Monday, November 8, 2010

Top Ten Wine & Cheese Pairings

Many believe wine and cheese make for a fool proof pairing. While the two CAN make a good pairing, more often than not it takes a little consideration to ensure a delicious marriage. Without getting all "cork dork" on you, this is because cheese is salty and often dehydrates the palate, making it difficult to detect the characteristics of the wine. So while many view red wine as a great go-to for pairing cheese, it's more often a crisp, refreshing white than a big, bold red that will best compliment. In this week's blog, we will explore the top ten wine and cheese pairings. The recommended pairings are examples I feel are good quality, accessible, and a good value for the price (no matter how expensive).

1. Sancerre & Chevre
Recommended Producer: Pascal Jolivet - Sancerre - Loire,France 2009 - $27

Sancerre is a world-class wine producing sub-region in the Loire of France, known for making delicious whites from the Sauvignon Blanc grape (reds from the region are made from Pinot Noir). While the whites produced in Sancerre have a racy acidity, they're not quite as extreme as Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. Sancerre tends to be more herbaceous, smelling of fresh cut grass. In addition the whites of the region usually display notes of flint, a product of the soil type (flint) where the grapes are grown. Oh yeah, and many describe the ammonia aroma found in Sancerre as reminiscent of cat pee...yummy.

Chevre is a modern soft cheese made from goat's milk. The cheese, like the wine, is made in the Loire region of France. This pairing is the essence of the statement, "If it grows together it goes together." Chevre is firm, yet breakable, and has a slightly sticky texture on the palate. It's fruity, with a distinct almond flavor. But what makes this pairing so great isn't matching the flavors of the two, it's mirroring their acidity. Chevre can almost be described as tangy. The wine's racy acidity will compliment and enhance this feature, while cleansing the mouth after each sip, readying the palate for the next bite.

2. Gewurztraminer (especially Alsatian) & Munster
Recommended Producer: Trimbach - Gewurztraminer - Alsace, France 2008 - $23

The Alsace region of France is one of the northernmost high-quality wine producing regions in the world. The region puts out a lot of white wine, using grapes similar to their neighbor across the Rhine river to the east, Germany. While German whites tend to be light and are often produced sweet, Alsatian whites tend to be dry and more full-bodied. The whites produced in the region have a unique texture and low sugar content, making them great partners for lots of different foods. Gewurztraminer's calling card characteristic is its spicy flavors and aromas. It's often described as resembling the spice of the lychee nut.

Muenster is a traditional, unpasteurized, washed-rind cheese made from cow's milk. The cheese is native to the Alsace region of France, so here again we have a "grows together, goes together" pairing. The cheese owes its unique character to the local cows, renowned for providing high-protein milk. The rind's rich color and aroma is a product of the outside of the cheese being constantly rubbed with brine for two to three months. Muenster is intense, with flavors that are both sweet and savory, ending with a spicy finish. What makes this pairing so incredible is the spicy characteristic of both the cheese and the wine. Alsatian Gewurztaminer will draw out the spice, complimenting the flavors of the cheese. The wine's refreshing acidity will also cleanse and hydrate the palate after each bite of this delicious, stinky, salty cheese.

3. German Riesling (especilly Spatlese) & Aged Gouda
Recommended Producer: Dr. Loosen - Riesling 'Spatlese' - Mosel, Germany 2009 - $30

German Riesling IS bottled elegance and finesse. The wines from the country display aromatic purity, and make wonderful pairings to many foods. The country makes over 180 million gallons of Riesling each year ranging from dry to sweet. Some of the best Riesling's from the country come from the Mosel region. The wines produced here display a perfect balance of sugar and acidity. For this pairing I suggest a Spatlese, which translates to "late harvest." Spatlese wines are made from fully-ripened grapes. They tend to be fuller bodied, but still display that wonderful balance of elegance and finesse.

Gouda is a traditional hard cheese made from cow's milk. On the contrary to what some believe, the cheese is actually native to Holland. Many people believe it to be from France, specifically Bordeaux, because that is often the cheese selected to pair with the wines from the area. Gouda accounts for more than 60 percent of the cheese production in Holland. Mature Gouda (18 months or older) is sweet and fruity, with a granulated texture. This pairing works so well because the wine's sugar and acidity cut through the rich texture of the cheese. In addition, the fruity and sweet flavors in the cheese are enhanced by the full -bodied, well-balanced German Spatlese. This wine has the power to stand up to the cheese, without getting lost. I would describe this as a very...Gouda pairing.

4. Champagne (especially Rosé) & Brie de Meaux
Recommended Producer: Nicolas Feuillatte - 'Brut' Rose - Champagne, France NV - $45

With this pairing we wrap two fool-proof wine pairing tips into one delicious marriage. It's often said that rosé wines have the texture (coming through as a hint of tannin from soaking with red grape skins) and acidity to pair with just about any dish. The same goes for sparkling wines; they have a low alcohol content, refreshing acidity, and bubbly texture, making them a wonderful compliment to most foods. Champagne is the Grand Poobah of all sparkling wines. Coming from the heart of France, these wines are an international symbol of celebration and class. Rosé Champagne is a product of blending white and red wines together to create a pink color. The wines are usually flavorful and complex, with a wonderful texture and a racy acidity.

