Wine Talk: A perfect match

Although a wine and cheese tasting is almost a Shavuot essential, take care to choose selections that compliment each other.

wine and cheese 311 (photo credit: MCT)
wine and cheese 311
(photo credit: MCT)
Shavuot is the perfect opportunity to hold a cheese and wine tasting! There is no better or more basic, rustic meal than a hunk of freshly baked bread, accompanied by cheese and a pitcher or carafe of wine. It is a scene that has helped to accentuate the fact that wine and cheese are natural partners.
However, not every cheese goes with every wine and there can be horrible clashes. For instance, there is a common misconception that red wine is the most natural partner for cheese, but white wines can go better and be more versatile.
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The world of cheese is probably more complicated and varied even than the world of wine, which is complicated enough. Cheese may be strong flavored, fat, acidic or salty. It can be hard, soft, creamy or crumbly. It can be matured, pasteurized or unpasteurized; made from goat’s, cow’s or sheep’s milk.
In other words, it is a difficult world to learn, but there are basic guidelines for matching cheese and wines.
❖ Red wines do not go with soft, fatty, creamy, salty or smelly cheeses.
❖ Often dry white or even sweet wines will far better combinations.
❖ Try and match the acidity of the wine and cheese.
❖ Try and contrast the saltiness of the cheese.
To simplify the issue, most cheeses can be placed in the following categories:
Hard cheeses
A hard cheese which is firm, and not aged too much, will go well with a medium- to full-bodied red wine. Cheddar and Parmesan are classic examples of fine red wine cheeses. In the same way the English add milk to lessen the tannin of the strong tea they drink, the cheese will soften the tannin.
However, if the cheese is older and more pungent, the wine needs to be more mature and less tannic to avoid a clash. For this you will need older vintages. Kayoumi Cabernet Sauvignon, Recanati Special Reserve and Dalton Petite Sirah are wines that will go with hard cheeses.
Soft cheeses
This is the hardest category to find a match. A creamy, fatty cheese will make most reds seem like water. The fat in the cheese will neutralize the tannin. Alternatively an oaky and tannic red wine will taste slightly metallic when these cheeses are ripe and runny. A pasteurized Brie or Camembert would best be served alongside a lightly oaked chardonnay with good acidity. The Teperberg Silver and Private Collection brands have suitably lightly oaked chardonnays.
If you prefer a red wine, then one which is soft, full of fruit and with no astringency, will be adequate. Teperberg Terra Malbec or Dalton Zinfandel would be ideal.
For a soft cheese like mozzarella, a delicately flavored, unoaked dry wine without too much varietal character is preferable. A simple fruity white wine would be a good choice. Mony Colombard is a favourite of mine. The slightly more acidic feta would need a wine with higher acidity like an aromatic Sauvignon Blanc. Tabor Gir Sauvignon Blanc or Teperberg Terra Sauvignon would fit the bill.
Blue cheeses
Salt accentuates tannin so the myth that red wine goes with all cheeses is shown to be most false when a red wine is matched with a blue cheese. However as compensation, there are two possible matches made in heaven. Roquefort with a sweet, high quality dessert wine and Stilton with a port-style wine are ideal combinations. The salt and sweetness contrast to enhance both cheese and wine. Tasting these together should be part of any course matching food and wine to illustrate the theory does sometimes work and that “one plus one can equal three.” However, the rule does not always apply. Authentic Danish Blue and the strongest Gorgonzola may just be too strong to be wine friendly. Yarden Heights Wine, Sha’al Gewurztraminer and Binyamina Gewurztraminer are three wonderfully luscious desert wines.
Goat’s cheeses
These are Israel’s finest cheeses. They have a strong character but can go with either white or red wines. The classic combination for a young goat’s cheese is a varietal Sauvignon Blanc. Yarden Sauvignon Blanc and Yatir Sauvignon Blanc are recommended.
An aged Chèvre can be matched successfully with a mature, well-structured and non-tannic red like a Merlot. Avoid excessive tannin, which will clash with the pungent flavor of the cheese. Gamla Merlot or Appellation Merlot would both be satisfactory.
Smoked cheeses
The best bet to go with an Austrian smoked cheese is a spicy white wine with slight sweetness, but not too much. A Gewurztraminer or Emerald Riesling would suffice.
Binyamina Gewurztraminer and Barkan Reserve Emerald Riesling are two of the options.
Finally, with a New York cheesecake there is nothing better than a fortified, grapey muscat.
Yarden is a fortified muscat.
So cheese and wine do go together, but not every cheese is the perfect accompaniment with every wine. If the prime objective is a wine tasting, it is self-defeating to choose cheeses, which show the wines badly.
The Israeli cheese and wine industries have much in common. Both have undergone quality revolutions in recent years. Both industries have much to be proud of. It is possible that that the strides made by Israel in areas of food culture and gastronomy can best be sampled in its cheeses and wines.
Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes about wine for both international and Israeli publications. [email protected]
Shavuot is fast approaching, and as well as spending time with family and eating cheesecake, the festival is traditionally associated with the mitzva of “bikkurim” – to represent the time when farmers brought the first fruits to the Temple.
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