Pairing Cheese With Wines From Kenwood Vineyards

Recently I was invited to sit in on a virtual tasting of Kenwood Vineyards wines paired with cheese. During the tasting Kenwood Vineyards winemaker Zeke Neeley gave us the behind the scenes details of each wine we tasted while chef and cookbook author Gaby Dalkin created a cheeseboard. I came away with a greater understanding of the different ranges of Kenwood Vineyards wines and with some useful tips for creating a visually appealing cheeseboard. We received the wine and cheese as tasting samples.   

Kenwood Vineyards was established as a family winery in 1970 on the site of the old Pagani Brothers Winery, another family winery, in Sonoma Valley that dated back to 1906. The Sheela and Lee families grew Kenwood Vineyards over the years and built a reputation for quality Sonoma wines. 

In 1996 Korbel Brothers acquired a 50 percent share of Kenwood Vineyards and purchased the remaining share in 1999. Pernod Ricard purchased Kenwood Vineyards in 2014.

Kenwood Vineyards winemaker Zeke Neeley fell in love with Sonoma Valley as a kid when he spent summers at his grandparents’ home there. As an adult he fell for the wines of the region and eventually gave up a career in biotech to become a winemaker.  

Gaby Dalkin is a chef and the author of three cookbooks. Gaby’s website, What’s Gaby Cooking is full of inspiring recipes as well as links to her cookbooks and line of spices, olive oils and cocktail mixes available at Williams Sonoma.

We sampled four cheeses provided by iGourmet: Cream Havarti – Garlic and Herb, Packer New Zealand Cheddar, Ammerlander Oldenburg Gouda and Allgau Emmental.

Included with the cheeses was a cheeseboard made by Sonoma Woodworks using wine barrel staves.

How To Make A Cheeseboard

As we tasted wine and cheese, Gaby began constructing a gorgeous cheeseboard while giving us tips on how to create one ourselves.

  • Choose several varieties of cheeses with different flavor profiles.
  • Cut the cheese (go ahead and laugh) ahead of time and cut them in different shapes to add visual interest. 
  • Serve 3-5 oz of cheese per person if the cheeseboard is an appetizer; double that amount if you are serving it as a main course.
  • Add the same number of meats as cheeses.
  • Add fresh and dried fruits. Preserves are always a welcome addition.
  • Add nuts, olives and even honey.
  • Add fresh herbs or edible flowers.
  • Don’t forget crackers and or bread.

Gaby also gave us some tips on how to photograph a cheeseboard. Hint: overhead works best to show the detail because a cheeseboard is pretty flat. Also, she likes to set the scene to look like guests are enjoying it. In other words, have glasses and wine bottles spread around the cheeseboard in an informal manner.

So, below is the cheeseboard I created prior to the tasting. Not very imaginative compared to the cheeseboard Gaby put together and the tips she gave us. Those big blocks of cheese are just mocking me. I have to give myself points for adding the figs, dried apricots and nuts, but that’s about it. Oh, and I have all of the wine labels clearly visible, so I get points for that too, but the bottles are all lined up like little soldiers.

First wine and cheeseboard photo
First wine and cheeseboard photo

The photo below is my second attempt at creating a cheeseboard. A little better I think. The cheeseboard is more artful and shows very well from overhead. I really like the idea of cutting the cheese ahead of time and making different shapes. 

Second Kenwood Wine and Cheeseboard photo
Second Kenwood Wine and Cheeseboard photo

As a wine blogger first and foodie second, it is going to be difficult for me to set a casual scene with bottles and glasses turned various ways. I much prefer a lower-angle photo of the bottle labels. I will have to work on that. 

Kenwood Wines To Pair With A Cheeseboard

We tasted wines from two Kenwood Vineyards ranges. The Discoveries series wines include Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Both wines are sourced from two appellations allowing Zeke wider latitude in blending to achieve fruit-forward, balanced wines at an affordable price point. The Discoveries series wines are also larger-production wines. The Six Ridges wines are sourced from multiple sites within a single appellation taking advantage of varied growing conditions. Choices in the wine cellar also impact on the flavor profile and price of these wines.

2018 Kenwood Vineyards Chardonnay, Monterey County|Sonoma County photo
2018 Kenwood Vineyards Chardonnay, Monterey County|Sonoma County

2018 Kenwood Vineyards Chardonnay, Monterey County|Sonoma Countygolden yellow with generous aromas of ripe melon and toasty oak. Flavors include ripe pears, grapefruit and toasty oak with a bit of roundness, good acidity and a citrus pith finish. 13.8% abv. Estimated SRP $12.99

Sites with warm days, but cool nights in two counties comprise this Chardonnay which was fermented and aged in stainless steel with oak staves. Zeke explained to us that this combination of stainless steel and oak staves allows him to preserve Chardonnay’s fruit flavors while augmenting them with oak influence and keeping costs down.

I enjoyed the pungent flavors of the Allgau Emmental and the Ammerlander Oldenburg Gouda, with its soft texture and sweet nutty flavors, best with the Chardonnay.

2018 Kenwood Vineyards Six Ridges Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma Coast photo
2018 Kenwood Vineyards Six Ridges Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma Coast

2018 Kenwood Vineyards Six Ridges Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma Coastlight yellow with generous underripe guava, cut grass and stone fruit aromas. Flavors follow with guava, cut grass and stone fruit. Notable acidity lingers on the very long finish. 13.5% abv. SRP $22

This Sauvignon Blanc announces itself as such in the aromas and includes a pleasing combination of grassiness with stone fruit flavors. Zeke blended grapes from several sites and fermented and aged the wine in stainless steel to preserve freshness and fruit flavors. 

The acidity is noteworthy in the wine and that quality makes it an excellent partner for softer, fattier cheeses. In this group of cheeses the acidic Packer New Zealand Cheddar and the creamy, herbaceous Cream Havarti – Garlic and Herb were delicious together.

2017 Kenwood Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino County|Sonoma County photo
2017 Kenwood Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino County|Sonoma County

2017 Kenwood Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino County|Sonoma Countydark ruby with aromas of dark fruit and baking spices. Flavors include ripe blackberries, plums, raspberries and dusty earth. Tannins are smooth and drying. 14.8% abv. Estimated SRP $20.99

This fresh and lively Cabernet is easy sipping with its smooth tannins and is intended to appeal to many palates. Zeke keeps the tannins smooth by limiting time on the skins during winemaking. The blend is 84% Cabernet, 13% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc almost equally split between the two appellations.  I enjoyed the Cream Havarti – Garlic and Herb and the Packer New Zealand Cheddar best with the Cabernet.

2018 Kenwood Vineyards Six Ridges Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley photo
2018 Kenwood Vineyards Six Ridges Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley

2018 Kenwood Vineyards Six Ridges Pinot Noir, Russian River Valleyruby-garnet color with aromas of dark berries, toasty oak and berry bramble. Flavors include blackberries, ripe raspberries and dried plums with berry bramble flavors. Tannins are drying and well integrated. 15.2% abv. SRP $24

This wine needs aeration, so give it time to unwind itself. With time the blackberry and brambly flavors come forward. The Pinot Noir was fermented in tank and aged in French and Hungarian oak barrels for 11 months. My favorite cheese pairings with the Pinot Noir were the Cream Havarti – Garlic and and the Ammerlander Oldenburg Gouda.

There are no right and wrong wine paring choices with cheese (or food in general). You should enjoy what you like together. 

I have to say I had fun with what I learned. Thanks to Zeke and Gaby for their insights and to Double Forte for organizing the samples and the tasting.


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