Wine and cheese is a good concept. But a wine and grilled cheese pairing may be the most genius idea ever.

On a recent sunny Saturday, wine lovers milled around the Treasure Island Winery warehouse, sipping barrel samples and nibbling the crisp treats coming off Nate Pollak's American Grilled Cheese Kitchen griddle. There was no need to choose between the grilled chevre, Monterey Jack and bacon sandwich with an irresistibly tangy apricot-jalapeño relish, for example, and an earthy, herby combination of mushrooms with cave-aged Gruyere. The sandwiches were cut small. You could taste them all.

Employee Melanie Rose, right, of American Grilled Cheese Kitchen, hands over smoky tomato soup as sandwiches are cooked on the grilled during the Winter
Employee Melanie Rose, right, of American Grilled Cheese Kitchen, hands over smoky tomato soup as sandwiches are cooked on the grilled during the Winter Solstice Wine Tasting and Grilled Cheese event at Treasure Island Wines on Treasure Island in San Francisco, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)

Pollak and chef Heidi Gibson launched San Francisco's first grilled cheese eatery in 2010, after office layoffs prompted them to take a look at their favorite hobby. Gibson had just won her seventh national grilled cheese championship, so they cashed in their savings and took the plunge. Now more than a thousand Yelpsters wax lyrical on the creamy, crispy goodness of those sandwiches. And the team pops up regularly at Treasure Island events, such as the Winter Solstice party held at the Treasure Island Winery collective, which includes TI, Bravium, Eristavi, Heartfelt and Oro en Paz.

Naturally, we had questions -- and Pollak's answers made us ravenous. Consider yourselves warned.

Q Grilled cheese and wine?

A Wine and cheese is a classic combination. Grilled cheese is fatty, salty, buttery, creamy, and all of those pair well with wine or beer and their seasonal properties, -- the fruit, the tartness. The right pairing prepares your palate, and it makes the whole experience -- the wine, the biting into something crunchy and creamy and delicious. It's unique and fun. It doesn't get better than that.

Q What do you think about when you're pairing grilled cheese with wine?

A There's a flavor profile acronym, TACA, which is taste, appearance, color and aroma. So I think about the cheeses. There's salty and aged, like the sharp cheddars, Gruyere, manchego. There's creamier, sweeter, like ricotta, Monterey Jack, chevre and Brie. And there's super savory -- Drunken Goat cheese, stinky pungent blue cheese or Gorgonzola.

Then you think about your wine. A salty sweet Jarlsberg goes with riesling. Savory goes with deeper cabs, malbecs and merlots. And the aromas! Our mushroom Gruyere sandwich smells like stinky fungus. You do that with an earthy wine, you have earthy, foresty aromas -- together they make something special.

Q Tell us more about that earthy, foresty sandwich.

A Our mushroom-Gruyere sandwich was inspired by French onion soup and mushroom ravioli. It has an herb butter spread, leeks, caramelized onions, duxelles and thin-sliced roasted Yukon Gold potatoes -- with a layer of super stinky Italian fontina and really rich Gruyere. It's very earthy and savory. The Treasure Island zinfandel is outstanding with it, or a California cab with ripe blackberry, earthy, leather -- you get a very manly taste out of it.

Q We've had the Jalapeño Popper, and it is ridiculously good. What's in it?

A It's our most popular and Jim (Mirowski), the founder of TI, just loves it. It doesn't have jalapeño poppers in it, that's just the name. It's our most California-style sandwich: local levain, Laura Chenel chevre, local Monterey Jack, applewood smoked bacon. The apricot jalapeño relish uses Blenheim apricots from Hollister. It's sweet, tangy, spicy -- a light aromatic sandwich that pairs really, really well with their sauvignon blanc. It brings out more flavor in both.

Q One more?

A A plain Mousetrap, with havarti and aged cheddar -- that's the best of both worlds. That's a picnic sandwich that's going to go with anything.

More Grilled Cheese

Read: Find more than 50 variations on the buttery, melty theme in Laura Werlin's "Grilled Cheese, Please!" cookbook (Andrews McMeel, 2011). The James Beard award-winning food writer teaches at the Cheese School of San Francisco.

Taste: The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen has locations in San Francisco's Mission district at 2400 Harrison St. and in the South Park neighborhood at 1 South Park Ave.; theamericansf.com.

Sip: Treasure Island Winery's special events have included grilled cheese pairing parties, Wines & Valentines, and a Harvest Howl. Check the schedule and sign up for their email newsletter at www.tiwines.net.