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When I close my eyes and think of France, I envision walking down a cobblestone street carrying a bottle of wine, a hunk of cheese, and a fresh baguette. That may be a little cliche, but it’s one of my happy thoughts. The association of France with wine and cheese is strong because they have a renowned, well-developed culture of enjoying life’s finer delicacies. Where better to turn to assemble wine and cheese pairings than the traditions of the French?
When it comes to all things French, my first phone call is always to Laurent Yung, the founder and CEO of SomMailier. SomMailier is a wine club focusing exclusively on boutique French wine. Laurent is a 5th generation member of the Yung wine family from Bordeaux. Working with his family partners in France, he imports unique and (mostly) exclusive French wines to the United States. He sells these wines on his website and through his delightful wine club. My own experience with the wines from SomMailier is that they are little treasures, distinct from widely available French wines I’ve tried.
To create a readymade French wine and cheese pairing experience accessible to most people, I chose to work with the pre-selected cheese assortments at iGourmet. They have a rather impressive selection of cheese collections grouped under the heading “Cheese for Wine” that make a great jumping off point. Most of these assortments are grape variety-specific, but their French Cheese Assortment (pictured in this guide) is terrific.
I tried the French Cheese Assortment from iGourmet with three of Laurent’s wines which were already en route to my home when the cheese arrived. It’s worth noting that the wines I tasted the cheese with in these photos are not the wines his team ultimately recommended for these cheeses, but the experience was fun anyway (an important lesson with wine and cheese pairing: have fun!).
There are four classic French cheeses in the iGourmet assortment. If you want to get familiar with French cheese, this is a great place to start. Even if you already know a bit about French cheese, these selections will help solidify your basic knowledge, especially for wine pairing purposes. One thing to note, most of these cheeses would be unpasteurized in France, but most cheese imported to the US from France is made with pasteurized milk.Bûche de Chévre Camembert Istara Ossau-Iraty Aged Comté
Bûche de Chévre — This Bûche de Chévre is from Poitou in the Loire Valley. It is aged for two months, during which time it develops a hard, edible crust complete with a bloomy, white mold coating. It is sharp and tangy (funky) near the rind and gets progressively richer and creamier toward the center. When enjoying this cheese, you savor a delightful combination of flavors and textures in each bite. Bûche de Chévre is a true delicacy that begs for a warm, crusty French baguette and a glass of perfectly paired wine.
Camembert — A similar cheese to brie, Camembert (from Normandy) is formed into smaller wheels and may have a slightly more robust flavor than its larger cousin (brie). Firm when chilled or runny at room temperature, there are many ways to enjoy this wonderful cheese. The Bellerive is a mild tasting Camembert despite its pungent odor.
Ossau-Iraty Istara — From the same company that makes the ever-popular P'tit Basque. The generic name for this cheese is Ossau-Iraty, which refers to two rivers in the Basque region of France — the homeland of this spectacularly delicious cheese. Also called Brebis Pyrenees, which is simply French for Sheep Cheese from the Pyrenees, Istara has a smooth, slightly oily texture and a wonderfully sweet flavor with hints of olive, hazelnut and fig. Aged for 90 days. If you’ve tasted Manchego, you’ll recognize the sheepy qualities immediately.
Comté — Comté is widely available in the US (Costco and Trader Joe’s both carry it). This Comté is aged for six months, where it develops a tight-knit texture and satiny body. On the palate, one can detect notes of fruits, hay, and a slightly nutty, smoky flavor gained during the process when the curd is cooked.
There is a large array of French wines that pair well with an equally sizable selection of French cheeses. With a general preference toward more subtle flavor profiles, both are well-suited companions to each other. Regardless, it is still the case that some cheeses do better with white wines and others excel with red wines. Another option is Champagne which goes with most cheeses.
I asked Laurent and his team to curate a selection of wines specifically for this cheese assortment. There are a total of five recommended wines for you to choose from. Since SomMailier has a minimum order of three bottles (it’s more efficient to ship this way), they have also curated three-bottle sets to make things easier.
The wines selected by the SomMailier team were chosen to complement these cheeses and bring out the best pairing experience from both elements. Most of what SomMailier sells is connected to the Yung family and Laurent’s brother Patrick selected the wines for these cheeses (along with his assistant Pierre Guillemin).
Continue reading to discover each of these wines and which cheeses they pair with, or skip ahead to the curated three-bottle sets.
Château Béthanie Fruitière d’Arbois 2018
Blend: 100% Chardonnay
$29 at SomMailier
Tasting Notes: slightly dry, refreshing, with a fruity citrus taste and mineral finish.
Pair with: Comté. One of the rare “if it grows together, it goes together” examples in wine and cheese that actually works.
