Praise cheeses, for they can turn a watered-down white into a winning wine.
This week I went back to the Wine Lovers Page and Robin Garr's list of wines with the best QPR, or quality-price ratio, to sample the second of two California whites whose price point is $15 or less. Bonterra Vineyards' 2006 Lake-Mendocino County Sauvignon Blanc lists for $12.99 (I got it at Safeway, where it was selling for $14.99, less a $3 "card savings," so arguably, I saved a buck).
Garr describes this wine as "attractive and complex, a very appealing aromatic blend. Good body and luscious fruit on the first taste, crisp and citric, refreshingly acidic hints of fresh-squeezed grapefruit and bitter orange." Thing is, while I got good fruit on my first taste, it flattened out immediately; apart from the acidity, there was really no complexity to speak of.
That all changed when I paired it with a couple strong cheeses, including the almighty Humboldt Fog. This soft, tangy goat's milk cheese sports a ribbon of vegetable ash down its center that divides its creamy and more crumbly layers. Each aspect of this cheese has a distinctive flavor on its own; put them together and it's dairy Nirvana. (On the surface, this is not a cheap cheese -- it retails for $16.99 a pound at Safeway -- but since it should be taken sparingly, a quarter-pound should get even the most ardent cheese-lover through a few bottles of vino.)
Cypress Grove Chevre, the makers of the Fog, suggest pairing the cheese with a crisp white wine. In the case of the Bonterra, the cheese's acidity balanced that of the wine, and suddenly, I was tasting all the citrusy goodness that inspired Garr to add this varietal to his "best of" list.
Ultimately, the Bonterra is like the mousy spouse of a good friend: You want to like it for its own unique qualities, but really, it requires a better half to shine.