If I could have two food items on a desert island they would be wine and cheese. Well if I had a refrigerator. Warmer-than-room temperature cheese is not so great. The point is that I love Wine and Cheese. After leaving a wine and cheese party, I usually weigh twice as much as when I went in, and oh man, I am just in the best mood.
But why is it that they go so well together? And what happens when they don’t? Why is a Sauternes incomplete without a Roquefort? (For those of you who don’t know what I am talking about, you need to get familiar. For those of you with limited funds, try this almost-Sauternes which I may go buy right now).
First of all, how to pair a wine and cheese. Like most wine pairings, it comes down to balance. You want a pairing that complements, or accentuates flavors without overwhelming. This means you can go a couple of ways with your pairings. You could pair a spicy cheese or meal with a big spicy wine. You could pair a sweeter cheese with a sweeter white wine, to really highlight the fruity, sweet elements of each. On the other hand, you can go the blue cheese/dessert wine route and pair something salty and rich with a sweet, syrupy wine. Similarly, a rich, buttery cheese might do well with a wine with a lot of tannins to provide some contrast.
How do you know when you have done it wrong? Has anyone ever brushed their teeth and then had some orange juice? So wrong. Similarly, if you have the two together, but really only get to experience one of the two flavors, you need something with a little more balance. Balance, balance, balance…. Come here let me coach you. (Yes I am currently listening to Top 40 Hip-Hop)
Here is how to find whether a pairing is good or bad (finding the balance):
- Begin by tasting each separate item. Taste the cheese, wait a minute and really get a sense of the flavors. Do the same with the wine. You can repeat this step over-and-over, and if you eat the whole block of cheese and drink the bottle of wine, odds are it was delicious. Congratulations.
- Put a small morsel of cheese in your mouth, and let it rest on your tongue, or press it near the back of your teeth. Then take a small sip of wine so that both elements are combined in your mouth at the same time.
- A good pairing will taste the same…and different. Certain elements may be amplified, others may mellow, but you “should” get a sort of harmonious flavor out of the combination. I have had wines that I did not like without cheese, but once paired were incredible.
- A bad pairing will taste bad (don’t tell food snobs I said that). The flavors will battle, or one element will be completely overwhelmed by the other. Toothpaste and orange juice.
If anyone doubts my dessert wine–blue cheese combo (which seriously don’t doubt) here are some other combos to try.
Cheddar Cheese: Try a dry white, like a German Gewürztraminer, or a creamy Pinot Blanc (ask for a flavorful bottle, some of these can be bland). For reds, try a tannic Cabernet Sauvignon from California, or a Pinot Noir from Burgundy (a Bourgogne in French).
Parmegiano-Reggiano: Try an Italian wine with this Italian cheese. Nebbiolos are big, Italian reds, which often originate in Piedmont. A smaller Sangiovese may also go well with Parmigiano. A California Merlot is also a good bet.
Camembert: For whites, try a Chardonnay from Burgundy which is less oaky than those from California. A Sauvignon Blanc. For red, try a California Zinfandel.
Mimolette: For those of you who don’t know this cheese, get familiar. It’s a hard, bright orange cheese Its nutty, sweet, and salty. Kind of caramel-ly or butterscotch-y. I just came across an article that recommended a “Carignan” grape, which I know is quite common, but I’m not sure I have had it. Let’s all learn something. In the alternative go for this-site’s favorite, a Malbec.