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A couple of months back, upon returning from his latest trip to France, Daniel came into the office with a particularly fiendish grin on his face. What had him so excited?

“Smell this,” he said, pulling a small circular package out of a bag.


Just kidding; we love strong cheeses!

It was a camembert, that beloved soft-ripened cheese from Normandy, with its unmistakable aromas reminiscent of ammonia and sweaty gym socks. But this camembert was special — it was made from raw, unpasteurized milk, which meant that the smell coming off this one was particularly pungent.

All of us at Daniel Johnnes Wines are suckers for ripe, stinky cheeses, and we couldn’t wait to taste it (nor did we want to contaminate the inside of our refrigerator for the next thousand years) so we decided to get some good bread and open the camembert at the end of the day, along with some bottles to see what wine would pair best with such strong flavors and aromas.

By three o’clock, the office had gotten very stinky from the cheese that had slowly been softening to the right consistency to eat. An upturned spit bucket was doing little to block the waves of camembert odor streaming from the little wheel.

This does not work.

This does not work.

There were even people from neighboring offices walking by our door and peeking their heads in to see what was causing the smell that had by then permeated the hallway.

Able to wait no longer, we grabbed several bottles from the office Eurocave and finally took the camembert out of its wrapper.

We were eager to taste a variety of wines with the cheese and opened:

  • Champagne Paillard “Cuvée Daniel” Brut Grand Cru
  • Domaine FL Savennières “Chamboureau” 2008
  • Domaine Alain Gras Saint Romain Blanc 2010
  • Domaine Sérol Côte Roannaise “Les Originelles” 2012
  • Hospices de Beaune Volnay-Santenots 1er Cru 2010
  • Château Saint-Dominique Puisseguin Saint-Emilion 2010
  • Giacomo Conterno Barbera d’Alba 2008
Ready to taste

Ready to taste

We slathered the raw-milk camembert on a nice miche from Le Pain Quotidien and devoured a good half of the wheel, alternating with tastes of the various wines.

The winners?

The Paillard “Cuvée Daniel” Champagne made a wonderful pairing — its powerful acidity and high toned, bright fruit were very effective in cutting the fat and pungency of the cheese.

The Sérol “Les Originelles” was also great with the camembert. This wine is 100% Gamay from the Côte Roannaise region that is actually just west of Beaujolais and shares the same granite-laced soil as that more well-known appellation. Domaine Sérol has been championing the terroir of the Côte Roannaise for generations and supplies the house wine to the Troisgros family of chefs, whose restaurant Maison Troisgros in Roanne recently celebrated its 45th consecutive year of three Michelin stars.

An incredibly fresh and vibrant example of Gamay, “Les Originelles” managed to stand up to the cheese in large part to its exuberant and bountiful fruit.

The Domaine FL Savennières “Chamboureau” gets an honorable mention. While the wine (a 2008) was a little too mature and rich to mesh as well with the cheese like the previous two wines, its vibrant acidity still allowed it to hold its own (none of Domaine FL’s wines go through malolactic fermentation, converting the sharper malic acid to the softer lactic acid).

In conclusion:

While the other bottles we opened are all great wines in their own right, none of them stood much of a chance in the face of the camembert’s odoriferous onslaught and their own complexities were lost on the palate. Older, more complex wines in particular will find themselves completely overwhelmed by strong flavors. The lesson we learned is that with such a powerful cheese, a perfect pairing can be made with a wine that has enough freshness and bright acidity to counterbalance strong flavors and aromas. Our favorite way to enjoy the raw-milk camembert was with wines that refreshed our palates, allowing us to savor the complexities innate to the cheese.

What wines or beverage pairings would you suggest with strong cheeses? Let us know in the comments section.

DJ with cheese

Daniel really enjoyed the camembert!


Pierre and Brigitte Van Den Boom

While perusing the French trade magazine Rouge et Blanc, Daniel was intrigued by an article on the new Loire appellation Saumur Puy Notre Dame and one of the properties mentioned was Domaine de l’Enchantoir. Tasting the samples that winemakers Pierre and Brigitte Van Den Boom kindly sent a few months later, we knew that this small domaine’s wines are the real deal — fresh and vibrant Chenin and Cabernet Franc that speak to the region’s terroir.

Pascaline Lepeltier, the Wine Director at New York restaurant Rouge Tomate who is well-known for her passion for Loire wines, explained her take on the difference between Saumur-Champigny and Saumur Puy Notre Dame:

I would say that Saumur Puy Notre Dame is more structured and tannic than Champigny — Champigny’s soil lies almost entirely on Turonian Tuffeau stone [a marine sedimentary rock dating from the late Cretaceous epoch] with Eolian sands, whereas Saumur Puy Notre Dame has more clay and limestone. Also, the winegrowers association in Saumur Puy Notre Dame wants to make denser wines with higher minimum alcohol, more vineyard density, requiring élévage of the wines, etc…

ImageUntil the 1960s, this region was planted in Chenin Blanc for sparkling white wine and in Cabernet d’Anjou, destined to be made into the sweet sparkling rosé that was in fashion at the time. It wasn’t until 1962 (at the end of the Algerian War) when the charismatic winemaker Henri Aupy moved from Algeria to Saumur and saw the potential for profound reds that the production of still red wine in the area saw a renaissance. He began petitioning the INAO to make Saumur Puy-Notre Dame its own appellation in the late sixties.

Recognized as an official French red wine AOC on October 12, 2009, Saumur Puy-Notre Dame is 20 km south of Saumur and can be produced in 17 communes. The vineyards within the new appellation are at an elevation of between 50-150m and the soil is largely ancient limestone. AOC laws stipulate that to qualify as Saumur Puy-Notre-Dame, a minimum of 85% Cabernet Franc must be used; the rest can be Cabernet Sauvignon. At harvest, the grapes must exhibit a potential for a minimum of 12% alcohol. Chaptalisation is not allowed.

ImageDomaine de l’Enchantoir’s Saumur Puy Notre Dame “Le Pied à l’Etrier” is a delicious example of this new appellation with bright, fresh red fruit and a savory twist that is unmistakable old-world Cabernet Franc. (While the appellation allows the blending of up to 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, the Van Den Booms’ Saumur PND is 100% Cab Franc because they own no Sauvignon vines.)

I could drink this wine by the bucketful!

The cuvée name translates to “foot in the stirrup” and both celebrates the Van Den Booms’ excitement with their new lives as winemakers and honors their past as horse breeders.

The Van Den Booms also make a Saumur Blanc that is equally delicious — textbook juicy, exuberant Chenin.

Read on after the break for a short interview with the Van Den Booms —

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