Pretty often, I hanker for a hunk a cheese. So it's perfect that my two favorite flavors -- wine and cheese -- are easy companions. Although stringent food and wine pairings are not my bag, it's what readers ask about with frenzied fervor. Ultimately, experience and experimentation are everything -- the more often you pair, the better you'll get.
The best wine to complement any cheese is dry sparkling wine. Brut sparkling, like Gloria Ferrer from California, makes friends with pretty much any cheese, whether Brie or Limburger. In fact, brut sparkling is just about the only wine that will befriend Limburger. The sour acids in the wine combat the saltiness of that strong, smelly cheese. But sparkling wine also shines with Brie, a salty, butterfat-laden cheese from France.
In addition, Brie adores buttery, toasty California Chardonnay. Try Brie with Viognier as well. One of my favorite cheeses, Cambozola (from Germany), is essentially Brie with chunks of blue in it. It doesn't really pop with anything except sparkling, but Chardonnay comes close. Amish Havarti, a cheese high in salt, loves Chardonnay.
Another safe bet with many cheeses is anything sweeter, like an off-dry Riesling or a French Vouvray, made from Chenin Blanc grapes. The sugar content in these wines cuts through the salt and balances the extremes. Maytag blue, Havarti with dill, and a French, Swiss-cheese called Fol Epi, melded very well with Riesling and Vouvray.
For an exceptional experience, try a port wine or French Sauternes with any blue cheese. It's guaranteed your eyes will roll back in your head from happiness.
Reds can be difficult to pair, since you have to find a cheese that will stand up to the boldness of the wine. But the acidity of chevre goat cheese and the smooth Fol Epi affectionately shimmy up to French Cabernet.
The surprising winner of the pairing contest was Spanish Rioja. Chevre goat cheese, Amish Havarti, Maytag blue and English cheddar all soar with this wine. A bit oaky, the Rioja matches the cheeses' earthy qualities.
Get some friends together, grab some cheese and a few different varietals of wine and pair off.
1999 Clos du Bois Alexander Valley Reserve Merlot ($25) : Smooth flavor that oozes cherry. Slight bit of tannins will complement a salty, earthy Spanish Manchego or aged Gouda.
Chateau de Clarefort 1998 Margaux ($20) : A Cabernet/Merlot blend from Bordeaux. Earthy, tongue-coating fruit that packs a wallop. Not a super-heavy wine but just the right balance to suit many cheeses.
Nino Franco Prosecco Rustico NV ($12) : Fabulously dry sparkler from Italy, an up-and-coming producer of sparkling wines. Smells like a fresh-cut peach on the nose and in the mouth, the fun starts. Perfect acid levels for cheese consumption, and the price is right too.
Rothbury Estate 2001 Chardonnay ($10) : Wonderful rich, tropical flavors with smooth acids. Drink this one a bit warm and you'll get the full effects of its cool Aussie flavor. Danish Havarti is its favorite.
Taylor Eason is a regionally based wino who studied the juice in France and Italy. Comments? E-mail email@example.com.