Wine and Cheese - Tips on how to make the perfect pair
If you're hosting a get-together to ring in the new year, you may have everything planned to a "T"—except for one thing: what cheese should you serve with what wine?
We asked a couple wine gurus for some guidelines to help you pull off a tasteful event.
When it comes to pairing wine and cheese, you want to strike a balance of flavors, said Greg Rixen, the in-house wine specialist at Happy Harry's Bottle Shop in Grand Forks.
"You want wine and cheese to work with each other," he said. "You don't want (the wine) to cover up the flavor of the food."
For example, a wine that is too bold, like a full-bodied red, will overpower a milder cheese, such as feta, ricotta or goat cheese. In that case, "all you'll taste is the wine," he said.
Choose your wine first, then pair it up with the cheeses, he noted, because, if you first select the cheese, "you may not like that wine that goes with it."
After selecting the wine, the right cheese to go with it has a lot to do with texture and flavors, such as smokiness and sharpness, he said.
With red wines, Rixen suggests serving firmer, drier-style cheeses such as aged parmesan, sharp cheddar, asiago, Romano or gouda.
White wines, especially sparkling wines, pair well with softer cheeses like feta, ricotta, mozzarella and goat cheese, he said.
Sparkling wine, a type of white wine, is acidic, crisp and fresher, he said. "It lingers more on the palate ... and leaves the palate clean, leaves it fresh."
Michael Schepp, who opened Helix Wine and Bites in downtown Grand Forks in April, agrees.
"If you have a lighter wine that is more delicate, you pair it with a lighter, more delicate cheese," he said.
Cheeses that are less intense in flavor go well with rose, sauvignon blanc, riesling and pinot grigio wines, Schepp said.
"Cheeses that are almost stinky, like taleggio, and salty pack a real strong flavor and meld nicely with red wines," he noted. "The stinkier the cheese, the better the pairing with red wine ... A robust cheese, like a Stilton for example, won't overpower red wine."
Blue cheeses, which "are full of flavor and over-the-top creamy with a pungent aroma," also fall into this category, Schepp said.
Port or sherry wines are wonderful teamed with blue cheese, brie and gorgonzola, especially after dinner, Rixen noted.
"A ruby or tawny port lends itself well to a dessert such as a New York-style cheesecake or a chocolate decadence (cake). The high alcohol content lightens up the dessert and breaks up some of the sweetness," he said. "A ruby port with chocolate decadence is phenomenal."
With a 17 to 20 percent alcohol content, port wines will enhance the flavor of "bigger, bolder cheeses," he said.
Avoid serving habanero or jalapeno cheese with wine, Rixen said. "They will fry your taste buds a bit; it messes up your palate" and you won't be able to enjoy the flavor of the wine.
"Those cheeses are best with beer."
Wine as a gift
If you're planning to bring wine to a New Year's celebration, don't overthink it, Rixen advised.
"People try too hard to guess what (others) are going to like," he said. "It doesn't have to be fancy and it doesn't have to be expensive. Choose a middle-of-the-road wine.
"Especially for New Year's Eve, go with sparkling wines and champagnes—that will work for everyone, including you."
Select a dry style, like a brut, or a sweeter-style wine. An asti—named for a wine-producing region in northern Italy—such as Prosecco is "a great all-around sparkling wine," Rixen said.
"A wine with a hint of sweetness is safer than one that's too dry. Or, you could choose a full-bodied red that's not overly dry."
A light, crisp white wine, such as pinot grigio or riesling, would be a welcome hostess gift.
"A riesling, with a lightest hint of sweetness, is good for cocktails and hors d'oeuvres," Rixen said.
"A nice red blend, with great fruit texture and not overly dry, is a good social wine. A pinot noir, with a pomegranate or acidic berry flavor, is softer than a red blend and would be another good choice."
Let your taste be your guide
Be adventurous and sample various wines to find out which ones you enjoy most with different foods, Rixen said.
"Too many people get into a rut," Schepp said. "They go to that one thing. You should try to expand your palate a little bit."
"Let's put it this way: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," Rixen said. " "Drink what you know with what you like."
The website for Happy Harry's Bottle Shop (www.happy-harrys.com) offers lots of information on wine and how to couple it with before-, during- and after-dinner fare.
"We've made our website much more about education than selling," Rixen said. "It's great for anyone who wants to get their toes wet."
Click on the "Food and Wine Pairing Guide" and select "cheese" to get a variety of cheese types and examples of each.