Wine & Cheese

Food & Drink - July 3rd, 2009

by J.K. Whelehan

If you like milk in your tea, you probably enjoy cheese with your wine. Softening the tannins in tea with milk makes it more drinkable. This is also why wine is recommended as a companion for cheese. In wine, tannins from grape skins and stems contribute to that mouthpuckering character. Cheese softens the tannins in wine and balances the drink’s sharp acidity.

Considering the days when food and wine were produced and consumed locally, it seems natural that they should complement each other. Thus, a basic rule of thumb is to match wine with cheese from the same region. To simplify matters, you can divide cheeses into six groups. Fresh cheeses, like Boursin, are good with dry white, rosé or light red wines. Next are cheeses with a white natural crust, of which Camembert and Brie are perhaps the most well-known. These are best consumed when slightly runny, or ‘ripe.’ They go well with red wines, though supermarket brands tend to pair better with lighter reds.

The third group are semi-hard and hard cheeses, which include the likes of Comte and Beaufort. They go well with white wines or light reds, but those that have been aged, like Parmigiano Reggiano, go better with red wines. The fourth group consists of blue cheeses, which are well partnered with full-bodied reds of grand cru status. While most cheeses are best paired with dry wines, these prove to be the exception. They make superb partners to sweet wines, such as Sauternes and higher grade German wines like Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese, or Eiswein.

A fifth group includes Chevre, or goat’s cheeses, like Crottin or St. Maure. These are best consumed with white wines such as Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé. Finally, there are wash cheeses, or those which have been washed with marc (a kind of distilled spirit), such as Pont l’Evêque. They should be enjoyed with a rich robust red, such as a good Bordeaux, Burgundy, or Barolo. Beware that these cheeses smell strongly.

J.K. Whelehan is a Tokyo-based wine expert and writer, as well as co-author of the best-selling book Japanese Dishes for Wine Lovers, published by Kodansha and available from Amazon.