We never do things by halves at AWC Wine Academy. So, it only made sense that, for our first Cheese & Wine matching event, we asked well-known wine writer and presenter Susy Atkins to be our hostess.
Above: Susy prepares for the matching.
As many of you will know, Susy writes for the Sunday Telegraph and is a regular presenter on the BBC1’s Saturday Kitchen. She was thrilled to present on one of her favourite food and wine themes at our unique tasting facility. Over the course of the incredibly enjoyable and informative evening, Susy walked us through a series of fine wines, paired with various, equally impressive fromages.
According to Susy, pairing wine and cheese is enjoying an upswing in popularity at the moment. However, people are now paying much more attention to what they are actually matching. ‘The fact of the matter is that a lot of cheeses simply don’t go with certain wines,’ she told us, ‘so it pays to understand what works and what doesn’t. For instance, a big tannic red simply doesn’t go with a soft, creamy cheese. The balance and texture is all wrong. Successful cheese and wine matching is all about balance,’ she re-iterated. ‘It is not about contrast.’
‘Furthermore,’ she continued, ‘these days, people are finally discovering that white wines generally tend to provide better, more versatile matches than reds.’
The first pairing of the night was something of a classic – a striking, 2010 Comte Lafond Sancerre with a Chabichou goat’s cheese from Poitou. Both come from the same, Loire Valley region of France and have a naturally affinity for one other. Goat’s cheese and Sauvignon Blanc just seem to go together – the acidity of the wine cuts through the texture of the creamy cheese perfectly. However, Susy did warn us that not all Sauvignon Blancs work as well as this. ‘Minerally Pouilly-Fumés and Sancerres are ideal, but many New Zealand and Chilean Sauvignon Blancs are just too fruity and can easily overwhelm the delicate cheese flavours.’
Above: Tasters evaluate the Sancerre and Chabichou match.
While the following pairing was a certainly a hit, it was undoubtedly a bit more daring. The 2009 JJ Prüm Riesling Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett from the Mosel region in Germany, matched with a hard Parmigiano Reggiano from Reggio Emilia in Italy was both unexpected and delightful.
The light-bodied, delicate Kabinett, with its piercing acidity and touch of sweetness, clearly wasn’t the most obvious match for the Parmesan, yet, as Susy pointed out – ‘Riesling is an extraordinary grape variety in that it has the ability to pair with all sorts of dishes.’ Having just come back from a trip to the Mosel, Susy said she had drunk Riesling with venison, wild boar and pork – and a lot of cheeses – all with great success. Everyone in attendance was quite enthusiastic about this match after trying it, as the slight sweetness of the wine perfectly enhanced the intense and savoury nuttiness of the unpasteurised Parmesan.
The third pairing was a luscious 2007 Hugel Jubilee Gewurztraminer from Alsace and an intensely savoury Mignon Maroilles from the Pas de Calais region. The soft texture and pungent aroma of the cheese was in perfect harmony with the natural sweetness and rosewater perfume of the Gewurztraminer. Interestingly, some tasters actually preferred this cheese with the previous wine (the Riesling). The touch of charming sweetness in both wines was able to lift and enhance the flavours of this strong-smelling, washed rind cheese.
Next up was a 1998 Gran Reserva Rioja from none other than the brilliant La Rioja Alta winery in Haro, Spain. The delicate, aged red wine was a joy to drink, with subtle, almost Pinot Noir-like notes and hints of leather, tobacco and strawberry fruit.According to Susy, ‘most red wines simply don’t go with cheeses, particularly if they are big and tannic. So, if you are going to serve a red wine, choose it carefully. For me, the best red wines are those which are more mellow and mature. Younger, New World wines with too much fruit and tannin simply walk all over cheeses and can really subdue their flavours. However, wines like Gran Reserva Riojas, which have already had a minimum of five years ageing in barrel and bottle, are often just the ticket.’
Above: Thoroughly enjoying the Rioja.
If the Rioja Alta was one of the wines of the night, the star cheese was certainly the Montgomery Cheddar from North Cadbury in the West Country with which it was matched. One of the most remarkable things about this deliciously rich and savoury hard cheese was the way its flavour and intensity changed over the course of the evening – just like a great wine improves in the glass.
Again, the success of the match was due to the balance of textures and flavours. No component overpowered any other and, for most tasters, this was the best match of the night.
Of course, no tasting would be complete without one of the greatest, classical food and wine matches of all time –Sauternes and Roquefort. At AWC Wine Academy events we always want to spoil the tasters a bit. So, we poured a sublime, 2003 Château Suduiraut. It was everything a top Sauternes should be – sweet, rich and luscious, with enough acidity to prevent it from being cloying. This also had a lovely, honeyed botrytis character and intense flavours of apricot, peach and marmalade.
The Roquefort Papillon Premium from Rouergue was also on top form, with its hallmark buttery texture and salty tang. This was an ideal ying and yang match, with the sweetness offsetting the saltiness in perfect harmony. Similarly, the oily texture of the Sauternes was just right for the creamy interior of the Rocquefort.
As Susy mentioned, when pairing sweet wines with blue cheeses, you don’t have to limit yourself just to Sauternes. A good Tokaji or Vendange Tardive from Alsace will work just as well. So too would a good ‘sticky’ from Germany, Austria or even Australia.
Just for good measure, we also tried the Suduiraut with some of the other cheeses. Favourite pairings were matching it with the Parmesan and the Cheddar. Susy did warn us that Sauternes doesn’t work well with everything though. Her advice was to avoid crumbly cheeses such as Cheshire and Lancashire.
The last pairing was a slight twist on another well-known classic – namely Port and Stilton. However, rather than going for a red Port, such as a Ruby, Late Bottled Vintage or Vintage, Susy decided to show a wood-aged Tawny Port instead. The wine she chose was the 30 year old Tawny from Graham’s which was delightful – notes of espresso crème, hazelnuts, raisins, spice, caramel, mocha and fruitcake. It was a brilliant partner for the intensely spicy and tangy Colston Bassett Stilton from Nottinghamshire.
Above: New friends made and matching expertise gained!
At the end of the evening we all cast our votes for match of the night. Unsurprisingly, the Grand Prize went to the Rioja/Montgomery Cheddar pairing, with the Roquefort/Sauternes combo a close second place.
All in all, it was a fantastic evening, with wonderful fine wines, great artisanal cheeses and a master-class in the process of matching them by one of the UK’s most delightful and charismatic wine experts.
As a result, we intend to repeat this event early in 2012. If you would like to attend, please contact us at your earliest convenience as it is already proving to be quite popular.
All of the evening’s cheeses were generously supplied by La Fromagerie in Marylebone.
The wines tasted are as follows. All are available on request from The Antique Wine Company:
1. 2010 Comte Lafond, Sancerre, France - £288/case of 12
2. 2009 JJ Prum Riesling Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett, Mosel, Germany - £288/case of 12
3. 2007 Hugel Jubilee Gewurztraminer, Alsace, France - £336/case of 12
4. 1998 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904, Rioja, Spain - £720/case of 12
5. 2003 Château Suduiraut, Sauternes, France - £696/case of 12
6. NV Graham’s 30 Year Old Tawny Port, Douro Valley, Portugal - £426/case of 6
We look forward to welcoming you into AWC Wine Academy in the coming months, whether for another cheese and wine event, for your own private tasting or for one of the other exciting events we have planned.
To join us for a tasting or to reserve the Wine Academy for yourself, please visit - http://www.awcwineacademy.com - or contact Deborah Ives on +44 (0) 20 3219 5560.
To purchase any of the wines which were covered in this particular tasting, please contact one of our staff wine experts.