Thursday, 24 March 2016  • Wine,

The ancient culinary practice of pairing wine and cheese has endured through the years. There are several reasons for this. One is regionalism, where wine and cheese have the same geographical origin (such as in Europe). Another is the belief among wine merchants in the days of yore that the rich body of a wine is complementary to the heaviness of a particular food; hence, the red wine-meat and white wine-fish pairings.

Wine and cheese compatibility was one of the subjects of a 2012 study by the National Institutes of Health on food pairings. Mouthfeel ? the physical sensations that a particular food produces in the mouth ? is a key concept in this regard. Scientists believe that foods sitting on the opposite ends of the taste spectrum create a pleasant sensation of taste. The drink-food pairing of wine and cheese is one such example.

Harmonizing cheese with wine

Whether you're selecting wine to accompany a cheese platter or picking cheese to go down well with a preferred wine, there's an important rule to follow: do not interfere with the taste of the wine. In this particular pairing, the cheese is the dominant partner, and the perception of taste it delivers will not change regardless of the wine you're drinking. To make the cheese enhance the wine, consider the following factors when brainstorming on how to pair the two:

Texture: The cheese texture can be broadly categorized into hard, creamy and soft (spreadable) that coats the palate. The wine can be velvety and full-bodied or light and fruity. The rule is to match textures, such as pairing buttery Camembert with creamy Chardonnay.

Acidity: Wine and cheese are both acidic. It is best to match the acidic intensities of the two. For instance, a high-acid cheese like Cheddar pairs well with a firmly acidic Sauvignon Blanc.

Intensity: Once again, complementing delicate cheeses with delicate wines, and robust wines with concentrated cheese flavors enhances the tasting experience. If your wine menu consists of a youthful Chenin Blanc or Sauvignon Blanc, young cheeses that have been aged for two months or less pair well. Similarly, an aged cheese goes well with a full-bodied wine.

Sweetness: Cottage cheeses are often sweet and savory. A nutty, dry sherry or Madeira with such cheeses can tantalize the taste buds.

Mold: The veins of mold in blue cheeses interfere with the fruity character of dry red and white wines. It is better to pair them with a sweet wine. A sweet dessert wine, for instance, can be more pleasing when accompanied by a sharp, salty Gorgonzala.

Examples of wine-cheese pairings:

Creamy Cheese with bloomy rind (Brie, Camembert, Taleggio, Robiola): Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Champagne and Sparkling Wine.

Hard Cheese (Cheddar, Gouda, Fontina, Gruyere, Parmesan, Pecorino, Double Gloucester): Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chianti, Zinfandel, Bardolino and Valpolicella.

Fresh Cheese (Ricotta, Goat, Feta, Mozzarella, Burrata): Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Chenin Blanc and Beaujolais. Blue Cheese (Cambozola, Gorgonzola, Stilton) : Riesling, Port, Ice Wine and Sauternes.

White wine and cheese

White wines are easier to pair with cheese than their red counterparts. That's because they contain considerably lower levels of tannin and often have a lighter body that complements rather than overpowers the flavors in the cheese. Only blue cheese doesn't go too well with many whites. Some recommended white wine-cheese pairings for your next party:

  1. Goat cheese and Sauvignon Blanc are a classic match, whether the cheese is slathered onto a cracker or goes into a salad roasted red peppers.
  2. Young and moderately soft Asiago cheese is a good accompaniment to dry white Soave, while aged versions of the cheese set off a fruity, off-dry Prosecco very well.
  3. Fondue and Riesling make a good combo, with the nutty robustness of the former enhancing the latter's acidity and sweetness.
  4. If you want to underwhelm the stinky, pungent flavors of triple cream cheese, Chardonnay can do a good job of it.
  5. Pungent Stilton blue cheese tastes divine when paired with a vintage port. The stinker the cheese, the older the vintage port you can select.

Red wine and cheese

The tannins in red wines can make your mouth dry and create a metallic flavor upon interacting with the fat in the cheese. A red wine with soft tannins won't leave behind this finish and pair more harmoniously with cheese.

The sweetness of fruity red wines can complement a creamy cheese with hints of sweetness or counter a salty cheese. Pinot Noir and Grenache are some options to consider.

Avoid pairing overly tannic wines with cheese. Choose vintage reds with soft tannins over young reds.

It is advisable to check a wine's alcohol content as it can intensify the acidity in the cheese, leaving a bitter aftertaste.

Adjuncts to wine and cheese

Make the wine and cheese tasting experience more interesting and enjoyable with accompaniments such as nuts (walnuts, pecans and macadamias), fresh fruit (melons, berries, apples, grapes), pickled vegetables, cured meats, and assorted olives. Try out different pairings to zero in on winners! Keep in mind, if it tastes good to you, then it is a good pairing!