Cheese & Wine Pairing
Cheese and wine pairing is much harder than you may think.
The reason is because there isn’t just one kind of cheese and one kind of wine. Cheeses vary in moisture content, fat content, texture, flavour. Wines, too, vary in acidity, sweetness, body, and structure.
Here are a few basic guidelines…
It’s important to serve the wine and cheese at their proper temperatures, so their flavours can emerge. Serve white wine at 7°C / 45°F, red wine at 15.5°F /60°F and remove the cheese from the refrigerator 30 to 60 minutes prior to serving.
Choose White - If in doubt the safest choice would be white wine for your cheese. Whites typically match with a much wider array of cheeses than reds. The reason is because white wines have much lower levels of tannin, and they’re often lighter in body, which complements rather than overwhelms the flavours in most cheeses. Blue cheeses are the exception and don’t match with white wine.
If your preference is red wine, choose carefully…
Choose Reds high in acidity - The acidity in wine has the ability to cut through the cloying mouthfeel of the cheese, therefore a red wine with a bright flavour profile can match the body of a rich, fatty cheese.
Choose Red that are lower in tannin - Tannin in wine comes from contact with grape skins, seeds, and stems. (Red wine is red because of the contact of the grape skins with the grape juice). Wines that have been aged in wood barrels will be higher in tannins. White wine typically doesn’t have much tannin because whites don’t macerate with skins and many whites age in stainless steel.
Choose Reds that are fruity in flavour - Fruity reds offer a sensation of sweetness, which can either offset a salty cheese, or complement a creamy cheese. The reds to choose would be described as ‘juicy’ or ‘jammy’.
Choose Reds that are lower in alcohol - Alcohol in wine can electrify the acidity in cheese, making it taste spicy when it’s not. High alcohol wines tend to fight with cheese, leaving an acrid aftertaste and unpleasant finish. Look for wines that have an alcohol content of less than 13.5%.
Choose Reds that are older - Wines lose their tannic structure over time therefore an older vintage of a full-bodied wine would be a better with cheese. Just five years of age on a wine can soften the tannins.
The best pairings can often happen when you least expect to find the perfect match. Don’t overthink your wine choice with your cheese; it needn’t be complicated.
Coombe Castle Cheese and Wine Tasting
Earlier this year a team from Coombe Castle had a master class in wine tasting and cheese pairings, hosted by Tristan Darby of Bristol Wine School. Tristan is a wine educator who has experience spanning over 20 years in the catering, hospitality and wine trade. He is the drinks columnist for The Bath Magazine and The Bristol Magazine.
We asked Tristan to suggest wine pairings for 8 of our much loved cheeses.
Our brief introduction to wine tasting gave us 5 steps to follow whilst tasting;
Colour, Swirl, Smell, Taste, Savour
Look at the Colour
The colour of the wine in the glass gives you a clue to which variety is in the glass. Colour can also give an indication to the age of the wine.
Whites and reds behave inversely: white wines get darker as they age whereas red wines get lighter as they get older.
Smell the Wine
Of all of the senses that factor into the enjoyment of wine, none does so more than our sense of smell. Smell evokes emotion and memory. Swirl the wine, stick your nose deep in the glass and take a big sniff! Then swirl again and sniff again. Try to identify the aromas you are experiencing.
Taste the Wine
Tasting is something we do with our taste buds and the average person has between 5 and 10,000 of them – all over the mouth, both sides of the tongue and extending down the throat. Let the wine warm in your mouth for a few seconds. As the wine warms up, more of the bouquet and aroma are travelling up through the nasal passage. Remember, 90 percent of taste is smell!
Grapes with your Cheese?
Grapes are probably the most common fruit that are served on a cheese board. They can look beautiful, fill up a space, they’re easy to break off and eat, and all of us have almost certainly eaten cheese and grapes together and enjoyed the experience. Why do some cheese mongers and fromagers advise against eating cheese and grapes together?
Tannins are naturally occurring, astringent compounds found in grape skins, seeds, and stems.
Tannins are usually associated with wine and can play a role in whether or not a particular cheese and wine pair well together. Tannins are also in the skins of regular table grapes and can affect the flavour of the cheese you are eating.
Sometimes grapes can make cheese taste bitter. This usually happens when grapes are paired with a washed rind or bloomy rind cheese. It happens less often when grapes are paired with hard cheeses.
Grapes might not make the cheese taste bad, but they might not enhance the flavour of the cheese either. Other fruits such as figs, dates, apples, melons, and pears are very good choices when pairing fruit and cheese.
The safest bet is to pair cheese with dried fruit. Dried fruit is often sweeter than fresh fruit, and you don’t have to worry about dried fruit being ripe and in season. Dried figs, dates, cherries and apricots pair really well with cheese.
Fruit spreads also pair really well with cheese, quince paste, fig jam, and peach or apricot preserves to pair with cheese. The sweetness of fruit and saltiness of cheese are the main reason they pair well together.