4 Wines, 4 Cheeses

How do you choose wines to pair with cheese? There are so many different wines and so many different cheeses. It’s not a new problem: the former French President, Charles de Gaulle, once complained of the difficulty of governing a nation that makes 246 different kinds of cheese – and he didn’t even consider the wine pairing element!

Here in the UK, we may not make quite as many cheeses – although I think we have some that are equal to or better than many from France – but the choice on our shelves, including imports from all over the world, is vast.   So, how do you start matching them with wine?

The first point to remember is that everyone’s taste is different, so, when I was asked to bring along a selection of wines for tasting alongside a cheese board at an event recently, I chose 4 very different styles hoping the guests would find some pairings that worked for them.

Soroptimists tastingFirst was Domaine Sainte Rose’s ‘Le Marin Blanc’, a soft and fairly full-bodied white from southern France (Majestic, £9.99). I expected this blend of Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier would go well with most soft cheeses, yet several people commented that the flavours of the Brie emphasised the acidity in the wine. A Wensleydale with cranberries worked better – the sharpness of the fruit offsetting the crisper elements of the wine.

As a less obvious pairing, I took along a rosé: Muga’s clean and fruity Rioja Rosado (most supermarkets, around £10). Views, as I expected, were mixed, with some pleasantly surprised at the quality of the wine and the way it worked with the cheeses while others, again, noting the acidity. Clearly, something I’ll have to bear in mind when pairing cheese with wine in the future.

There were no such complaints about my choice of red; Errazuriz’s Max Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile (£12.99, Waitrose Cellar) had just that right blend of black fruit and subtle oaky spice to match the Cheddar perfectly.

And finally, a sweet wine. I love Domaine des Forges’ Chenin Blanc from France’s Loire Valley (£10.99 for a 50cl bottle, Waitrose Cellar). You can happily drink it on its own, with a sweet dessert or, as here, with a blue Stilton. The combination of the sweetness in the wine and the saltiness in the cheese worked really well and it proved a most popular end to an enjoyable evening.

Fond of Fondue?

We paid a brief visit to a very good friend in Geneva recently and so, of course, we had to sample the national dishes, raclette and fondue. Both are cheese-based; raclette is a semi-hard cows’ milk cheese from the Alpine regions which, traditionally, was heated in front of a fire (now electric ‘toasters’ are more commonly used) and then the melted part scraped off and served on bread, like a sort of Welsh Rarebit.

For a fondue, the cheese is melted in a large pot, mixed with wine and garlic (or anything else, depending on local whim) and then you dip bread on a long-handled fork into the creamy, steaming pot.

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Here, rules seem to be less specific about exactly which cheeses to use (gruyere and emmental are said to be best, although the version we had included some delicious vacherin). Less traditionally, fondues can also be made with meat or chocolate mixtures in the pot – just don’t tell the Swiss!

Both raclette and fondue make simple, filling meals, best shared with friends. But, this is a Wine Blog, so the question inevitably arises: what should I drink with it? For me, white goes better than red with the creamy texture of the softened cheeses. And, as I always want to sample the local output, I chose a bottle made from the most widely planted variety in the region, Chasselas (also known sometimes as Fendant).

Fondue wine

From the Cave de l’Hôpital Epesses, in the close-by Lavaux region, this was fresh, crisp and a very drinkable match with the dishes.

There’s little point in searching for it (or many other Swiss wines) outside the region, as the Swiss export barely 2% of their entire production – a shame because the quality is usually quite high; a fact that was certainly a very pleasant surprise to our locally-based friend.

Wine and Cheese

Wine and CheeseHow 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.