September 21, 2019   2:01am
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Brie and Chablis? Could eastern liberals be wrong?

I saw this article in The Wall Street Journal, and it really made me laugh … plus I learned more than a few things about cheese, wine and which political party drinks wine most … Here is most of the WSJ article* (the bolds are our own) entitled: “Fact Check: ‘Brie and Chablis’. Whoever Came Up With This Slam on Liberal Voters Never Tasted the Pairing

At a recent rally in Fairfax, Va., former Sen. Fred Thompson was defending Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin against journalists. “They are now parachuting in dozens of warriors and investigators and scandal-mongerers and representatives of cable networks, all into Alaska to turn over every rock they can find,” he thundered. “I hope they brought their own Brie and Chablis with them!” The crowd went wild.

We don’t know how “Brie and Chablis” became synonymous with “Eastern Establishment” … maybe there is some sort of secret indoctrination that probably also includes an elaborate handshake ….

At the same time, Hoyt Hill, the owner of Village Wines in Nashville, in Sen. Thompson’s home state, says he carries a wide variety of Chablis and sells every bottle he can get his hands on. “I think Chablis is the best bargain in white Burgundy,” he told us. When we asked him if everyone who buys Chablis from him is an Eastern Establishment Liberal, he laughed and laughed. When he stopped, he said, “Most people who buy Chablis from me are probably very conservative because they’re rich and probably Republicans.”

But all this talk about Brie and Chablis did make us wonder: How do they taste together? Would a tasting of Brie and Chablis together turn John into a Democrat and make Dottie forget her Southern roots? We conducted an experiment to find out.

A GOOD CAUSE FOR CHABLIS

Truth is, while we like cheese and we love wine, we aren’t big fans of cheese and wine together. Sure, there are some exceptions — we can’t imagine Port without Stilton or Stilton without Port, for instance. And when we do think of wine and cheese together, we prefer white wine to red because we find that its lively acidity makes the cheese more flavorful.

It’s also true that we’ll use just about any excuse to drink Chablis, which is one of the world’s most underappreciated wines. Real Chablis, from the northern part of France, is made from the Chardonnay grape and tastes like nothing else, with crisp acidity, bell-ringing clarity, a kind of lemon-lime liveliness and great minerals that can sometimes lean toward an attractive sourness.

The amazing thing is that Chablis continues to be a great bargain because it’s not popular. Too many people still confuse it with cheap American white wine called “Chablis,” a generic term that drives the French crazy but is allowed in the U.S. among grandfathered companies after longstanding practice … Mr. Hill pointed out, most people drink Chablis young, when it can be particularly aggressive, and haven’t experienced a well-aged bottle … There are various levels … “Grand Crus are under $100, while Grand Crus from the Cote d’Or [region of Burgundy] are as much as $3,000.” By the way, Mr. Hill has never tried Brie and Chablis together.

THE ELEMENTS OF BRIE

Brie is a soft-ripening, cow’s milk cheese with a bloomy rind. Truly genuine Brie is made in the Île-de-France region. Some are made with unpasteurized milk, and those cannot be imported into the U.S. What is available in the U.S. is pasteurized-milk Brie. Differences in producers, regions and butterfat content explain some of the variations of the many types of Brie you’ll likely see at your local cheese store or fancy grocer. But, like wine, many of the style differences have more to do with the interplay of the elements that produce it — in this case the grass, sun, seasons and cows … “It’s what the animals are eating. The milk will affect the cheese.”

How did the two ever get linked? We don’t know for sure. Dottie feels it has something to do with Leonard Bernstein’s famous party to raise legal-defense money from rich white liberals for a group of Black Panthers accused in 1969 of conspiracy to kill police officers and blow up buildings in New York City. However, according to Tom Wolfe’s famous, liberal-lampooning, satirical account of the party, the cheese served that night was Roquefort. So Dottie was wrong, but we wonder if Mr. Wolfe’s saber-sharp pen would have been dulled had they served cheddar. In the long run, the Panthers were acquitted, people all over the world are celebrating the 90th anniversary of Mr. Bernstein’s birth this year — but fancy cheese is still a mark of liberal chic.

The catchphrase “Brie and Chablis” to mean snooty liberal seems to have really caught fire during the third-party presidential campaign of John Anderson in 1980. It’s amazing that it still has such resonance, aside from the fact that it sounds great. After all, in terms of wine, America is very different today from what it was in 1980, with more people drinking better wine all the time. According to a July Gallup poll, among Americans who consume any type of alcoholic beverage, 37% of Republicans and 27% of Democrats say wine is what they drink most often, compared to liquor or beer; among those who identify themselves as conservatives, the figure is 37%, compared with 24% who identify themselves as liberals.

For our test, we picked up a selection of Chablis from fine producers. We bought younger bottles because those are the ones you are most likely to find on shelves …We also bought 10 different Bries from two reliable New York City stores, Zabar’s and Murray’s Cheese. The Brie cost from $8 to $17 a pound. Over two nights, we tried the various Chablis with the various Brie.


CRISP, CREAM AND A CLASH

… Some of the wines and cheeses simply passed each other in the night, but some were very interesting combinations. For instance, we especially liked a double-cream Brie called Couronne with Château Clos de Vaulichères 2006. The cheese made the wine better, with better acidity and minerality. “The cheese gives the wine special intensity,” we wrote in our notes. At the same time, the wine made the mild cheese more interesting and nuttier. Although we found the Petit Chablis simple on its own (it was Domaine Servin 2007), we were surprised to find that it was lovely with the cheese.

Our Fromage de Meaux — this is a genuine French Brie made with pasteurized milk — was excellent with Jean-Marc Brocard “Domaine Sainte Claire” 2007. “It tastes like a better wine with the cheese,” we wrote. “Now it has walnuts and green apples.” Another favorite was Brie de Nangis, also with the Clos de Vaulichères. “The wine is more vibrant with the cheese, a real winner,” we wrote. “The cheese tastes more mushroomy and the wine tastes cleaner. The wine cleans the palate of the cheese. The fat and acidity work beautifully together.”

Despite the winners, overall we wouldn’t say we’re crazy about the combination of Brie and Chablis. When they clashed, they seriously clashed and this was true especially of the more complex wines and cheeses. Too often, the more complex wines seemed simpler with the cheese, and the wines with even a little too much oak seemed positively sweet. Even when they worked, we felt the combination was pretty edgy and — dare we say — sophisticated. Dottie at one point even used the word “cerebral.”

Mr. Wabnig of the cheese shop says that he prefers Brie with Champagne and we can understand that — the acidity of good Champagne and its hints of nuts and mushrooms could be very nice with some of the cheeses. So we think it’s time to put “Brie and Chablis” to rest, since they don’t work together very well anyway.

Still, giving the combination one last chance, and thinking that perhaps the Chablis needed some age, we visited Crabtree’s Kittle House in Chappaqua, N.Y., a restaurant known for its well-tended old Burgundies. We ordered a 1994 Chablis (Dauvissat Grand Cru “Les Clos”) and asked the waiter to bring us some Brie. The wine was interesting and complex and the cheese was rich and buttery, but, once again, they really didn’t speak to each other. We asked the waiter what kind of Brie he had brought us. He left and came back and explained that it was a Brie from the U.S., and when he told us the name, we laughed. It’s called Président.

Eat your heart out, Fred.
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* The Wall Street Journal, Wine, Tastings by Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher with Melanie Grayce West contributing, “Fact Check: ‘Brie and Chablis’. Whoever Came Up With This Slam on Liberal Voters Never Tasted the Pairing,” Friday, October 10, 2008, page W5.

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