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Wine and cheese pairings offer up surprises and suggestions

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Wine and cheese.

They go together like salt and pepper, love and marriage, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

But while wine and cheese receptions are commonplace, often not a lot of thought goes into which wines might complement which cheeses. Folks just set out some bottles of red, some bottles of white, some plates of various cheeses and have at ’em.

And although most people don’t complain or give the combinations much thought, there are some wines that work with some cheeses and not with others.

I had the chance to discover that first-hand a couple of weeks back, when my friend Kathy Boultbee, who’s a wine expert and product ambassador for the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission (and who earned the title of MLCC Wine Taster of the Year for three years running) and I offered a joint class/session/wine tasting through Assiniboine Community College’s Continuing Education department.

Eighteen folks joined us at the Manitoba Institute of Culinary Arts for the event, where Boultbee and I attempted, with no pre-tasting, to choose wines that we thought, given their characteristics, would be really good matches for specific cheeses.

To simplify things, I’ll only mention the wines we liked rather than spend time on ones neither Boultbee nor I were happy with. The folks in the class weighed in, too, and while their thoughts on the pairings mostly echoed ours, the vast differences in people’s palates was underlined yet again during this exercise. Bottom line, as always, is that nobody’s right and nobody’s wrong — if you like a wine, drink it. If you don’t like a wine, don’t. If you like a particular wine with a particular cheese, go for it. If you don’t like a certain wine with a certain cheese, don’t have them together.

We began the wine pairings with Brie, having sips of a bubbly and a Chardonnay. Both Boultbee and I are convinced bubbly will go really well with Brie — we just weren’t particularly enamoured with the one we selected for that evening. But the Chardonnay — the lovely Valdivieso Wild Fermented Single Vineyard from Chile — was a hit, on its own and with the Brie. With layers of rich fruit flavours, some nuttiness and minerality, this is a full-bodied wine, which I love. And the buttery quality of this divine wine, which sells for $21.48, complemented the creaminess of the Brie beautifully.

Next, we tried the Essenze Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand ($18.95), which is my current favourite Sauv Blanc, and The Very Vivacious Viognier ($17.99) from South Africa, with goat cheese.

Grapefruity with a hint of anise and a very-much-present aroma and slight taste of green pepper, the Essenze is zesty and bold. Its acidity went quite well with the goat cheese’s raw edge for some folks, while the same acidity balanced the goat cheese’s creamy texture. And while I didn’t mind the pairing — it was certainly interesting — I vastly preferred The Very Vivacious Viognier with the cheese.

The creamy minerality of the Viognier (sounds contradictory, I know, but perhaps that’s why it worked) seemed to echo many of the same notes in the goat cheese. That pairing was a sure-fire winner, in my opinion at least.

Next, we moved to red wines, where we went old school — I mean, Old World. The Torres Celeste Crianza from Spain ($20.95) went up against the Nipozzano Chianti from Italy ($19.99) as a pairing for Parmesan cheese. While the majority of the group seemed to prefer the Chianti, my pick here was the Crianza. Not sure why, but that was what my palate told me, that night anyway.

(A brief aside here: While many of the wines we sampled were New World wines, most of which could be enjoyed on their own, Old World wines are specifically created to be matched with food. Finding a Crianza or a Chianti that you’re likely enjoy simply sipping is a rarity, which perhaps is why New World wines have become so popular in an age when wine is the sipping beverage of choice for many.)

We moved next to two-year-old white cheddar cheese — cheddar, of course, is a staple of most cheese trays/plates at wine and cheese affairs — and with it, the fabulously lush, black-fruity and peppery Marques de Casa Concha 2009 Syrah from Chile ($19.95), as well as my go-to Cabernet Sauvignon, the J. Lohr Seven Oaks from California ($20.22).

Both went exceedingly well with the cheddar — the slight bite of the Syrah perhaps better balanced the sharpness of the cheddar, but the smooth roundness of the J. Lohr also made for a tasty combination.

Hopefully, knowing what pairings worked well for us at the tasting, you can choose wines that might delight you and your guests the next time you stage a wine and cheese event, or just want to put together a simple wine and cheese appetizer.

We had one more pairing that surprised me but not Boultbee, and I’ll let you know what that was — next week. If you’re a fan of blue cheese, and you like sweet wines, prepare to be dazzled — and for not a lot of money, relatively speaking.

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition February 16, 2013

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Wine and cheese.

They go together like salt and pepper, love and marriage, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

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Wine and cheese.

They go together like salt and pepper, love and marriage, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

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