You don’t have to be a wine connoisseur to be able to enjoy a good glass of wine, or even be able to talk intelligently about it. Here is a basic guide to the different types of wines, as well as tips on storing it and—best of all—pairing it with a delicious plate of cheese. Serve this to guests at a party, or throw it together for a simple but satisfying romantic dinner at home. You can also assemble a wine and cheese set for a friend. It makes a great thank you gift for host or a holiday basket for a boss or client.
Types of Wines
Red wines owe their color to the skins of black grapes. The pigment tints the wine (and unfortunately, also leaves a permanent stain on any cloth or carpet—so be careful not to spill any!) The light red wines are best when fresh and young, though some vintages of clarets and Burgundies can have very long life in certain vintages.
White ones are made from white grapes or a combination of white and black grapes whose skins have been removed. Rose wines (which have a pink color) are a combination of white grapes and skinless black grapes.
Not all wines are meant for drinking on their own. Others are used in cooking, and help tenderize the meat and add richness and flavor to the broth or sauce. Pick a cooking wine that has a clean and simple flavor; more ‘aggressively’ flavored wines can overwhelm the other ingredients. Use white wine for broth, red wine to marinate meats and chicken. Other wines can be used for desserts, such as macerating strawberries and cooking pears.
As a general rule, dry wines are served before sweet wines, white wines before reds, and young ones before old. You also need to consider your food. White wines are best for charcuterie, fish, and cheese. Dry wines are best for eggs and hors d’ourves. Choose fuller whites for foie gras and creamed chicken; roses for cold meats, and full bodied red wines for red meat, game and cheese.
Wine is excellent with cheese. Though most people think of French cheeses, most of them are actually made in Italy, like the fresh and mild mozzarella to hard, mature Parmesan.
There are different kinds of cheeses. Some cheeses, like Roquefort, Ecorini, and Blues des Aravis are made with goat’s or ewe’s milk. Others use cow’s milk but owe their different textures and flavors to different procedures for processing. Soft cow’s cheeses with a ‘rowdy’ rind like Camembert and Brie are processed by natural fermentation, coated with bacteria culture and then ripened. Feta and Munster have a salt-water washed rind cut after curdling. Blue, Stilton and Gargonzola cheeses are cultured with bacteria when it is shaped to create the characteristic blue veins. Pressed cow’s milk cheeses like cheddar and edam are curdled by rennet and the draining process is accelerated by stirring and pressing.
Pairing wine and cheese
Light red wines are best served with soft cheeses with downy rinds, also with goat’s milk and pressed cheeses. Robust wines are best with soft veined cheeses with wahedarinds and veined Roquefort with a smooth white . Beer and cider can also be accompanied with cheese, and of course biscuits and crackers or rye bread, can be taken with some cheese.
Keep cheeses in a cool place. They can be stored at the bottom of the refrigerator in airtight wrapping and taken out about 1 hour before eating. Blue cheeses should be slightly damp. Many believe the best way to keep Gruyere cheese is to put it in airtight box with a lump of sugar.