Henry Belmonte and his father Vittorio Belmonte, proprietors of VJB Vineyards and Cellars, recently opened up an Italian-style villa in the Sonoma Valley. This villa includes a deli stocked with a rotating local and imported selection of cheese and salami, a gelato shop, a brick oven for roasting fresh pizzas, an outside courtyard to enjoy on sunny days, and even live tenor performers singing opera on weekends.
This wonderful winery produces a wide array of Italian varietals, all boasting a perfect balance of fruit and acidity, as well as a silky texture. This smoothness can be attributed to VJB’s barreling process. VJB uses a mixture of neutral French and American oak barrels. The neutral oak refers to barrels that have been previously used for at least three years. Neutral French and American oak barrels ensure that the flavor in the wine comes mostly from the grapes and not the heavy oak taste commonly found in new barrels. This process makes the wines more drinkable at an early age and able to be paired with a wide variety of foods.
VJB can provide food pairing recommendations and expertise for those looking to pair these fine Italian varietals with a delicious home cooked meal. Maria Belmonte, Henry’s mother, even makes her family pasta sauce recipe, jars it, and then sells it in the deli so that fans of VJB wines can pair them with her sauces.
Since regional items tend to pair nicely, VJB’s red Italian varietals pair well with many Italian cheeses. The Barbera, Montelpuciano, and Primitivo varietals are all fantastic wines to pair with cheeses such as the pecorino, toma, and blue del monviso.
The 2010 Mendocino Barbera has a nice level of tannins and a smooth texture that complements the creaminess of the pecorino toscano—which is a semi-hard cheese that becomes smoother with the texture of the wine. The blackberry and plum fruit of the wine is subtle but provides a nice contrast to the pungent flavors of the pecorino.
The 2009 Estate Montelpuciano and toma cheese is a perfect pair in terms of texture. The toma, which is even creamier than the pecorino, gives this normally medium-bodied wine a much fuller-bodied mouth feel. The slight spice of this wine complements the pungent cheese and the black cherry flavors become more subtle and delicate in the presence of the toma—balancing out the fruit and spice to provide a well-rounded taste of both.
The 2009 Primitivo and the blue del monviso make a delicious pairing. The combination of the pungency of the cheese and the Primitivo’s spiciness really piques the taste buds, yielding an almost tingling sensation in the mouth before a smooth finish. The blue del monviso is a soft spreadable cheese, and the wine, like the others, matches in silky-smooth perfection. This pairing really works to enhance the pungency of the cheese, making it stronger in the presence of the spices in the wine.
These pairings are fantastic for both complementary and contrasting reasons—making VJB wines very versatile and highly able to be paired.