A Second Look at Pairing Cheese and Wine
By Special Guest Blogger, Eric Ewers
- Cliff House Sommelier & Author of "Wine Flights of Fancy"
As classic as can be, wine and cheese pairings are an integral part of our collective gastronomic heritage. Enjoying this historic combination offers a glimpse of the thoughts, desires, and needs of our ancient ancestors; connecting tomorrow’s lunch with yesterday’s distant forefathers. In an effort to provide continuity with our past - and to facilitate a heightened daily experience - I offer some classic pairings that expand not only our dining pleasure, but also our sense of belonging.
First, let’s address some basic rules you can follow if unsure of a particular pairing. Younger, softer cheese often pairs well with a light bodied, off dry-to-dry style of white wine. On the other hand, older, harder cheese is typically best with a dry white wine that shows a little more body. Sweetness in a cheese pairs well with sweetness in a wine, and a salty cheese is usually best served with a tart wine of high acidity. Red wines, it turns out, are a little trickier to pair. A good, although general rule: lighter cheese is best with a red wine of high acidity and soft tannins, while a robust cheese works nicely with a tannic red wine of light acidity.
Lets get to some pairings. Gruyere is a hard, yellow cheese from Switzerland made from unpasteurized cows milk. In its youth, Gruyere has a delicate, salty-sweet flavor that is best complimented by semi-sweet, light-bodied white wines – think domestic Muscat or Argentine Torrontés. As Gruyere ages, it develops a bolder, earthy quality best complimented by a dry, full-bodied white wine. Un-oaked Chardonnay works well, with Chablis being a perfect match.
From Mexico we get Cotija, a hard, cows milk cheese with salty, grassy flavors in youth that develop into savory, parmesan-like flavors with age. To compliment the salty nature of this cheese look for a light to medium bodied white wine, with high acidity and low sugar. Rieslings from Austria or from the Alsace region of France work great here, as well as – and this should be almost intuitive – Corona with a good squeeze of lime.
So lets talk Spain. From La Mancha, the heartland of Spain, hails Manchego. Made from ewe’s milk, Manchego is aged at least two months, and often for two years or more. This firm, buttery cheese develops a pronounced earthy and nutty flavor with time, as well as - dare I say it - the subtle bouquet of vaquero saddle. While many indigenous Spanish red wines will complement Manchego, I recommend a nice Rioja or Ribera del Duero for an expressive, local example of the Tempranillo and Garnache varietals. With lower acidity, supple tannins, and aromas of sweet tobacco and leather, these wines will complement Manchego’s earthy, nutty, and yes, slightly sweaty flavors.
On to our just desserts, and this, you really must try. From the tiny King Island, off the coast of Tasmania, comes Roaring Forties Blue. This pasteurized, cows milk cheese is aged a mere four to five weeks before being dipped in thick, black wax. The seal created causes an anaerobic environment that halts further aging of the cheese. For this reason, Roaring Forties Blue is a sweet, creamy, and delicate blue cheese with a gentle, nutty flavor. Two words – Tawny Port. With their respective sweet and nutty qualities, this wine and cheese create a haunting echo of one another - while the smooth and creamy Roaring Forties Blue gentles the sting of Tawny Ports’ high alcohol content.
I hope you have the opportunity to try these combinations, and to enjoy a little piece of where we’re from. Be sure to keep in mind, however, that taste is subjective and your own palate should always be the final authority. Enjoy.
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