tour of their vineyards and winery as well as provides a tasting room. By far, the best tour/tasting we’ve experienced was in the Finger Lakes region of New York at a lovely and ages-old winery called Pleasant Valley Vineyards—but more on that later.
I find the making of, storage of, and sampling of wine to be very interesting. As a rule, I don’t have much use for alcohol-containing beverages, but wines fascinate me. I don’t know why—exactly—but they do. I like the idea of growing various varieties of grapes, harvesting them, and fermenting them into a delightful mixture of fruitiness that’s all together tart and sweet, strong and subtle all at the same time. I’d love to be in the winemaking business. Planting a vineyard with my own hands, cultivating the arbors, and coaxing the plump round fruits to sweet or tart perfection. My maiden name is Swanson and I discovered a lovely vineyard in California with the same name and have wondered if there was a blood tie there. Alas, I have not traveled to nor inquired of the vineyard or its owners to ask. However, I think owning a winery would be great fun if not entirely tiring!
A short time ago I hosted a wine and cheese party for the women of my family. I did all the research of pairing wines with various cheeses. Even discovered what wines went with flavored cheesecake. It took me a solid two weeks to research and select my wines and corresponding cheeses—even researched which breads would cleanse the palate between tasting each selected pairing. Most people would find this dull or tedious, but I enjoyed the experience, putting it right up there with the tours and tastings Steve and I do while on trips.
The time came for the party. I reserved a social room, arrived hours in advance, decorated the place, set up three lovely tables of wines and cheeses and cakes and breads, displayed the bottles that had been properly chilled and allowed them to breathe, strategically set out all the wine glasses corresponding to white wines and reds, then set out a bowl of punch for those that didn’t fancy too much tasting!
The party went off better than I expected, with a couple guests taking home partially finished bottles of their favorites—re-corked to keep the bubbly-ness. No one attending had ever been to a wine and cheese party before, so this was something new. Plus, with a room full of women, there was plenty of chatting, bantering, and laughing along with the tasting, eating, and sampling. I found it interesting to learn what each gal thought of my selections coupled with cheeses or desserts. I was surprised by some of the reactions—like the cousin who thoroughly enjoyed the port paired with the raspberry cheesecake, while everyone else thought it to be both too strong and way too sweet when put with a dessert. Or the aunt who favored the dry yet sharp taste of the Pinot Noir. Or the aunt who preferred to sample wines without sampling the cheeses! Or the aunt who barely tasted the wines because her mother was attending as well!
Mostly, I reveled in the way each person’s taste buds reflected their personal choices in flavor pairings. This was a way to share one of my favorite hobbies with my family, without needing an occasion to invite them all over. I was surprised by how many of them were surprised that I drank wine, let alone knew anything much about it!
Below are some of my personal favorites along with the wineries that bottle them:
Nordic Mist (white wine) bottled by Viking Vineyards of Kent, Ohio
Finger Lakes Red Concord bottled by Pleasant Valley Vineyards, Finger Lakes, New York
Chocolate Lab (just what it sounds like, a delightful wine with more than a hint of chocolate) bottled by Pleasant Valley Vineyards, Finger Lakes, New York
Raspberry Frost (blush) bottled by Christian W. Klay Winery, Chalk Hill, Pennsylvania
Tawny Port (dessert wine) bottled by Taylor, New York
Blue Mountain Riesling bottled by Blue Mountain Vineyard, New Tripoli, Pennsylvania
Carrie bottled by Belhurst Winery, Geneva, New York
Newport Chardonnay bottled by Newport Vineyards, Newport Rhode Island
Meadow’s Edge White bottled by Nassau Valley Vineyards, Lewes Delaware
If you’re ever on vacation and you have some spare time to fill, look for a winery and take a tour, then go back to the tasting room and sample some of their finest. Steve and I highly recommend the tour of Pleasant Valley Vineyards. The tour takes about an hour and is loaded with history—just what I like—and then it’s back to their lovely tasting room for a sample of 6-9 wines of your choosing. This also takes about an hour. When we were last there , Chocolate Lab was new on the market and it was on my list to taste. Excellent. A perfect wine for the chocolate lover in your family! Steve and I combined our tasting, choosing 12 wines to taste (and share) and then we left there with 4 or 5 bottles of wine! Each time we take a bottle from the wine cooler, we’re transported to where we bought it. It’s an excellent way to unwind as well as reminisce about the trip. We also enjoy opening a couple bottles from our latest trip and sharing them with family on Thanksgiving.
So, if you want to share an evening with friends or family or both, but want to do something different, why not host a wine and cheese party?
For help in your selections, simply go to your state’s Liquor Control Board’s website or search the web for wine review websites—there’re tons of them!