At the Jewish Festival of Shavuot, it is traditional to eat dairy products. This gives the perfect opportunity to hold a cheese and wine tasting!
There is no better or more basic, rustic meal than to have 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.
There used to be a saying in the wine trade: ?Buy on an apple, sell on cheese.? This implied that a wine would automatically taste better when accompanied by cheese, whereas an apple will show faults. Many commercial or social wine tastings are automatically accompanied by cheese. However not every cheese goes with every wine and there can be horrible clashes. For instance, there is regular misconception that red wine is the most natural partner to cheese, but white wines can go better and be more versatile.
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 milk, cow, sheep or something more exotic like buffalo or yak.
In other words it is a difficult world to learn, but there are basic guidelines for matching cheese & wines, which may be followed:
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 & contrast the saltiness of the cheese.
To simplify the issue, most cheeses can be placed in the following categories:
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. Kayoumi Cabernet Sauvignon or Yatir Cabernet Sauvignon are quality red wines that would go well with either. 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.
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 by a lightly oaked Chardonnay with good acidity, like the Private Collection Chardonnay.
If you prefer a red wine, then one which is soft, full of fruit and with no astingency will be adequate. The Selected Merlot and Carmel Ridge Red, a Carignan Shiraz blend, have the mouth filling flavor to cope with these cheeses.
If the Brie or Camembert is un-pasteurised it is even more difficult to find a partner. Anything in the spectrum from an off dry wine like Appellation Gewurztraminer, a semi dry wine like Selected Emerald Riesling to a fortified wine like Carmel Vintage might be best, depending on the ripeness of the cheese.
For a soft cheese like Mozzarella, a delicately flavored, unoaked dry wine, without too much varietal character is preferable. The Carmel Ridge White would be a good choice. The slightly more acidic Feta would need a wine with higher acidity like the aromatic Private Collection Sauvignon Blanc.
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 like the Sha?al Gewurztraminer Late Harvest and Stilton with Carmel Vintage, 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.
This category produces Israel?s finest cheeses. They have a strong character but can go with either white and red wines. The classic combination for a young goats cheese is a varietal Sauvignon Blanc. Either the Yatir Sauvignon Blanc from the Ramat Arad vineyard in the northeastern Negev or Appellation Sauvignon Blanc from the Upper Galilee would be the perfect accompaniment.
An aged Chevre can be matched successfully with a mature well-structured and not tannic red like Appellation Merlot, Appellation Cabernet Shiraz or Private Collection Cabernet Merlot. Avoid excessive tannin, which will clash with the pungent flavor of goats cheese.
The best bet to go with an Austrian smoked cheese is a spicy white wine with slight sweetness, but not too much. The Appellation Gewurztraminer, which is off dry, or Private Collection Emerald Riesling, one of the drier Emerald Rieslings in the market, will both accompany a smoked cheese well.
Cooked cheese is also better with white wine. A cheese sauce, like Mornay, will usually be matched well with an oaky Chardonnay, the weight of the sauce being matched by the intensity of oak. The Appellation Chardonnay is lightly oaked, and will match a sauce that is not too heavy.
For a Fondue, a Sauvignon Blanc like the Private Collection, is recommended.
A Pizza is best with a young, fruity red with good acidity and bold fruit.
Do not be afraid to regionalize your choice. Local tradition plus terroir, which is the same for wine and cheese, can sometimes be surprisingly successful. An example is Munster with Alsace Gewurztraminer or a Loire Chevre with Sancerre. Why not make it a regional tasting? For instance match a goats cheese from the Galilee with a Sauvignon Blanc from the Upper Galilee.
Finally with a New York cheesecake there is nothing better than a fortified Muscat like the Private Collection Muscat, an aromatic ?vin doux naturel.?
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. When you open the fine red wine that you have been keeping for a special occasion, a simple, basic cheese will almost certainly be a better choice than one more fully flavored. So don?t spoil a wine by choosing a cheese only for its quality and not for its ability to make the wine look good.
A formal dinner offers the interesting possibility of matching the wine chosen to accompany the cheese and another course. If, like the French, you take the cheese after the main course, but before the dessert, you could start your red wine with the main course and continue it with the hard cheeses. Alternatively, if like the English, you serve the cheese course after the dessert, the sweet wine could be enjoyed with the dessert and continued with the blue cheese. This sort of creativity can make food and wine matching a vertical as well as horizontal process.
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 & wines.
This article was written by Carmel Winery?s Wine Education Department.