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Wine and Cheese: Why and How

Look in your wine cellar or your wine cabinet and pick out a wine…  Read this wine blog and then go to the local market and pick out a cheese.  Enjoy your evening…  I wanted to revisit the classic pairing of wine and cheese to see why it’s so popular and offer a few tips.

Consider the things that these two great tastes have in common:

  • Both date back to ancient times (Wine 10,000 years – Cheese 4,000 years).
  • Both are a product of fermentation and most producers maintain high quality standards and appellations.
  • Both are a reflection of their “terroir”, a French word that is the collective term for the conditions of climate, soil, altitude, topography. Grapes grow in the same area that grows the feed for the cows, sheep and goats that produce the milk that makes the cheese.
  • Both are alive and will continually change as they age.

It’s a matter of chemistry. Almost all wine is highly acidic and it’s the acidic taste that makes your mouth water and creates that burst of saliva and its enzymes, which help boost the flavor of food. Tannin, which is the astringent substance in the skins, stems and seed of grapes and in oak barrels, gives red wine its body and texture and allows wine to develop more complex flavor over time. However, protein (like a well-grilled steak or a wedge of cheese) can smooth tannin’s impact on the tongue, which is why wine and cheese or red wine and steak are such classic combinations. The protein and fats in the cheese or beef coat your tongue and mellow the tannic taste and the tannin keeps the cheese or beef from tasting greasy and heavy.

Today, more specialty wine shops are adding an artisan cheese section (usually next to the wine cellar with their high end wine selection).  Since good wines and good cheeses are more readily available, keep this in mind: Sweeter wine with saltier cheese. Creamy cheese will taste better with a wine with higher acidity. Other general guidelines include:

  • The harder the cheese, the higher level of tannin a wine can have.
  • The whiter and fresher the cheese, the crisper and fruitier the wine.
  • Heavy rich cheeses will partner with light reds and Chardonnay.
  • Strong veined cheeses usually demand a sweeter wine.

Set up your next wine tasting party with a few more exotic or artisan cheeses.  Pair your wine and cheese following some of these simple tips.  Enjoy…

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