Some guidelines for making wine and cheese pairing easy
By Mary Ross
Daily Herald correspondent
Cheese paired with wine has been a staple of our civilization's diet basically since our civilization began.
Wine and cheese are more sophisticated today than circa 6,000 B.C. -- when your cheese may have been camel, sheep or yak's milk and your wine choice, a dark, bubbly brew discovered in a pot of randomly fermenting grapes -- but it's also more complicated.
In this millennium, wine and cheese ranges from cheese courses curated by expert cheese mongers paired with fine vintages, to a cryo-vac-packed cheddar grabbed at the grocery to pair with a Chard chilling in the fridge.
An elegant cheese tray offers various milks, production techniques, textures and shapes. This complexity makes pairing with just one wine difficult.
To make wine and cheese easy, begin with a wine that you enjoy and select cheese around it.
Chardonnay, for instance, with its affinity for buttery flavors, is best paired with cow's milk cheese.
France's Burgundy region is renowned for cattle, buttery recipes (including Escargots Bourguignon, snails drenched in garlic butter) and cow's milk cheese, to pair with Burgundy's white wine, produced of 100 percent chardonnay.
Wines including Chablis, Pouilly-Fuisse and Macon (named for their growing region) bring characteristic green apple tartness to refresh Burgundian cheeses including creamy Delice de Bourgogne, odorific Reblochon and slightly milder Morbier with its unique vein of ash, (from neighboring region Franche-Comte).
New World chardonnay, with richer flavor and alcohol, pairs with richer cow's milk cheese including Parmesan and cheddar.
As always when pairing with cheese, look for wine high in acidity and low oak, such as Schug "Sonoma Coast" chardonnay (about $25), a decadent favorite with Parmesan, baked Brie or even mac 'n' cheese drizzled with truffle oil.
Sauvignon blanc, with its pungent herbal flavor, is best paired with pungent goat's-milk cheese.
France's Loire Valley has perfected the pairing of regional 100 percent sauvignon blanc wines (including Sancerre, Pouilly-Fume) with regional goat's-milk cheese including soft Crottin de Chavignol and harder Selles-sur-Cher.
Fans of sauvignon blanc may experiment with verdejo, a classic Spanish grape with brisk herbality. For an easy tapas selection, offer Legaris or Nebla Verdejo (see our previous Ross's Choice) (both about $12) with goat's-milk cheese or Manchego, (Spain's sheep's-milk cheese) olives, crusty bread and a dipping plate of olive oil.
No time for the gourmet shop? Most grocers offer feta and generic chevre (goat's-milk cheese), often rolled in fresh herbs (avoid garlic, please), along with great-value sauvignon blanc from Chile, such as Los Vascos (about $10).
Sparkling wine, with its scrubbing bubbles, helps refresh a palate saturated by the most unctuous cheeses including triple-crème Brie and Burrata, a cow's-milk mozzarella stuffed with cream.
Sweeter whites with firm acidity offer the widest range of cheese pairing. International riesling or French Vouvray offer acidity to refresh creamy texture, as well as sweetness that offsets the heat in spicy cheese and balances sweet toppings, including quince paste.
Stickles, including dessert and fortified wines, balance their sublime sweetness with the rich salt of blue cheeses including Roquefort (a classic companion of France's Sauternes) and Stilton (Portugal's Port.)
Red wine lovers have cheese pairing rough. Big reds, with an explosive mouthful of flavor, spicy accents and firm tannin clash with cheese.
Instead, choose a red that is rich in fruit, but light in alcohol and tannin, including international pinot noir, France's Beaujolais, a Spanish crianza or Italian barbera, to pair with hard (high fat) cheeses like Italy's Parmesan or Spain's Idiazabal.
You'll just have to save your juicy zinfandel, explosive Rhone, muscle-bound malbec and other big reds for a juicy steak, topped with your favorite cheese, of course.
To test and taste the guidelines of pairing wine and cheese, join "Wine & Cheese: A Match Made in Culinary Heaven," a seated tasting of five cheeses paired with six wines, with discussion led by Mary Ross from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Sept. 22, at Mariano's Market/Lake Shore East.
Seating is limited and registration required. $10. Sign up at eventbrite.com/e/its-wine-time-at-marianos-lakeshore-east-tickets-26902081851.
• Write to Advanced Sommelier and Certified Wine Educator Mary Ross at food@daily herald.com.
Ross' choiceName: Barbaresco DOCG "Asili"
Region: Piedmont, Italy
Producer: Bruno Giacosa
Availability: At major wine and spirits retailers and boutique shops, $200
(Distributed by: Breakthrough Beverage of Illinois, Cicero)
Italy's "Queen of Wines," Barbaresco is a worthy consort of majestic Barolo. Both are grown in Alpine foothills, cooled by the nebbia (mists) which give the regional grape its name -- Nebbiolo. But where Barolo is power, Barbaresco is finesse. The 2012 vintage has ripened raw silk texture, long flavors of black cherry and raspberries, which morph on the palate into brown spice and mountain herbs, all defined by firm acidity and tannin that predict longevity. If drinking before 2018, decant well before a dinner of game birds with fruit sauce (quail, duck, turkey) or meats with wild mushrooms; then luxuriate in the final glass paired with Robiola d'Alba al Tartufo (the local cheese and truffles) or hard Italian cheese including Parmesan Reggiano.