Brie is a traditional, unpasteurized, soft white cheese made from cow's milk. It comes from the Ile-de-France (area around Paris) region of France. The slightly rubbery white rind is called penicillum. It's a mold created during the aging process, traditionally performed on straw mats. Penicillum protects the cheese, but also adds a wonderful mushroom-like, earthy component to the wheel. Good brie should be smooth and creamy, yet not quite runny. This pairing works well because the yeasty, earthy flavors in the wine enhance the flavors of the cheese. But more importantly, the slightly grippy rosé texture and the characteristics imparted through the fermentation process perfectly compliment the texture of the cheese. In addition, the wine's racy acidity cuts through the cheese, and hydrates the palate. These two fool-proof wine tips wrapped into one pairing simply can't miss.

5. Pinot Noir (especially light & Fruity) & Reblochon
Recommended Producer: A to Z Wineworks - Pinot Noir - Oregon 2008 - $20

After the 2004 film Sideways was released, the wine industry saw a boom in Pinot Noir sales, and a crash in Merlot sales. In the film, the main character, Miles, gives a poetic description of the reasons Pinot Noir is his favorite grape. This led to what the industry has coined as "The Sideways Craze." After many saw they film they wanted Pinot Noir, and the wine industry gave it to them in spades...mua-ha-ha-ha. But seriously, Pinot Noir is a finicky grape that should only be grown in a handful of places throughout the world. The grape is native to the Burgundy region of France. However, many steer clear of the reds from the region due to outrageous prices and inconsistency. Domestically, producers in Oregon and California have done well with the grape in select areas, with the 2008 vintage marking potentially the best year ever for Pinot Noir in Oregon. Unfortunately, the perfect climactic conditions in 2008 didn't just increase quality in Oregon Pinot Noir, they also increased prices.

Reblochon is a traditional, unpasteurized, semi-soft cheese made from cow's milk. The cheese is native to the eastern Haute-Savoie region of France, near the infamous Burgundy sub-region. Reblochon has sweet flavors, displaying crushed walnuts, spring grass, and wild flowers. A light Pinot Noir will be able to stand up to the weight of the cheese without overpowering the delicate flavors. In addition, the juicy, fruity flavors and medium-ish acidity of lighter Oregonian Pinot Noirs will enhance the cheese, ensuring a perfect marriage.

6. Barolo & Fontina
Recommended Producer: Marchesi di Barolo - Barolo - Piedmont,
Italy 2005 - $46

Barolo is a sub-region that makes deep, dark, full-bodied reds from the Nebbiolo grape in the Piedmont region of Italy. The big reds from the region often receive high accolades, and are regarded as some of the finest reds in not only Italy, but the world. The Nebbiolo grape grows very few places outside of the Piedmont region of Italy. It requires a specific growing season that is found almost exclusively in Piedmont. The reds produced are robust and rugged in their youth, but after aging for a decade or more, they soften and become balanced.

Fontina is a traditional, unpasteurized, semi-soft cheese made from cow's milk. The cheese is native to the northwestern Valle d'Aosta region of Italy. Fontina is dense, smooth and slightly elastic. It has a delicate nuttiness, with a hint of sweetness. This pairing is another "grows together, goes together," and works well because the dark-fruited, spicy Barolo will enhance the earthy and fruity flavors of the cheese. The texture of Barolo is big and full, but can almost be described as creamy, complimenting the creamy texture of the cheese.

7. Amarone & Parmigiano-Reggiano
Recommended Producer: Zenato - Amarone della Valpolicella Classico - Veneto, Italy 2006 - $70

Amarone is an Italian sub-region in the Veneto (northeast) that produces rich, almost sweet-like full-bodied reds from grapes like Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara. To produce Amarone, grapes are harvested, then set out to dry to an almost raisin-like state, traditionally on straw mats. The grapes are then pressed, and the juice that runs out is concentrated and high in sugar. That sugar is then converted into alcohol through fermentation, resulting in a full-bodied wine with rich flavors and aromas of black currant, blackberries, more black fruit flavors, black licorice and spice.

Parmigiano-Reggiano is a traditional, unpasteurized hard cheese made from cow's milk. It gets its name from the Parma and Reggio sub-regions of the Emilia-Romagna region. Parmigiano-Reggiano is a granulated cheese with sweet and fruity aromas. The flavor is strong and rich, but not overpowering. Hard cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano are able to support a wider range of wines, including big reds. This wine's rich, dark fruit and almost sweet flavor perfectly compliments those of the cheese. Aged cheeses tend to be more flavorful, so a flavorful wine is important to enhance the pairing. This wine does that beautifully.

