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DIY Wine and Cheese: The Montreal Highlights Festival Micro Festival of Quebec Cheeses Review

Posted by Amie / February 19, 2010

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It's days like this that remind me why I love this city. You can walk through an underground shopping mall and find 40 Quebec cheese producers snuggling up with Portuguese wines, spend $5, and create your own personal happy hour anytime between the hours of 11:30am and 7pm on Friday the 19th and 11:30am and 5pm on Saturday the 20th.

The cheese at Complexe Desjardins is overwhelming: from soft, unripened goats milk to organic semi-firm thermised cheese. There are bries and blues all averaging about $5 or $6 a block, but the real thing to do here is to sample a little cheese and then direct your attention to the wines. For $5 you get 3 coupons which can be traded for 3 wine samples. Fortunately most of the producers are more than generous and will give you several samples from their collection with just one coupon. This is depending on type, of course. They will not give you several red wine samples and a few ports unless you're incredibly charming. My charm topped out at 1 white and 2 glasses of red from Esporao. That's quite enough charm for one day. Consider this a challenge to do better.

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The beauty of Quebec is that you get one wine glass when you purchase your sample coupons, and this wine glass can trek with you all around the Complexe. You could probably make it to the metro and the security would be none the wiser. In fact they certainly didn't seem to care where anyone trekked. You're not supposed to take wine outside of the wine sampling area (which had a coat rack for those intending to stay awhile!) but your empty glass has full access to the cheese sampling area. So traipsing back and forth is encouraged. You can try a wine, then go have some cheese. Repeat. Repeat. Call it palette-cleansing. That way if you want to pick up some cheese you double check with a second sample post-wine and pre-purchase.

If after all that sampling you can't decide on a favourite wine and cheese combination, here are a few suggestions (I'm sure you'll try all the cheeses anyway if you make it there yourself, but with the wines it's hard to know where to start and what's worth your valuable coupons):

Jose Maria Da Fonseca Definitely try these wines. Their white, an Albis 2008 (A very reasonable $12) is mostly Moscatel with a bit of the Portuguese varietal, Arinto. It's light and fruity, not sweet. You could have it on its own as an aperitif, but you may find it deceptively water-like after the intense fruit smell. To keep your post-sniffing disappointment at bay it would go nicely with Fromagerie L'Ancetre's Emmental, a slightly sweet but mild cheese.

Jose Maria Da Fonseca also offers a Moscatel ($15, fortified, like a light port) that lands somewhere between an iced cider, a honeywine and a glass of melted butter. It's not overloaded with sugar, and makes for a very good digestif on its own. After having a grand chat with the representative about soaking dried fruit in it, we decided It would be a great replacement for rum, cointreau or amaretto in a dessert like Disaronno-Soaked Apricot Loaf. It you want to keep the alcohol and the strength of the flavour of the wine, either keep a small glass to sip on the side while eating the loaf, or use it as a glaze without cooking off the alcohol. Or just drink the apricot-soaking liquid when you are too impatient make the actual loaf. Then eat the soaked apricots...The producer also recommended Moscatel-soaked dried fruit over baked brie.

The Dona Maria Amantis 2007 (a white wine at $27) was much more acidic than I had expected. Both it and the estate's namesake white would go well with the camembert-like cheese from Fromagerie Pied-de-Vent. You may not want to drink these on their own, but it could certainly be an acquired taste.

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Two other very nice cheeses were from Fromagerie La Station. Both raw, they were very similar, just the older brother had 5 months or so on his younger sister. There was a distinct taste of orange in the rind, that was confirmed by the producer. Being light, neither would go particularly well with the very dry reds from Esporao. The Monte Velho (the less prestigious and less expensive at $13.24 a bottle) would be nice with coq au vin, or even in a lentil stew, or poured over sautée-ing mushrooms. Using a mixture of trincadeira (think similar to madeira or cooking wine) aragines and catelao, the wine would be a happily-accepted gift for a dinner party or more than respectable for a meal at home. To step up a level, though, the Esporao Reserva at $24 is almost too strong to drink on its own and begs for red meat. The price jump is justified in this 'grand vin'. Very smooth, dry, and exceptional.
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Or just try all the ports. There are at least 15 and they're certainly all pretty good. Please drink responsible and make sure you get enough water after the sugar shock. Next week you'll need your sugar taste buds for the Festival marketplace bakery...

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