Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Drinking Companions for Cheese

Drinking Companions for Cheese
Cheeses vary so much in flavour that any attempt to suggest accompanying wines appropriate to each category is practically impossible. There ate, however, certain characteristics common to each group which it may be helpful to consider. Fresh cheeses ate almost invariably soft in texture and delicate in flavour. This automatically rules out any wine which is strongly tannic as it will overshadow the cheese. Equally, very dry, flinty white wines are unsuitable with fresh cheeses as they create an Unpleasant, acidic aftertaste. Something medium dry - white, rose or an extremely light red - not only offsets the flavour of these cheeses to advantage bur allows the palate to appreciate the nuances of their texture. Loire whites such as Muscadet arid Sancerre, slightly chilled young Beaujolais or any of the new breed 'Blush' wines would be acceptable. If the fresh cheese is to be served as a dessert, with fruit, then a dessert wine such as Muscat or Sauternes would be delicious.

Bloomy rind soft cheeses like Camembert and coulommiers can develop great depth of flavour which stands up well to most meaty full-bodied wines. Here red is the obvious choice, but by no means the only one. Chaource, for example, could just as successfully be partnered with Champagne or Chablis, while many experts believe that Brie and Camembert can happily collaborate with good farmhouse cider from Normandy. A more conservative choice, however, would be one of the less refined Burgundies, such as a Cotes de Beaune Villages, or any red made from the Pinot Noir grape.

Enriched or triple creme cheeses generally combine richness with a subtle strength which requires a correspondingly balanced wine. Something muscular, fruity and probably white is called for. Alsatian wines like Gewurztraminer have the strength to Counteract the richness of these cheeses, yet being spicy, rather than dry, they do so without detracting from their subtlety. If red wine is preferred a Bordeaux or Cahors could be the answer.

Washed rind cheeses run the gamut of strengths, and it is more difficult to ascribe family characteristics to this group. A mild, sweet cheese like St Nectaire cries out for something crisp arid white such as Sancerre, Pouilly-Fume or any of the Upper Loire whites, while a cheese like Maroilles begs a wine with the body of a really top notch Burgundy. As the vigour of cheese increases, complement it with an increasingly dry wine.

Uncooked, pressed cheeses can, again, vary between delicate mildness and assertive strength. The former are generally best accompanied by good quality red table wine - nothing too elevated. The slight roughness of the wine adds interest to the cheese and can itself seen smoother and fuller for this foil. Almost any of the generic, supermarket own-label reds ate suitable for this purpose. Here, white wines ate probably best when tending towards fruit rather than bone dryness. Steer clear of Bordeaux arid look instead to Alsace, the Loire, Australia, New Zealand and even England, though avoid anything Ithin'. Stronger cheese in this category can take much more distinguished reds as their relative sweetness has the effect of softening the tannin which can otherwise jar with cheese. Cheddar and Gouda, for example, can take both good Burgundy arid some of the softer Bordeaux crus. Rich, dark ale produces the same effect at considerably less expense, worth bearing in mind if the cheese is being eaten alone, rather than as a course of a meal.

Hard, cooked cheeses almost all have a background sweetness of flavour which marries well with wine of any description other than bone dry, which inhibits this sweetness. Best of all is something fullbodied, fruity and white like a Beaujolais blanc, a Sauvignon or a good quality Alsatian Riesling or Gew6rztraminer. Soft, warm reds are also good with these cheeses and the regions to look out for here are Savoie, Rousette and Chignin. Some of the better quality dark, rich beers should also not be discounted for hard cheeses.

Blue cheeses are, without exception, fairly salty and for this reason completely inappropriate with red wine, however mighty. All benefit a great deal more from being teamed with sweet white wines - controversial on the face of it bur sensuously superlative. Roquefort with Sauternes and port with Stilton are both, rightly, classic combinations, but any good quality, sweet or sweetish white creates the same effect.

Goats' cheeses are traditionally accompanied by dry white wines, bur again this is not an intransigent rule. Coarser, rustic reds can he equally satisfying provided they arc not too full-bodied. Ewes' milk cheeses, on the other hand, can take something fruitier and livelier, because of their increased fat content. This also precludes anything which is too tannic. Remember, tannin is to fat as oil is to water.

Soft cheeses with a natural rind have a different intensity of flavour, depending on whether they arc coated in wood ash or allowed to develop natural moulds. The former are in general much stronger and require a fullish, red wine or spicy white to be enjoyed to full advantage. The latter, being more delicate, are at their best with a soft, fruity white or gentle, unassertive red.There are no bard and fast rules about which ),vine should be served with which cheese, and the suggestions above should be taken as broad indications only. Humbler beverages like dark ale or cider should not be ignored: these can be admirable when matched with cheeses like Cheddar or Beenleigh Blue.Personal preference is what counts above all and even experts don't alwavs agree. Some, for example, think that a mature Cheddar served with sherry as an hors d'oeuvre is quite amusing; others deem this sacrilege. Imagination and the courage of conviction arc all that really matter.

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