Long experience has taught me that white wines perform better with more cheeses than reds do, so it brought a smile to my face to read a news story this morning on Reuters about how the winegrowers of Alsace are promoting their (mostly white) wines as perfect matches with cheese.
"Usually when the cheeses arrive on the table at the end of the dinner, another bottle of red wine is opened," said a winegrowers' representative. "But in fact 80 percent of cheeses marry very well with whites."
I have been tasting wine with cheese lately for a Wine Spectator project, and the results only underline the supremacy of white wines with cheeses. Truth to tell, the easiest wines to match with the greatest variety of cheeses are sweet. A little sugar in the wine mellows it out against the strong flavors delivered by some cheeses. And in that, the Alsatians have themselves a secret weapon. Although they promote their wines as dry, many of their modern styles are not unacquainted with sweetness.
But dry whites do almost as well, I have found.
When I talk to food and wine professionals about what they drink with cheese, more and more of them are gravitating toward white wines these days anyway. So the Alsatians won't surprise anyone who's been paying attention.
Why white? Most reds react badly to cheese that are young and fresh (such as chèvre), soft and gooey (such as explorateur) or stinky (like that Époisses). They emphasize tannins in the wine or throw the acidity out of whack. The relative lack of tannin and higher acidity of white wine can handle those cheeses with ease. On the other hand, white wines taste fine with cheeses that do better with reds, such as mellow sheep's milk cheeses (such as Petit Basque) or hard cow's milk cheeses (such as Parmiggiano).
I like to describe one occasion about 15 years ago in Burgundy. I was at dinner with several winegrowers. There were many half-filled glasses arrayed before us, including some of the whites we drank earlier in the meal. When the cheese arrived, including a particularly redolent Époisses, I reached for the last few sips of my white wine. Dominique Lafon, who makes some pretty spectacular wines at Comtes Lafon, leaned over to me and said, conspiratorially, "I agree with you about the white. Much better with the cheese."
Lafon knew his preference ran counter to conventional wisdom, which is why he said it as if it were a secret. But the secret is out.
Alex D Rot — Elkhart, IN — June 25, 2008 10:01am ET
Jason Zeledon — Berkeley, CA — June 26, 2008 2:45pm ET
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