Tasting Notes: Wines + Rinds

Cheeses washed in wine make for unexpected pairing delights.

Category: Tasting Notes


Cheese and wine is a match made in heaven. The only thing better might be enjoying some of our best local cheeses that are actually made with wine—washed in wine, to be exact. Kelli Estrella of Estrella Family Creamery (Montesano, 659 Wynoochee Valley Road; 360.249.6541; estrellafamilycreamery.com) makes several washed-rind cheeses by taking the rounds of aging cow and goat cheeses—such as their Red Darla goat cheese—and bathing them in a red-blend wine as they mature, every day at first until the rind develops, then once a week for about 60 days. “It is a lot of work,” says Estrella, who washes and turns each of the approximately 300 one-pound cheeses throughout the maturing process. A common practice among European Trappist monk cheesemakers, washing cheese in wine develops specific bacteria on the rind and imparts a tanginess to the cheese that invites you to pour a glass of wine to fully complete the wine-meets-cheese experience.

At their booth at the Ballard and U-District farmers’ markets, the Estrellas let customers taste any of their 20-plus cheeses; several of us stood around recently, reveling in the washed-rind cheeses, thinking about what wines would be good matches. For the earthy, robust and springy-soft Red Darla, I love the earthy Chehalem 2005 Ribbon Ridge Pinot Noir. An earthier red with good acidity, such as a Cavatappi 2006 Sangiovese, would be great with this cheese, because it isn’t going to overpower the cheese with its oak and richness. Another cheese, the Estrella Vineyard Tomme (seasonal; available in winter months only), is not so much washed in wine as it is buried in marc (pressed grape skins, stems and seeds left over from the winemaking process). This cheese is more floral, with a firm, crumbly texture and a fresh milk and grape flavor; a lighter wine, such as Saint Laurent’s 2006 Syrah Rosé, is a good match. The light fruitiness of this wine is almost like eating a fresh strawberry with your cheese, refreshing your palate for the next bit of cheese, which is what a good cheese wine should do.

Wine isn’t the only thing in which cheese can be. Estrella’s Old Apple Tree Tomme cheese is washed in apple cider and apple brandy. It has a nutty, perfume-like aroma and a firm, buttery texture with butterscotch and hay flavors. This cheese calls for a white wine with a bit of acid—not too much—or soft green apple and pear flavors to highlight the delicacy of the cheese. A great match is a wine from a promising new winery in Mazama, Lost River Winery’s 2006 Rainshadow blend, a dry white with lovely ripe flavors, but a good backbone of acidity.

Yet another way to wash cheese rinds is with beer; Estrella’s Brewleggio, a creamy, buttery cow cheese, is washed in ale from The Pike Brewing Company. With aromas of white truffle and sweet onion, this complex little cheese tastes of fresh milk and fresh mushroom. Cheesemaker Julie Steil of River Valley Ranch (Fall City, 34920 SE Fall City–Snoqualmie Road; 425.222.5277; rivervalleycheese.com) makes a raw cow’s milk cheese washed in Pike’s Naughty Nellie Ale that is softer and less pungent. The natural pairing for both is a pint of Kilt Lifter, but this second cheese is also excellent with a lighter wine such as Hedges 2006 CMS, a bright, lemony Chardonnay, Marsanne and Sauvignon Blanc blend that goes well with many light summer foods. These wines cut through the milk fat of the cheese without overwhelming the delicate flavors of fresh, light cheeses. 

Shannon’s Picks

Hedges 2006 CMS, $12

This unoaked blend of Chardonnay, Marsanne (usually used as a blending grape in the Rhône region of Fran