8. Fino Sherry & Manchego
Recommended Producer: Domecq - Manzanilla Sherry - Spain

Sherry comes from the south of Spain near the town of Cadiz. It's a fortified wine, which means a spirit is added to boost alcohol and make the wine more stable. Sherry is made from the Palamino, Pedro Ximenez, and Moscatel grapes. This particular Sherry is dry, which means the spirit was added after fermentation, versus during, like in the production of port. Manzanilla Sherry is a dry, fino style sherry made in the Sanlucar de Barrameda sub-region of Spain. Fino style Sherry showcases a salty, almost seaside aroma, with a distinct nutty flavor, crisp acidity, and a full body.

Manchego is Spain's bread and butter cheese. It's a traditional hard cheese made from sheep's milk. It comes from the La Mancha sub-region, the same place Don Quixote supposedly tipped over wind mills and protected the people. The cheese is ivory in color, with a hard black rind. Manchego is sold in various ages, but usually displays a nutty, burnt caramel flavor with a salty finish. This wine's crisp acidity and Spanish roots make this a perfect pairing. The salty flavors in the wine will enhance the cheese, and the crisp acidity will refresh the palate. A truly outstanding pairing for Fino Sherry.

9. Sauternes & Roquefort
Recommended Producer: Chateau d'Arche - Sauternes - Bordeaux, France 2005 - $31

Sauternes is a sub-region in the Bordeaux region of France that produces the world's greatest sweet wines from Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion. The wines from the region are vibrant, with flavors and aromas of honey and lush stone fruits, like apricots and peaches. These wines have a high sugar content and acidity in their youth, but over time mellow to become intense, powerful and complex.

Roquefort is a traditional, unpasteurized blue cheese made from sheep's milk. The cheese maker pierces the wheel of the cheese with long stainless steel needles to ensure the mold reaches all parts of the cheese. The mold was traditionally introduced by leaving loaves of rye bread beside the cheese wheels in the caves. Roquefort has a distinct aroma of blue mold, burnt caramel, and a flavor that comes across as creamy yet sweet. The rich, powerful whites of Sauternes cut through the stinky blue mold and firm texture of the cheese. The sugar in the wine enhances the sweetness in the cheese, and the powerful acidity cleanses the palate after each sip. This is considered by many as a classic food and wine pairing.

10. Vintage Port & Stilton
Recommended Producer: Taylor Fladgate - Vintage Port - Douro, Portugal 2003 - $92

Port is a fortified wine from Portugal. The port name carries with it special regulations and geographic requirements. A fortified wine should only be called port if it comes from Portugal and follows the specific guidelines set up by the Portuguese government. In the production of port, unlike sherry, the spirit is added in the middle of the fermentation process to kill the yeast, leaving sugar behind in the juice. The wine produced from this process is high in alcohol and sweet. The term vintage means that all the grapes used in the production of the wine come from the same year. Vintage ports showcase the best years in Portugal, and only happen about three times a decade.

Stilton is a traditional English, unpasteurized, vegetarian blue cheese made from cow's milk. It's made in the same process as Roquefort, with the cheese maker piercing the wheel to promote mold growth. Young Stilton is bitter and dry, but as it matures it becomes creamy and sweet. Good Stilton displays flavors and aromas of old leather, dark chocolate, and a distinct blue mold. The rich, powerful vintage ports of Portugal have the body to stand up to this hard cheese, the flavors to compliment the dark chocolate and old leather, and the sugar to contrast the stinky blue mold. This is another example of a classic food and wine pairing. I like to say sweet and stinky rather than sweet and savory when it comes to pairings like this.

While some of these wines retail for $50 or more, they make great pairings for these cheeses, and are good values for the price, no matter how high. Some or all of these pairings could be described as classic, but the reason they are in this category is because they are outstanding matches, a tougher feat than you think. As I mentioned before, it's easier to find success in pairing wine and cheese when you select a crisp, refreshing white wine over a big, powerful red. Also, sweetness almost always does well with cheese, because you get a sweet and savory sensation on the palate. So if you're stumped, reach for something with some sugar.

I tried to choose cheeses that are accessible, with wines that are found in most retail locations. I hope you get a chance to try some of these because they are truly mind-blowing. To learn more about fabulous food and wine pairings, check out Cru Wine Online's NEW Daily Wine and Recipe pairings. Wach day we pair our chefs' recipes with delicious wines and bring them to you in an entertaining video short, complete with a brief explanation of the wine, the dish, and the pairing. Subscribe today and receive a FREE wine aerator, a $14.95 value. Life's too short not to enjoy every sip, so drink it up. Entertain your senses with Cru Wine Online's monthly membership. At only $7.99/month you can't afford not to!

As always if there is a wine you think should be on this top ten list feel free to contact me via email, on Facebook, or simply leave a comment here on the blog. Thanks again for reading.

Nicholas Barth
Certified Sommelier
Wine Director

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I can't get enough wine and cheese. These are great pairings - truly a classic.

Jodi a/k/a tampawinewoman