by Joseph Colosi
One of the small joys in life is purchasing a simple, tasty bottle of wine for under twenty dollars. Valpolicella and Montepulciano can be found cheap and often deliver better than expected flavors. We enjoyed a bottle of each and came up with both obvious and unconventional pairings.
Masi 06 Valpolicella Bonacosta: This typical Valpolicella was light-bodied and buttery. Flavors of plum and sour cherries gave way to soft tannins on the finish. A salty, dry pecorino seemed like the most obvious choice and Pecorino di Grotto worked admirably. The wine tasted fruitier and fuller while the cheese tasted stronger than usual. After a few slices of cheese and sips of wine, the flavors melted into each other to become fruity, sweet, dry, and nutty, all at once.
Truffle Tremor paired well with the wine for very different reasons. Instead of forming a new taste together, the flavors of the wine and cheese bounced off each other. The wine grew more tannic and fruity while the Truffle Tremor tasted more goaty. The truffles did not jump to the front of the tongue but rather sang a quiet hymn behind the goaty tang.
Valle Reale 04 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo: This wine tasted rugged and raw. It was oaky up front with lingering fruit and a highly alcoholic finish. The Montepulciano begged for a pecorino even more than the Valpolicella. We tasted half the store trying to find another type of cheese that would work well. Crucolo , a young Italian cow milk cheese, only paired moderately until a tasty finish. The creamy goatiness of Carre du Berry worked until its herbs dominated the conclusion. The Montepulciano and Montgomery’s Cheddar paired well together only to our fellow taster Zeke, whose favorite cheese happens to be Montgomery’s Cheddar. We finally found our match with Abbaye du Belloc. Made by Benedictine monks, Abbaye de Belloc is a semi-hard cheese with a full, sheepy flavor and sweet undertones. Its creamy texture balanced the rough wine and together they tasted hearty, robust, and nutty; like the best pecorino you’ve ever had. With wine still staring at us from our glasses, we decided to try a few pecorinos to ensure that we hadn’t overlooked the classic pairing. And while Pecorino di Grotto and Pecorino di Pienza tasted worthy with the Montepulciano, Abbaye du Belloc offered the most rewarding flavors.
The Verdict: Abbaye de Belloc
Good cheap wine can easily become great cheap wine. All it takes is the right cheese.