What's salty, delicious, and goes perfectly with wine?

Last year I wrote a column in which I hyperventilated about the wonderfulness of serving nothing but wine and cheese for dinner. At the time, I recommended the cheese departments at Whole Foods and Larry's in Queen Anne, and they haven't let me down yet. But there's a new shop in Belltown you've got to try: James Cook Cheese Company (2421 Second, 256-0510). For those of you who, like me, can't think of a cheese shop without remembering that Monty Python routine ("Sorry, sir, the Stilton's a little runny today"), you'll be very pleasantly surprised by this one. On any given day, they offer dozens of varieties—from the most mild to the most pungent—that will make you dizzy with their wonderful flavors. My recommendation is to buy some crackers, about five different cheeses (2 ounces each) of varying flavor intensities (the shop will let you sample them), and a bottle of wine that complements cheeses. Which wine is that? Not so fast, buster. A winery that took me by surprise I'll admit that I wasn't familiar with Hoodsport Winery until they sent me some samples. A couple of them struck me as ideally suited to match with cheese. The first is the '98 HOODSPORT CHENIN BLANC ($13). You should know that it's off-dry, meaning somewhat sweet. Why would you want to drink something like that? Because cheese tends to be salty and a sweet wine is a perfect complement, especially when it has the lovely fresh hay aroma and flavors of honey and mango of this delicious Chenin Blanc. Not your thing? Try the '98 HOODSPORT MERLOT ($21) with its cigar box and cherry aromas that evolve into tasty black currant flavors. DENNIS, Is it just me or are people who work at winery tasting rooms rude and unknowledgeable? FAY FAY, You're not the only rude one. Don't be so tough on yourself. Tasting rooms generally fall into two categories: those manned by the winery's owner and those big enough to afford employees. It's that second category where most of the trouble can be found. Wineries aren't noted for their generosity when it comes to salaries, so the tasting room staff is typically composed of low-paid people with minimal wine knowledge. They usually do a pretty good job of reciting rote information, which is enough for most visitors. It's the more savvy taster that stumps them. As for their rudeness, that's just mental illness combined with the fact that they are often dealing with cattle cars full of people. DENNIS wine@seattleweekly.com

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