Cheese Ploughman’s + Falcata

Photo: VM

I had planned the perfect pairing: cheese ploughman’s with a fresh, crispy baguette accompanied by a zingy Albarino or Godello on its lees. The wine’s acidity would cut the fat of the cheese and spar playfully with the pickle. The subtle yeasty-ness of the lees aging would enhance the bread. Perfection on a plate.

The temperature was hovering just above zero Celsius. My fingers froze to the neck of the white. It was inconceivable I should open and drink it. Leave the whole business for another evening.

But the baguette was in the oven and the crystals in the block of vintage Cheddar winked. Dammit. Wine and cheese ploughman’s it would be. Red would do, wouldn’t it?

The owner of one of my favorite bodegas had recommended the Pago Casa Gran Falcata. A small-batch wine from a tiny vineyard in Valencia province, made with natural yeasts? What could possibly go wrong?

I wrestled the cork free and left the wine to respire. I sliced the Cheddar, scooped lime pickle onto the plate, dressed a handful of peppery rocket with extra-virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt.

The baguette emerged, the golden wand that would transform a salad plate into the British faux-peasant pub classic, the ploughman’s.

The wine tumbled into the glass, purplish-ruby, royal-looking. This might work.

Black currant, blueberry hit my tongue then a tannic fists hit my back teeth. Blinking, I twisted the bottle: Garnacha Tintorera. Ah.

Most black grapes have pale flesh, meaning the tannins are primarily in the skin. Garnacha Tintorera, aka Alicante Bouschet, is distinguished by having dark flesh, meaning tannins through and through. Great for adding color to blends but inevitably a tougher wine.

Falcata is well-made, balanced, good fruit but it’s young. Super-tannic young wine is like new denim: coarse, stiff, unforgiving. Jeans need a months of wear and a few dozen washes. High tannin wine needs time in barrel, bottle and, preferably, decanter to soften and smooth.

With more hope than expectation I piled cheese, pickle and rocket on a slice of baguette and took a bite. Swallowed. Sipped.

If wishes were horses then beggars would ride, the old saying goes.

No amount of optimism was going to the asperity of those tannins sit comfortably with the lemon-bomb acidity of the Indian pickle, nor the umami of the 15-month aged cheese.

I made a ginger & orange peel infusion and clobbered together the rest of the bread and cheese. Delicious.

Wine, like life, works better when you accept the reality of what’s in front of you. Trying to force together things that don’t fit, aesthetically, emotionally or gastronomically, only achieves frustration and prevents the two parts from finding their optimum expression.

What’s more: impatience doesn’t pay. I should have held out for the lees-aged white. Though, if I had, I’d have missed out on a valuable lesson about trusting my instincts.

Next time, I’ll know.

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