You know when, almost by chance, you taste a food and wine pairing that moves you? That's what happened on Thursday evening live on ClubHouse, when I held a beautiful tasting of "Al passo' Toscana IGT Rosso 2017 by Tolaini also in the company of Luca, their Sales Manager. First of all, I would like to thank all those present who follow me every evening at 18:30 and uncork wonderful bottles with me. As of tonight, our Perlage Suite appointment has moved to 6pm, so I am taking advantage of this article to point out this small change in time. The night before, we tasted their two bottles of Chianti, the Gran Selezione 2015 and the 2018, which I found super. But more about that later: right now I want to tell you about this pairing to invite you to try it. It would give me enormous pleasure to discover that you managed to get as excited as I did!

tolaini aisy cendré cheese burgundy berthaut

Aisy Cendré: a jewel of Burgundy cheese

I am sure that, regardless of your level of wine education, you have heard of the grandeur of Burgundy wines at least once in your life. Burgundy cheeses, on the other hand, are much less talked about, despite being - in my experience - among the most fascinating French cheeses of all. After all, wine and cheese pairing is one of the greatest classics that can satisfy any palate, and there is at least one cheese for every wine. Today I am going to talk to you about a crazy cheese: l'Aisy Cendré and how it was magical pairing with Al Passo Toscana IGT Rosso di Tolaini.
Aisy Cendré is a washed rind cheese made from cow's milk from the Berthaut cheese dairy in the Côte-d'Or. The crust is washed with the Marc de Bourgognea marc spirit coming precisely from Burgundy, which is why it is sold in the typical local bottle, the burgundy bottle. It is then covered with ash, historically used to preserve cheese due to its antiseptic properties, hence the name: Cendré, which in French means precisely ash. Aisy, on the other hand, derives from the town Aisy-sur-Armançon where it is produced.

aisy cendré berthaut burgundy cheese tolaini

It has a small circular shape with a diameter of 11/12 cm, a thickness of about 4 cm and the ash makes it 'earthy'. It is essential to serve it after at least 30 minutes that it has been out of the fridge, but I like to leave it for an hour to better appreciate its extraordinary creaminess. Creaminess due to the fatness: we are talking about 55.8% minimum fat on the dry extract, for a total of 25g per 100g of cheese. Despite this, it is not too calorific either: 306 Kcal per 100g so I would say that one can enjoy this delicacy 'almost' without sin. The ash has a delicious taste reminiscent of freshly sweetened cocoa and creates an irresistible mix with the cheese. The cheese has an intense aroma of criollo chocolate, hazelnut and a smoky finish. The taste is consistent and strong, at times herbaceous, with a savouriness that balances the fatness very well. I have no other words but this: spectacular. This is the first cheese capable of equalling my beloved Brillat-Savarin with truffle I told you about HERE.

tolaini toscana red at aisy cendre pass

Tolaini 'Al Passo' Toscana IGT Rosso 2017: the good son of a difficult vintage

The 2017 vintage was very peculiar and, if we limit ourselves to numbers alone, has been called the worst year ever. Tuscan wine production was almost halved due firstly to the April frost and then to the dry heat between June and September. I remember that year very well because I asked all the producers to send me their testimonies, which I have collected in the article Frost 2017: disaster in Italian vineyards, photos and thoughts directly from winegrowers. I recommend reading it to understand this difficult vintage which, however, if we don't stop at just looking at the numbers, has also reserved some nice surprises in the glass.

From the testimonies I have gathered, the frost of 20 April 2017 affected the Tuscan vineyard to a lesser extent, which in my opinion was much more tormented by the drought-like heat of the following months. Sangiovese, however, is a late-ripening grape variety and was able to benefit from the rains in early September, which 'corrected a little the tide' of a very difficult summer. The producers who managed to cope with this complex vintage pulled some uniquely elegant wines made from this variety out of the hat.

