Say Cheese - the perfecting pairings with wine
There was a time when perfectly cubed pieces of Cheddar cheese and pineapple chunks, speared onto cocktail sticks and stuck into a foil covered potato to resemble the spines of a hedgehog, were the height of soirée cool.
Abigail's Party, a play that mercilessly satirised the aspirations of the suburban middle class, epitomised that era, and it's hard to believe that it was first staged in London 40 years ago. And no, I hadn't quite hit drinking age back then, just so we get that straight.
A lot has changed, not only the amazing selection of Irish artisan cheese that is now available in speciality stores like Sheridans, Fallon & Byrne and Morton's in Ranelagh, Dublin, but also the mind-boggling number of wines being stocked, particularly in the independent wine outlets. And as National Cheese Week is coming up - it seems like every week has a theme these days - it's the perfect time to look at wine and cheese pairings.
While most people immediately think of red wine when it comes to cheese, white wine can often work better, in particular sweet white wines, which are wonderful with salty blue cheese and also work with the stinkier washed-rind cheeses like Chaumes, Époisses and Gubbeen.
There are a few things worth bearing in mind. Age and intensity matter. Young fresh cheeses are typically light with a milky quality and delicate texture; therefore it makes sense to pair them with lighter wines that are fresh and fruity in style, so crisp whites, dry rosés, and fruity reds. For cheeses with a light, bloomy rind like Brie, the tangy, fruity whites of the Loire work well, so try a Vouvray or Chenin Blanc, or a Jurançon from the foothills of the Pyrenees in southwest France. Sparkling wine also works well with cheese. The bubbles combined with the gooey texture make Camembert and Champagne a classic combination, especially if the cheese has been baked.
As a cheese ages, so does its intensity, as it goes through a process called affinage. The moisture starts to evaporate, resulting in a harder cheese with a more concentrated, rich, savoury flavour. As Gruyère ages, it acquires a nutty flavour, and Cheddar and Parmesan develop complexity and crunchy crystals of calcium lactate. Similarly, wines that have spent time ageing in oak or in the bottle develop more nuance as the flavours integrate and knit together. Their primary fruit flavours recede and secondary, more earthy, flavours come to the fore. However, an older wine will not necessarily have the body required to carry the weight of an old cheese, so ensure that the wine has enough tannin in it so that it is not overwhelmed by the cheese. So for a cheese like Cheddar, try a complex Bordeaux, or even a mature port.
"As a general rule of thumb, we recommend 'what grows together goes together' - this is seen in the classic pairing of a Loire Sauvignon Blanc and goat's cheese like Crottin de Chavignol or Normandy cider and Pont l'Évêque," says Kevin Sheridan of Sheridans Cheesemongers.
So goat's cheese from the Loire pairs beautifully with the grassy, mineral qualities of a French Sauvignon Blanc like Sancerre; Manchego, the hard Spanish cheese made from sheep's milk, works with a Monastrell (Spain's version of Mourvèdre) or indeed sherry; and Époisses, which gets much of its power from its rind - which has been washed with a pomace brandy made from the spent remains of pressed local grapes - works well with a red Burgundy.
For this week's wines, I've picked a few bottles that you may not have tried with cheese before, and Kevin has recommended Irish cheeses to go with them.
4 wines to try
Baumard Clos de Saint Yves Savennières 2014
A beautiful Chenin Blanc from the Loire, with a delicate nose and flavours of citrus fruit. Try with a goat’s cheese like St Tola Ash or Gubbeen.
64 Wine, Searsons, Whelehans, Donnybrook Fair, Dublin; Worldwide Wines, Waterford; Vanilla Grape, Kenmare; The Wine Shop, No. 1 Pery Square, Limerick
Domaine de la Madone Fleurie 2015
€17 (reduced from €20), 13.5pc
With a ripe, perfumed nose, this nicely structured Beaujolais has layers of juicy berries. Try it slightly chilled with a soft, bloomy-rind cheese like St Killian from Carrigbyrne Farmhouse in Co Wexford. Mitchell & Son (mitchellandson.com); Andersons Food Hall & Café, Glasnevin; Wilde & Green, Milltown; Avoca
Kaiken Ultra, Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
The intensity of plum and cherries with mocha and vanilla make this Argentinian wine a great match for 15 Fields Cheddar, made in Co Waterford.
Baggot Street Wines; Deveneys of Dundrum; Fresh The Good Food Market; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; Londis Malahide; Callans Off-Licence, Dundalk
L’Or Du Ciron Sauternes 2012
€18.50, 13pc (375ml)
A classic French sweet wine made from Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc. The lovely aromatics of spice and tropical fruits in this rich wine make it the perfect match for the creamy, buttery notes and sharp saltiness of the new Boyne Valley Blue Cheese, a goat’s blue from Co Meath.
Marks & Spencer