“Cheese is probably the best of all foods, as wine is the best of all beverages”, PATIENCE GRAY, 1957.
Wine and cheese have been associated together ever since their discovery. They have been considered natural allies for as long as people can remember. This view remains valid even today. Sometimes they make a high quality marriage and at times getting along with each other can prove quite shattering. Surely, there cannot be many greater pleasures in life than a good ripe cheese matched with a glass of quality wine and a chunk of freshly baked bread. The great advantage is that all three can be benefited in their “raw” state, with little or no preparation, making them an idyllic choice for most people.
While combining wine and cheese, you will notice the immense similarity between the two. Just as the aromas, body and bouquet of a wine depend on the grape variety, as well as the production techniques and the length of aging, in the same way the taste, texture, flavor, aroma of cheeses depend on the milk from which they are produced, i.e., cow, goat, ewe, or mixed milks; and the methods to make them and ripen them. It is astounding to realize that both wines and cheese are so metaphorical in the way they are made and even relished that this well liked combination is quite in style even today.
In order to appreciate them both fairly, one doesn’t need to be born in Europe. Following your senses and perhaps keeping a few pointers in mind, one can very easily acquire the charm of les fromages & vins duo. Here are some simple, easy to remember rules.
1. Pair wine & cheese belonging to the same country
Pairing wines with cheese produced from the same country or region is mostly a hit. For example, the Camembert, a soft French cheese couples well with a Chenin Blanc from France and the Manchego, which is a hard cheese from Spain makes a wonderful marriage with a full bodied Rioja wine. In some odd yet intriguing manner, this combination usually is a surety.
2. Balance the flavors
A strong cheese like the French Roquefort, known as the king of all blue cheeses, would be such a waste if paired with a light, semi sweet white wine such as a Chardonnay. This sort of a beautiful yet pungent cheese would surely need Sauternes, which is a sweet wine from France in order to enhance its taste and vice versa. A mild cheese such as a fresh soft buffalo Mozzarella cheese would taste appalling with the graceful Sauternes wine; instead, pair it with a lightly chilled bottle of Chianti wine. This would take over the blandness in the cheese and compel you to focus more on the fruitiness and tannins in the wine and the wonderful soft texture of the cheese. Now, if you are looking for the really strong stuff, then a well rounded dry red wine such as Bordeaux would taste nice with a sharp blue veined cheese like the Italian Gorgonzola and an easy thing to remember is that most salty cheeses taste very well with acidic wines such as a Sauvignon Blanc. Therefore, it is all about balancing the flavor. Make sure the flavor does not clash; instead they should compliment the other.
3. Red is tricky, not unconquerable
To pair red wines with cheese is a shade tougher than pairing them with white wines. If you are a die-hard red wine lover, then here is a tried and tested tip. Most red wines from the region of Beaujolais in France, except the Beaujolais Villages would pair well with most cheeses if chilled slightly. A Merlot would also be an easy bet, since it is usually low in tannins and the fruitier of most red grape varieties.
4. Focus on the texture
Many would ask about their favorite, the “bubbly”? Well, sparkling wines have their own special beloveds when it comes to cheeses. Champagne would generally pair well with creamy cheeses such as a French Brie, or even Chevre, goat’s cheese. The logic is quite logical after all. The bubbles in the sparkling wine break the fat which coats one’s palate while consuming creamy cheeses. It refreshes the palate and allows the cheese to be enjoyed to its fullest. A dry flute of sparkling wine would also taste exceptionally well with a hard sharp Cheddar. It is all about balancing the textures as well. So the next time you’re having a wine and cheese evening, make sure you have soft, hard, sharp, mild, pungent…all kinds of cheese with varied textures to experiment with your wines.
5. If all fails, stick with white wine
If you are already well versed with the above stated, then there is also the never ending debate stating that most white wines couple well with most cheeses. This might most usually be the most logical thing to do, but it’s the sharp cheeses that need the attention to detail. Nothing customary works here. The trick is to make sure that neither the wine, nor the cheese should overpower each others qualities. But in most cases, white is usually a safer bet. Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Semillon & Chenin Blanc are examples of usually good cheese partners.
6. Cheese loves fortified wines
In Europe, a lot of restaurants offer a cheese platter as a dessert. This platter comes decorated with varieties of cheese, ranging from different textures, regions and different flavors. This platter is sometimes frilled with cut fruits such as strawberries, figs, grapes, pears and sometimes there are even walnuts sprinkled over the cheese board. This grouping is not even close to complete until a sweet glass of sherry or port is brought out. These are fortified wines. Unlike natural wines, they are much higher in alcohol and are much sweeter. Madeira or Port wine both taste exquisite with strong blue cheese. These wines compliment the pungency in a blue cheese and in turn, the cheese opens up the bouquet of the port and does not allow the alcohol to dominate the palate.
Having said all this, in the end of it all, pairing wines with cheese or food is entirely individual. There are no unbending rules affixed to this coupling and the more you experiment, the more you discover. Since food is such an ordeal to match wines with, cheese is a unique product that can be matched with wine quite easily. There is nothing too complicated about this matching. As a general rule, if one tries to understand cheeses, the older the cheese is the more dominating and attacking it will be towards the wine.
Now that you are well versed with the knowledge of “How to match wines with cheese”, let us call a toast to the enjoying wine with cheese and there is only one thing to be said here. “Taste & pleasure count most of all”. Enjoy!