Tolaini 'Al Passo' Toscana IGT Rosso 2017: why is the magic created?

'In step' 2017perhaps also because of the vintage, is a particularly dry wine with tannin that can greatly increase salivation. It has a beautiful concentrated ruby red colour and is barely transparent, consistent. The nose is intense, very elegant, with spicy and balsamic notes, at times earthy, a sweet liquorice and fruit at the right ripeness. In the mouth it is structured, very dry and has tannins that still need some time to round out. Very persistent with a long finish of sweet spices.

I particularly liked it because it interpreted the vintage with great skill, without suffering. 

And now I will explain why this Tolaini wine is perfect in combination with the Aisy Cendré. Let's start with 3 extracts from my book 'How to become a Sommelier' that define this cheese:

Excerpt 1:

Washed rind cheeses = The surface of the cheese is washed and brushed repeatedly to eliminate mould that has developed during the ripening period. These cheeses have a rind that tends to orange/red because the washing process leads to the proliferation of other bacteria that give it its characteristic colour. They can be washed with salt water, beer or spirits. They are creamy and aromatic, sometimes slightly piquant and pungent. Taleggio, for example, goes perfectly with a very soft and very aromatic red wine which counteracts its pungency and supports its aromaticity. I have a Recioto della Valpolicella in my head... but generally go well with the late harvest white wines, especially from seaside areas that are characterised by more savoury production!

Extract 2:

Soft cheeses = The curd has not been pressed or heated. They have a water content between 45% and 70%. They have a pronounced acidic tendency and smell of milk! Quartirolo lombardo, Squaquerone, Primo Sale, Crescenza, Stracchino... but even Gorgonzola is as blue-veined as it is soft! They go perfectly with aromatic winesfresh, soft and perhaps even with a slight residual sugar.

Extract 3:

Cheeses with medium maturity = Maturation between 1 and 6 months. Milk that has rested 1 night (stop) is used. E.g. some pecorinos. The bubble is perfect, especially in Extra Brut or Dosaggio Zero versions.

To these 3 considerations we add that it is a cow's milk fat cheese because the % of fat in dry extract exceeds the 42% (abundantly!).
When we have all these characteristics in one cheese, how should we go about constructing a pairing? It is not easy, but the best solution is to try to extrapolate the dominant characteristics of the cheese, which in this case are certainly the fatness and pungency. The perfect accompaniment for this cheese is a classic method sparkling wine that is fragrant and has a residual sugar content of 10/12 g/l, i.e. Brut, perhaps a rosé 100% pinot noir that adds freshness and structure.

However, we can also go a little outside the box and propose a successful combination with a young, fragrant, fresh red wine with significant tannin. Add that this 'dry' sensation that forces me to salivate brings it to a certain affinity with a wine from a rather savoury sea area.

Cheese Aisy Cendré then has a special perception of fat, especially when tasted at room temperature which is well balanced by a still young tannin. The fat is at times greasy and melting. And what does the youthfulness of the wine mean then? Don't let the vintage fool you: a 2017 for a wine like this is young! In the end, if we analyse the characteristics of this cheese in the food and wine pairing graphics we will observe:

  • Grassezza (Calls for effervescence, savouriness)
  • Unctuousness (calls for tannicity)
  • Sweet tendency (Calls for acidity)
  • Induced succulence (calls for alcohol)
  • Aromaticity, Pungency/Pungency (asks for Olfactory Taste Intensity, PAI)

In the light of this, Tolaini's 'Al Passo' meets all the requirements we asked for and therefore, even if it seems a less suitable pairing, is only less immediate than a classic method sparkling wine. Not only that: the 'immense' PAI that this cheese demands makes it much easier to appreciate next to a red wine of this type than a 'standard' bubbly unless you get it just right.

And the two Chiantis?

We'll talk about those next time... promise!

Cheers 🍷


P.S. For further information, I recommend you consult the datasheet of Al Passo di Tolaini.

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