Perfect pairings await with Ribera y Rueda
Spanish wine, meet American cheese. Not just any cheese and for that matter, not just any wine. The cheeses we’re talking about are American Cheese Society award-winners, and the wines we’re referring to are winners on the world stage – Ribera del Duero Tempranillo and Rueda Verdejo. Putting the two together seems like a winning combination of its own, which is why we’ve decided to do just that. Meet your American artisan cheese pairing guide with the wines from Ribera del Duero and Rueda.
First, a little background. The American Cheese Society (ACS) is the gold-standard organization for American cheesemakers, small and large, retailers, distributors, scientists, chefs, and pretty much anyone whose profession and/or passion intersects with cheese. The ACS also hosts a huge cheese competition that culminates in its annual “best cheeses” awards. These are cheeses that would best any European counterpart and give bragging and sales rights to their makers. The awards excite people in the industry – the cheesemakers first and foremost – and cheese enthusiasts everywhere. After all, who doesn’t love a winner, particularly of the cheesy variety?
Ribera y Rueda is no different. We love cheese, wine, and pairing, which is why we put together a comprehensive guide to some of our favorite cheese and wine pairings. That guide served as a basis for understanding Tempranillo and Verdejo style profiles and the cheese styles that pair with them. Even more, it remains the go-to guide for entertaining with these wines and a variety of cheeses.
While those guidelines are ironclad, the wine and cheese-loving world’s sophistication around cheese and wine pairing has expanded along with the passion for putting the two together. Even more, the cheeses and wines themselves have grown more complex, sophisticated, and in many cases, the best they’ve ever been. Knowing this prompted us to create a new guide with a new twist. Naturally it continues to shine the spotlight on the wines from Ribera del Duero and Rueda, but this one celebrates American cheesemakers and their cheese styles that define our culture just as our wine regions have defined a culture in Spain.Verdejo Style
First, let’s talk wine, specifically Verdejo. In addition to the Verdejo styles we know well – joven, lees-aged, and oak-aged – we have the new addition of Gran Vino. You can get a Gran Vino refresh here (Gran Vino Article), but what you need to know for cheese pairing purposes is that although Gran Vinos range in styles, the constant is the age of the vines they come from – 30 years or more – as well as the maximum allowable yield, which is lower than other Verdejos. Less fruit on each vine means more intense wine in the bottle. This translates to cheese pairing in several ways, which we’ll get to. For now, here’s a Verdejo recap featuring the styles and the flavor profiles you might find in each:
Ribera del Duero Tempranillo
The Tempranillos coming out of Ribera del Duero have never been better. Wineries have upped their equipment game, while winemakers are bringing refinement to their craft like never before. Some continue to adhere closely to the traditions of the region and its millennia of winemaking, and others are embracing modernity and innovation. Either way, the result is the same: world-class wine.
The DO from this region has specific classifications for Tempranillo, rosé and clarete, as well as white wine. All involve time in the bottle as well as some in the barrel. This translates to a wide variety of wines that pair beautifully with cheese. Before we get to that, here’s, a Tempranillo refresher.
Crianza: Two years in bottle and one year or more in barrel. Flavors may include plums, figs, blackberry, blueberry, raspberry, pomegranate, cranberry, and earth; tannins are light to medium.
Reserva: Three years in bottle and at least one year in barrel. Flavors may include those in Crianza as well as (or instead) stewed fruit, forest floor, spice, and cassis.
Gran Reserva: Five years in bottle and at least two years in oak. Flavors include those in Crianza and Reserva. In addition, they may have notes of tobacco, cedar, toast, and leather.
Cosecha: These are red wines that don’t follow the DO’s specific aging requirements. Or wines that do meet aging requirements, but winemakers, decided not to use traditional aging designations.
Clarete/Rosé/Rosado: Miss our article on Clarete and its fellow pale red compadres? Read it here (Clarete Article). For cheese pairing purposes, here’s what you need to know:
Clarete: fruity and floral; citrusy, cranberry cocktail; fruit punch; dried fruit. Round texture and mouthfeel or light- to medium-bodied, refreshing. Occasional light but perceptible or even light-plus tannins.
Rosé/Rosado: Watermelon, peach (white or yellow, depending), crushed stone, raspberry, strawberry, citrus, tropical fruit, and more.
