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In general, the red wines from the region tend to pair better with the saltier or more complex styles of cheese. For example, the fabulous Mt. Tam Triple Cream from Cowgirl Creamery features lovely notes of mushrooms and earth that work wonders with the elegant Ridgeway 2004 Pinot Noir, a sexy medium-bodied wine made with estate fruit grown in a lovely vineyard off D Street Extension.

For the more aged cheeses, look for bolder wines with a touch of finesse. An example of this pairing would be the rich Spring Hill White Cheddar with the Kastania 2003 Proprietor?s Blend, a Bordeaux-style wine highlighted by an approachable combination of Cabernet Franc (57 percent) and Cabernet Sauvignon (43 percent), nicely balanced tannins and a smooth finish.

Overall, these pairings make for great options to serve at picnics, receptions, cocktail parties, or as an appetizer or a formal course with dinner. For more ideas and information about these local producers, please join us at the extravagant Artisan Cheese Festival, a first-time event at the Petaluma Sheraton Hotel, March 9-12, www.artisancheesefestival.com. In the meantime, bon appetite!

(Christopher Sawyer and Jason Jenkins are the co-owners of Vine and Barrel, a wine shop at 143 Kentucky St. They offer Wednesday night wine education classes from 6 to 8 p.m. and Saturday tastings from 4 to 7 p.m. They can be contacted at 765-1112. Their Web site is www.vineand barrel.com)

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