“The Jura wine region is a narrow strip of land between Burgundy and Switzerland measuring fifty miles North to South. The climate is cool. The vines grow on the slopes of the wooded Jura mountains, only up to 1000 feet, and mostly on south facing slopes to get most of its heat from the sun. It is the smallest wine region in France.”
Most wines from the Jura region in France are made of Savangin, but the Arbois region also produces Chardonnay wines. This 100% Chardonnay is unusual for the Jura.
Sancerre Comte Jean Maréchal 2019
Blend: Sauvignon Blanc
$47 at SomMailier
Tasting Notes: aromas of citrus and exotic fruit, freshly cut grass. Subtly powerful and persistent. Sharp fruitiness typical of Sauvignon grapes. Sweet grapefruit.
Pair with: Bûche de Chévre and Camembert. The acidity (freshness) of Sancerre will counterbalance the salinity of the cheese.
Winemaker’s Notes: “This is a quintessential expression of sauvignon blanc from Sancerre. The nose is highly perfumed and intense, with classic notes of cut grass, limes and the tell-tell hint of flint. The palate is more restrained than the nose would initially indicate - and all the better for that - with a lovely fresh, balanced and clean character. The flavors are citrus fruits wrapped around a very precise and elegant structure. A long finish completes this very good wine.”
Hubert Veneau Pouilly-Fumé 2019
Blend: 100% Sauvignon Blanc
$35 at SomMailier
Tasting Notes: aroma of white flowers and grass. Fruity texture with grapefruit tanginess, crispy apple and a flinty finish.
Pair with: Bûche de Chévre. The acidity (freshness) of Pouilly Fumé will counterbalance the salinity of the cheese.
“This area of the Loire Valley is mostly known for the Sancerre appellation. It is the first wine region as the river comes down from the mountain for its long and lazy travel to the Atlantic Ocean, with many good wines on the way, like Chinon, Bourgueil, Saumur, and Muscadet.”
Château de Portets 2016 Graves Bordeaux Rouge
Blend: 55% Cabernet Sauvignon and 45% Merlot
$35 at SomMailier
Tasting Notes: nose of blackcurrant and sweet chocolate. Strong and fruity body, balanced by freshness and silky tannin.
Pair with: Camembert and Ossau-Iraty. The robustness of Château de Portets will harmonize with the power of soft cheeses like Camembert. The melted and delicate tannins of Château de Portets will marry wonderfully with the smoothness and finesse of the Ossau-Iraty.
“Graves is a sub-region of Bordeaux, which takes its name from its gravelly soil. It is where Bordeaux vines were first planted over 2,000 years ago and is situated along the sunny left bank of the Garonne river. In the past, wine was not put into bottles, but into barrels of wine so it could be carried downriver to the port of Bordeaux.”
Champagne Paul Michel Premier Cru NV
Blend: 100% Chardonnay
$46 at SomMailier
Tasting Notes: aromas of white fruits (pear and apple). Dry apricot and lime zest are also present. Great minerality.
Pair with: all of the cheeses in this assortment. Champagne has a reputation for going with everything, especially fatty and salty foods. This Champagne will bring out unique flavors from each cheese.
An exclusive Champagne in the US, imported by SomMailier. “In 1952, Paul Michel offered his first cuvee. After several years, and with the addition of new parcels of land, the operation grew. Today, the vineyard includes 20 acres of mainly 1st Cru and Grand cru, located primarily throughout the communities of Cuis, Pierry, and Chouilly.”
Because everyone’s preferences are different, there are four different three-bottle sets of wine to pair with this cheese assortment. My pick is the Champagne, Graves, and Sancerre combo. Here is a breakdown of each set and why it’s a good choice.Buy it for $128 From $111
Champagne + Sancerre + Graves Red
This set of three wines has the most versatility with the four cheeses and makes it easy to explore how each pairs with the cheeses, one wine style at a time.
Sancerre + Pouilly-Fumé + Graves Red
If you really love Sauvignon Blanc, this is a great way to see how two different styles compare side by side.
Sancerre + Jura Chardonnay + Graves Red
If you want to try something unique, choose this set. That Jura Chardonnay is unlike other Chardonnay.
Champagne + Jura Chardonnay + Sancerre
If you’re not enamored with red wine, choose this set.
Want to add on a dessert pairing? Check out Laurent’s Roquefort & Sauternes pairing, too!
Maybe this assortment of French cheese wasn’t exactly what you had in mind? Here are some other great choices from iGourmet.
Buy it for $49.99
French Cheeses for the Connoisseur Assortment at iGourmet
Cheeses Included: Pont L’Eveque, Comte Réserve, Buche de Chèvre, Fourme d’Ambert
Buy it for $34.99
Champagne Cheese Assortment at iGourmet
Cheeses Included: Chévre by Vermont Butter and Cheese (Vermont), Ivy’s Cheddar (Somerset, England), Camembert (France), Fromage d’Affinois (France)