How often do you hear talk of cheese and wine together? They seem to have a natural affinity. But is that true for all cheeses? And how about the wines? Do reds work better or whites? Or is it, like so much else in this area, all down to personal taste? That was the question I tried to answer during a fascinating evening of wine and cheese I ran for some regular clients recently.
I took along a selection of wines – 3 whites, 3 reds, all dry or just off-dry, except 1 fortified sweet bottle. And the cheeses: a soft goats’ cheese, a Camembert, an Ossau-Iraty – a hard sheeps’ milk cheese from the Basque region – and a Saint Agur Blue. So, quite a variety. But which combinations worked and which didn’t?
Goats’ milk cheeses are often higher in acidity than those made with cows’ milk and so usually work better with wines sharing that characteristic. I chose a white wine, Tesco’s Finest Falanghina from southern Italy (£8) – a red would overpower the delicate cheese – but a nice Loire Sauvignon or, perhaps a Chablis or other unoaked cool-climate Chardonnay would be good alternatives.
The Camembert was altogether richer and creamier and so needed a slightly more full-bodied wine to match. Again, I would suggest a white rather than a red. Tesco’s White Burgundy (£8), from the warmer Macon region or the Co-op’s ‘Irresistible’ Marsanne (that’s its name, not necessarily my description!), a delicately oaked example from the south of France (same price) both showed well.
The same wines also complemented the firm, nutty Ossau-Iraty, one of my favourite cheeses, but this also pairs well with a lightish red – a Beaujolais or Pinot Nior, perhaps, although the Casillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva (most supermarkets, around £8) proved a popular alternative on the night.
Finally, Port and stilton is a classic combination but I chose a different fortified wine to match with the Saint Agur blue I took along: Mavrodaphne of Patras (Tesco or Sainsbury’s, around £6) is made in a similar way to port with the fermentation stopped early by adding alcohol. This proved to be a ‘love it or hate it’ choice but, for those in the latter category, knowing which wines you don’t enjoy is as valuable a lesson as finding those you do!
The one thing that all were agreed upon: cheese and wine go wonderfully together.