Bacchus v Cheese: Wedded Bliss or War of the Worlds?

Written by Diana Lyalle

Declaration of Interest: I probably picked the grapes from which the featured wine was made!

Grape harvesting at Aldwick Court Farm & Vineyard is always fun (unless it is cold and/or wet, obviously).  And it gets even better when the wine made with the grapes we harvested is ready for release – we gleefully receive our “wages” i.e. wine at the annual Harvest Supper.  Sadly I had to miss it this year, because I was about to sit the huge and hideous Unit 3 Still Wines of the World (yikes!) theory and tasting exam for my WSET Level 4 Diploma.  I did not therefore collect my earnings until recently.  This year, Sandy from Aldwick Court Farm has  rewarded my hard work in the 2016 harvest with 3 tasty bottles of Aldwick vino – i.e. Mary’s Rose and Bacchus from 2016, and Finbarr from 2015 (I helped that year too).

As I am always on the look out for winning wine and food pairings, I have decided to put my wages to good use  – I will enjoy each wine with various tasty treats and record what goes with what.

I have a head start in that I am reliably informed that the Bacchus is a great match with Lye Cross Farm Organic Vintage Cheddar which, conveniently, is on my way home from the vineyard.  So I nipped into the Lye Cross Farm shop – and came out with rather more than I intended!  The gentleman on the meat counter was particularly helpful and I am pleased to report that Him Indoors enjoyed the bacon…..


I digress.  Here are the details of the wine and the cheeses.

The Hypothesis

I get why the tangy vintage cheddar would match the equally tangy Bacchus, so I anticipate that this will, as advised, work very well.  That said, Bacchus shares similar characteristics to Sauvignon Blanc.  This well known aromatic grape variety is classically teamed with goat’s cheese – e.g. Sancerre and Crottin de Chavignol both from the Loire valley in France.   I therefore bought a local goat’s cheese to see what happened.  I also bought a brie as when I prepared a wine and cheese tasting recently, I had a Sauvignon Blanc that went well with it, and both brie and camembert can be tricky to match.  Maybe Bacchus would work with brie too.

The Wine: Aldwick Bacchus from Somerset, England 2016 11% abv.

The grapes are grown on south facing slopes overlooking the Mendip Hills.  2016 was a good vintage in UK vineyards so I am expecting the usual refreshing English acidity, as well as relatively ripe fruit flavours.  But what fruit flavours should there be?  What do we know about Bacchus?

Much has been said about the improving fortunes of UK sparkling wine production, but the undeniable potential of Bacchus for still white wine production has been less publicised – until the Decanter World Wine Awards Platinum Best In Show gong went to Winbirri of Norfolk for its 2015 Bacchus.     This wine was said by the judges to have a ‘complex, oily nose with spice, elderflower and citrus’, and was described as ‘well-defined on the palate with grassy notes. Very elegant and delicate with a slight spritz and a long, clean finish’.  Describing Bacchus generally in the 2015 edition of Grapes and Wines: a comprehensive guide’, Oz Clarke and Margaret Rand reported key aromas of hedgerow, elderflower and pear and told us that ‘This is about the closest England can come to the herbal pungency of Sauvignon Blanc.’ Christelle Guibert described a Camel Valley 2013 Bacchus from Cornwall thus: ‘A delightfully perfumed nose with notes of crisp apple and honeysuckle, underpinned by a spine of acidity.’

My tasting note for Aldwick Bacchus is as follows:

“Defined and pronounced aromas of nettle, asparagus, green apple, lime, and honeysuckle.  A savoury wine with a crisp zesty bite.  Refreshing acidity in balance with the fruit. Tasty!”

Hopefully the 2017 Bacchus (which I helped harvest last week…!) will be just as good.

The Cheeses

Rachel Cheese – a mild delicate goat’s cheese made by White Lake Cheese, Pylle, Somerset.  This is from their website:

“Our multi-award winning Rachel is a semi-soft unpasteurised goat cheese with a smooth texture and sweet, medium flavour. As she matures, Rachel is washed regularly in a brine solution – this gives the artisan cheese a dusky rind, and the occasional orange and yellow spots. Rachel is the namesake of Pete’s friend who, much like the cheese, is sweet, curvy and just a little bit nutty!”

Rachel sounds rather like me except for the sweet part.

Somerset Brie – sourced from Lye Cross Farm shop, but I am not sure where this was made within our fair county.  A robust flavoured brie with lots of umami mushroom flavours.

Lye Cross Farm Organic Vintage Cheddar – strong, tangy and lingering – a Big Cheese indeed from Redhill, Somerset – just up the A38 from Aldwick.

The Method

The sandwich method, which is: wine – then cheese – then wine.

The Verdict

Last place goes to the brie.  This was out and out warfare.  The cheese walloped the wine, then the wine retaliated.  War of the Worlds.

Next comes the vintage cheddar.  This was a good match in that as predicted, the pronounced tanginess of the wine paved the way nicely for the pronounced tanginess of the cheese, and then the wine was refreshing afterwards.

But in clear first place comes the Rachel.  The wine made way for this delicate mild cheese which needs to be enjoyed in a decent sized slice to savour its subtleties.  But when I tasted the wine again after the cheese, the wine brought out the flavours of the cheese, and there was a truly delicious and harmonious blending of the vegetal greenness of the wine with the cheese.  The creamy nuttiness of the cheese really sang through the wine, and the wine itself became weightier and rounder.

Wine and food pairings work when they complement each other as happened here with the cheddar.  But wine and food wedded bliss is when the wine and food combined tastes better than when tasted apart – and that is what happened with the Rachel.

So although I was indeed reliably informed that Bacchus and vintage cheddar pair well, I believe I have gone one better – I can now reveal the Somerset answer to the Loire valley classic – a marriage of Bacchus from Aldwick with Rachel from Pylle.  I must find a vicar to read out the marriage banns.  Definitely one for my ideal wine and cheese tasting menu – and all the more satisfying because I helped in a small way to make the wine.

PS  You are lucky readers – the photo of Arthur on our front page shows him contemplating the platter above – much more delay and the cheese would have been history.  He later enjoyed a bit of cheese – but his views are not worth blogging – he is handsome, but not discerning.