A recent post in the WSJ suggested we try white wine with our cheeses; as though we had never thought of it?
White wine and cheese have actually been partnering for many centuries. If we only had red wines with our cheeses all this time we would have experienced many disappointing matches. Of the few bad matches that occur in pairing cheese and wine there are more clashes with red wines that there are with whites. Those disappointing matches can be largely blamed on the elevated tannins in red wines. Granted, not all red wines are particularly tannic. The softer tannin reds are the types that tend to pair better with most cheese types.
There are some cheese types that have the characteristics to mellow those tannins, cheeses that can round out the edges, softening the astringency to smoother finishes while maintaining the fruit in the wine. The basic pressed cow cheeses are usually the best bets for those chewy reds; the aged Goudas can usually soften the blow, and some of the salty blue cheeses are up to the tannin challenges too.
One of our guests at a Cheese & Wine 101 came up to me after a recent class and said that he was surprised to discover how well the white wines paired with the cheeses, something that he had not thought possible, that white wine and cheese could work well together. We all have our preferences for wines, as well as our preferences for cheeses. Yet when you find a successful marriage with a wine that you might not ordinarily choose, or with a cheese you might not usually have, the good pairing can enhance your appreciation for each.
Or maybe it was not his preference for red wine but instead it was something that he had heard or read – that only red wines pair with cheese. There certainly is plenty of dogma about cheese pairing. Some people insist that only white wine pairs well with cheese, or that Ports pair well with all cheeses. The suggestion that cheeses and wines must be from the same region to pair well is one that I hear far too frequently. The terroir idea may make a good idea on paper but there are many excellent pairings from opposite sides of the globe. One of the more amusing tidbits that I heard recently was that cheese only pairs with beer, and not with wine. LOL, as they say.
We may have assumed that red wine is a more appropriate partner than white wine simply because the classic cheese course after the meal (and before dessert) is more often a period when we have gravitated to the reds. The cheese course is served while we still have red wine in our glasses. And because cheese and wine do work well together in more cases than not, we naturally assume that this is the way it works: cheese with red wine. Some people find it refreshing to have a white wine at the end of the meal, after the heavier red wine. Saving a little red wine offers the opportunity to have a little informal cheese and wine comparison: noting how the white wine works with a particular cheese, and then trying the red to see how it rates. This exercise can be take dinner conversations in many different tangents; it can introduce a pleasant discussion about the facets of the cheeses and wines, as well as facets of their pairings. Cheese has its calming effects, especially when it is accompanied with a little wine, so these occasions are generally amiable; the disagreements about the relative success of the different pairings are rarely acrimonious.
There are a few fundamental principles of successful cheese pairing. A saltier cheese usually pairs better with a fruitier or sweeter wine, or beer. A bigger flavored cheese will usually work better with a bigger flavored wine, otherwise the cheese can easily overwhelm the wine. The more acid cheeses usually pair better with the more acid wines.
Again, in more cases than not, cheese pairs nicely with wine. The successes far outnumber the misses. Choose the wine you like and have a range of cheeses alongside it. If any of the pairings are unsuccessful, please don’t blame the cheese!