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Wine Review: Pairing wine and cheese requires attention to strength of flavor

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What cheese to serve with what wine is a question that has perplexed, confounded and perhaps even terrified wine lovers for as long as there has been wine to accompany cheese. You do not wish to embarrass the grand duchess, baron, oligarch or president with an improper choice when they “just drop in” for a visit.

As a public service, I have offered my palate as a test target to select wine and cheese selections that should embarrass no one and allow the reader to glide through the wine and cheese conundrum fearlessly.

Cabernet sauvignon
My choice for this wine is sharp cheddar cheese or any of the other hard cheeses that have a positive flavor. A cabernet sauvignon will fit well with a full-flavored sharp cheddar cheese and many of the other flavored cheeses except perhaps for Limburger cheese, which I believe that no wine could accompany. Do not, however, go overboard with your choice, as a too heavily flavored cheese may clash with the wine and a mild cheese will be totally lost.

The myriad of flavors and sub flavors of a chardonnay can be lost if too dynamic a cheese is served. My personal choice is a cheese that I enjoyed in the Netherlands city of Edam where I lunched on a small round of Edam cheese and a chardonnay outdoors in a park. The cheese and the wine melded beautifully, and none of the charms of either were lost but remained clear and obvious.

Merlot wine can best be described as a cabernet sauvignon on tranquilizers as it possesses similar qualities of the cabernet sauvignon but does not shout them as loudly. Therefore, the choice of a slightly less aggressive cheese must be in order. Here again, I return to the Netherlands and suggest a Gouda cheese.

Gouda makes an observable flavor statement that is not as powerful as a cheddar cheese but obvious enough not to be overpowered by the wine.

A Hispanic wine deserves a Spanish cheese, and for this wine I recommend manchego. a cheese made from sheep's milk in the Spanish district of La Mancha. The choice of this Spanish cheese seems correct after suggesting two Dutch cheeses as both that country and La Mancha have windmills and sheep whose milk was used to make this cheese. Again, here we have a cheese that will not clash with the very positive flavors of a malbec but would rather dance with them in an entertaining duo.

Sauvignon blanc
The ultimate sipping wine deserves an equally dynamic but not overpowering cheese. My suggestion is brie. I found that the flavors of both the cheese and the wine seem to interlock in an almost perfect marriage. Since brie is a semi-liquid cheese, I recommend that you choose the crackers that you serve with this cheese very carefully and choose those that do not make too positive a statement.

Italian red wines
This one is easy: Gorgonzola. For centuries, the most perfect marriage of wine with cheese has been an Italian red wine (any of them) and the equally full-flavored Italian Gorgonzola cheese. It appears as though the two were born together, have lived together and are perfect together for as long as wine and cheese has been paired, and, if I may add, my favorite when I am entertaining guests.

Red zinfandel
I have no idea what to recommend. The flavor and aroma of a red zinfandel was the perfect accompaniment to every cheese I tasted from the mildest to the most profound; however, the champion was sharp cheddar cheese. Cheddar cheese has been around in this country seemingly forever. As a talking point to accompany this cheese, you can sound absolutely brilliant if you inform your guests that one of the suggestions as to the origin of the term “Yankee” for Americans came from the name the early Dutch settlers of New York called the British settlers, Jan Kass (John Cheese), because for their love of cheddar cheese.

Wine columnist Bennet Bodenstein can be reached at


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