Letters from Lodi

An insightful and objective look at viticulture and winemaking from the Lodi
Appellation and the growers and vintners behind these crafts. Told from the
perspective of multi-award winning wine journalist, Randy Caparoso.

Randy Caparoso
June 6, 2013 | Randy Caparoso

A Master Sommelier talks ZinFest wine and cheese

In this blogpost, we have a guest writer:  San Francisco’s Catherine Fallis MS.  MS stands for Master Sommelier, which is a lofty title.  According to the Court of Master Sommeliers Web site, only 133 wine professionals in North America have earned the title of Master Sommelier.  Of those, 114 are men and only 19 are women (Fallis earned her MS in 1997, among the first 6 women to do so).  Only 201 Master Sommeliers in the entire world have earned this title since the first Master Sommelier Diploma Exam was administered, back in 1969 in the U.K. (between the mid-seventies and early eighties, the first 5 American Master Sommeliers had buy their own plane ticket to London to take the exam).

Besides being a widely published wine writer and founder of Planet Grape LLC, Ms. Fallis (a.k.a. “grape goddess”) is on the faculty of the San Francisco Wine School, and has taught at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone (Napa Valley).   She was so thrilled to be part of the 2013 ZinFest that she composed a piece summarizing her thoughts on the experience. 

Here’s what our guest Master Sommelier has to say…


Part of the bounty of Northern California is its plethora of artisanal cheeses, which are featured proudly alongside the traditional European choices in shops and farmers markets.  You might see the parallel with our local wines.  Are the local cheeses better than imported cheeses?  We have the happy cows, after all, and maybe the happy goats.  As with wines, a happy compromise is to agree they are simply different styles.

At last month’s 9th Annual Lodi ZinFest – a popular wine festival held on the grounds of Lodi Lake, part of the Mokelumne River and the network of deltas that bring cooling winds and marine influence from San Francisco Bay – I was fortunate enough to have been tasked with pairing local wines with cheese under the tent of the ZinFest Wine School:  “Secrets of Wine & Cheese Matching with grape goddess® and Cheese Central.”  Cheese Central is Lodi’s premiere artisanal cheese retailer, with the incredible talented Cindy Della Monica at the helm.

The playing field was Lodi wines, and any cheese Cindy had in stock.  She widened the field by telling me she could get just about anything from anywhere in the world.  Where to begin?  Local wine expert Randy Caparoso helped me narrow down the pool of wines, and Cindy sent me a large assortment of her best cheeses.  After an intense session in the lab, and with taking Cindy’s excellent recommendations into consideration – she knows her local wines (the shop is surrounded by 30 wineries, after all) – we came up with these pairings:

Fleur Verte

Wine:  2011 St. Jorge Winery, Lodi Verdelho Seco  
Cheese:  Fleur Verte (France)
Made from a grape of Portuguese origin, the wine was rich with baked apple pie and lemon crème notes, and had a lovely starfruit tartness to the finish. The thyme, tarragon and pink peppercorn-coated Chèvre (goat) was creamy, tangy, and slighlty sweet with the wine. It  enhanced the wine’s fruit and mirrored its silky textural quality. The wine cleansed and refreshed the palate.


Wine:  2012 McCay Cellars, Lodi Rosé
Cheese:  Ossau-Iraty (France)
This rosé of old vine Carignane had notes of watermelon, quince, lemon peel, strawberry, cherry and yellow rose and had a hint of residual sugar.  The medium firm sheep’s milk cheese was earthy, almost barnyard-like, a note toned down by the bright fruity personality of the wine.  The wine also intensified the nuttiness and dairy characters of the cheese, and kept the flavors of the cheese on the palate longer.

Beehive Barely Buzzed

Wine:  2010 Stellina Estate, “Chiara” Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel
Cheese:  Beehive Creamery Barely Buzzed (Utah)
I have to say I was intrigued from the get-go with the name of this cheese:  Barely Buzzed.  I love also the way this pairing illustrated both the “contrast” and “bridge” elements of pairing.  The wine was rich, almost intense, with a raisined, Port-like fruit concentration and a hint of pepper spice.  The sweet cream and coffee bean smoke of the semi- firm cow’s milk cheese was a nice contrast to the fig and port notes of the wine.  Espresso bean slivers and lavender in the rub formed a bridge to and mirrored the wine’s butterscotch and caramel oak notes, and to top it all off, the cheese supercharged the fruit of the wine, bringing it to a whole new level.  Buy on apples, sell on cheese, and enjoy this wine from Stellina!

Bellwether Pepato

Wine:  2012 Sorelle, “Sogno Dolce” Lodi Muscat Canelli
Cheese:  Bellwether Pepato (Petaluma)
This pairing is all about contrast.  The pleasantly plump, soft, fragrant and delicately sweet Muscat, “Sweet Dreams”, with notes of orange blossom,honeysuckle, and red delicious apple, worked wonders with the semi-hard sheep’s milk cheese, which was generously studded with whole peppercorns, Sicilian style.  Like a grizzled old man who lives alone, it was a bit pungent, especially when crunching down on the peppercorn.  Then, out of the blue, comes a naturally beautful young woman, whose hair has the scent of spring blossoms, and whose smile lights up the room.  The wine enhanced the creamy, buttery notes, played down it’s roughness, and left the palate with a subtle sweetness.

Cindy was a wonderful co-host, though she took me to task for mentioning “Velveeta” in one of my stories.  She said firmly and with great emphasis, “Catherine, that is not cheese.”  Cindy also invited everyone in the audience (and you for that matter) to come visit Cheese Central and taste as much as you like (  I gently reminded her she was inviting a tent-full of more than barely buzzed folks for free cheese, but hey, it’s Lodi, and they sure are friendly here!



Lodi Wine Visitor Center
2545 West Turner Road Lodi, CA 95242
Open: Daily 10:00am-5:00pm

Lodi Winegrape Commission
2545 West Turner Road, Lodi, CA 95242
Open: Monday-Friday 8:00am-5:00pm

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