One other thing to know: if a Ribera del Duero clarete, rosé, or rosado has a back label specifying Crianza, Reserva, or Gran Reserva, then the wine in that bottle will have met the DO requirements as follows:
Crianza: 18 months in bottle and six months or more in barrel
Reserva: 24 months in bottle and six months or more in barrel
Gran Reserva: Four years in bottle and six months or more in barrel
Needless to say, not many rosés are released after four years – or even two – but if you find a Gran Reserva rosé, then you know you’ve got something special.
Cosecha: If the wine label says “joven,” then there is no oak requirement for that wine. If it says “roble,” then you know the wine has had oak contact for at least three months.
Bring on the Cheese
It’s almost impossible to narrow down the cheese options for all styles of wine, but because of the specific classifications in both Rueda and Ribera del Duero, cheese pairing becomes a little easier. It works the other way too. If you have a certain type of cheese in your refrigerator that you’re wanting to open, then the cheese and wine pairing guidelines that follow are for you. Whether you start with a cheese or with a wine, the pairing principles remain the same.
And now, let’s talk winning.
Best of Show
In 2023, the Best of Show winner is also a cheese made in such small quantities that just about the only people who can get it are those who live in Pennsylvania where it’s made (you may be able to find it online if you’re lucky). The cheese is called St. Malachi, and it comes from The Farm at Doe Run. Located in the bucolic rolling hills of Chester County, this farm has cows, goats, and sheep, all of whose milk is used to make cheese. St. Malachi is entirely cow’s milk and its style can best be described as gouda meet Alpine cheese. This is to say, it has the signature nutty notes of both types of cheeses as well as buttery. grassy, and sweet cream flavors. The texture is smooth, firm, and creamy on the palate.
St. Malachi’s wine pairing partners:
Can’t find St. Malachi? Look for:
Sequatchie Cove Creamery “Cumberland,” Sequatchie, Tennessee This gorgeous goldenrod-colored raw cow’s milk cheese comes from a farm in the Sequatchie Valley. The makers liken it to Tomme de Savoie, which means it’s got an earthy rind that encases a buttery, nutty, mushroomy, and utterly delicious paste (interior of the cheese).
“Cumberland” wine pairing partners:
3rd Place (three-way tie)
Green Dirt Farm “Prairie Tomme,” Weston, Missouri Compared with cow and goat’s milk cheeses, sheep’s milk cheeses comprise just a small fraction of all cheeses made in the United States. To win third place in a sea of nearly 1,600 cheeses is rarer still. But the folks at Green Dirt Farm have it dialed in with all their cheeses, and this award-winner is no exception. Firm, rich, nutty, brown buttery, grassy, caramel-y. In fact, it’s like a very rich Manchego, which, for Spanish wine pairing is a bonus!
Prairie Tomme’s Wine Partners
Uplands Cheese Company “Pleasant Ridge Reserve,” Dodgeville, Wisconsin Although a third-place winner in 2023, this cheese has won Best of Show an unprecedented three times. This is for good reason. One of just two cheeses made by cheesemaker and creamery co-owner Andy Hatch, Pleasant Ridge Reserve set the bar for other American alpine-style cheeses when it first came on the scene in 2000. The flavors you can expect from this cheese range from fruity to savory to butterscotch-y and pineapple. It all depends on the age. This range of flavors makes for a variety of wine options.
Pleasant Ridge Reserve’s wine pairing partners
Can’t find Pleasant Ridge Reserve? Look for:
Pure Luck Goat Dairy Basket Molded Chèvre, Dripping Springs, Texas When a fresh goat cheese makes honored with the crème de la crème award, you know it’s good – or rather, great. This handmade farmstead cheese is like none other – cloudlike in texture – it almost melts in your mouth – buttery and tangy with hints of crème fraiche. This very special cheese is as comfortable on a cheese board as it is in a salad or slathered on a chunk of hearty bread.
Basket Molded Chèvre’s Wine Partners
If you can’t find Basket Molded Chèvre, look for:
This is just the beginning. Scroll down for our handy go-to guide featuring our wine styles and the winning American cheeses that go with them. With this, you can say goodbye to shopping or entertaining angst and hello to easy. You’re welcome.
Basic Pairing Guidelines
Can’t get these cheeses? Here are general guidelines for pairing Ribera del Duero and Rueda wines with cheeses, no matter where the cheeses are from.
Ribera del Duero Tempranillo
As with all pairings, make them your own. What is just okay to one person might be sensational for another. That’s the very nature of how we taste. But the guidelines here, the inherent excellence of the wines as well as the cheeses – off-the-charts award winners and otherwise – will unquestionably make for some spectacular wine and cheese gatherings. Trust us – you and your guests will be spoiled in the very best way.
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