AN INTERESTING article, entitled Why cheap wine goes best with cheese? by Science Correspondent Julie Wheldon, has appeared in the Daily Mail newspaper. A team from the University of California used expensive and cheap versions of Pinot Noir, Cab. Sauv., Merlot and Syrah and a selection of cheeses – Blue, Cheddar and Cream – to test which wine went best with which cheese. The tasters were fellow students who, for only two weeks, were taught how to recognise bitter, astringent and berry in the wine. Why bother when the article said the cheese suppressed just about every flavour, including berry and oak, plus sourness and astringency? How could they recognise these attributes when they were masked by the cheese?
The article didn’t say whether it was the cheap or expensive wine that was affected. It said that the cheap wine tasted better with the cheese and that the expensive wine tasted worse. By way of explanation, it said: “It could be that fat from the cheese coats the mouth, deadening the perception of wine flavours.” Professor Heymann’s conclusion: “Have the wine you love with the cheese you love.” Something of a U-turn there, because he conducted the study, deciding cheap wine is best.
Julie wrote: “Serving up a vintage bottle is simply a waste of money.” Julie, do you understand ‘vintage’ in the world of wine? It means the wine is made from grapes, harvested in a single year. Quality isn’t a factor, and some vintage wines are on the market before the next harvest, and can be bought for three or four euros a bottle. Don’t confuse vintage wine with vintage cars.
So, should you drink any wine with cheese? Yes, if it’s what you enjoy. Cheese and wine parties, which were very fashionable in the 50s, didn’t actually have much to do with drinking wine or eating cheese. They were get-togethers and fundraising events. I attended many of them and they were good fun, which is what they should be.
There are other food flavours that mask certain attributes in wine, so why pick on cheese? For example, onion, garlic and hors d’oeuvres containing fish can play havoc with a wine. Vinegar is a definite no-no and yet many salads are saturated in vinaigrette. There are many white wines that can be used instead of vinaigrette, and they’re healthier. Mustards, curry and spices don’t enhance wines either, and if I carry on naming food and flavours, you might decide that you shouldn’t drink wine when you’re eating, and that would be like re-introducing Prohibition!
The best-known drink, and the most widely used, to accompany cheese is Port. The brandy (around 20 per cent) and the degree of sweetness in Port will stand up to any cheese. It doesn’t have to be 10, 20 or 30-years-old, or an old vintage. Ordinary Ruby or young Tawny will fit the bill nicely. But don’t take my word for it; try it! The Americans are not allowed to make Port to be sold in EU countries. They make a Port type wine, but it is not Port and doesn’t taste like it either.
Analysing wine in a university, and telling consumers which wine goes best with which food, is really a waste of time. Besides, the wine has already been analysed by the makers, local authorities, health officials, négociants, restaurants, hotels, wine bars, supermarkets and Customs and Excise before it gets to your table. Professors and scientists should realise that wine is not an exact science, and they should stop wasting time and money, trying to prove it is. Diners are going to drink what they know they like, cheap or expensive, with or without cheese. There is one golden rule: “Drink what you like, with whichever food you like”. That rule should never be broken.
There are so many different foods and wines on the market, it is best not to try and marry them. Arranged marriages don’t always work, agony aunts don’t always give the best advice, and suggesting a wine to go with a certain food can end a good friendship, or romance. However, food and wine appreciation is very popular, and many people will try a new wine, irrespective of what’s on the menu.
What do you do, though, if you invite friends to dinner? First, find out which style of wine they like. After all, it’s done with food. When invited to a dinner, you may be asked: “Are you a vegetarian, or is there any food that you don’t like?” Why not ask: “Do you prefer red, fruity wine, dry red, sweet white or dry white?” If there are four people dining, then allow two thirds of a bottle of each of the chosen wines per person, plus an extra bottle of each, in case one is corked or oxidised. After dinner, go French and serve the cheese before the dessert. You’ll find it’s better that way. Trust me!
In my last article, I forgot to mention the American grape that is banned in Europe. It’s “Labrusca”, but don’t confuse it with the Italian wine “Lambrusco”. Labrusca grows on the eastern coast of the US and is also known as the fox-grape. Somebody once likened the smell to “lying beside a wet fox”.
Next article: How to be a good mixer.
By Maurice P. Lee
• If you have any questions or comments, e-mail [email protected]