FOOD + DRINK

Celebrating the delightful tradition of cheese and wine pairing

Some things just work better in pairs:  strawberries and cream, ice cream and hot chocolate.  And then there’s cheese and wine, taking the concept of pairing onto a deliciously different level altogether.

If you’re wondering why this match works so well, the answer is … chemistry.  Well, yes that illusive, indefinable spark but also chemistry – as in science. 

“Basically, it comes down to the tannin and acidity found in wine.  Tannins, found in grape skins, stems, seeds and from the wood barrels used during aging, have a bitter edge causing a mouth-drying effect; acidity on the other hand gives wine its tart or citrusy effect, a crisp and sour taste causing a puckering effect, accompanied by salivating with certain wines,” says Jonah Naidoo, co-owner at boutique liquor merchants and e-commerce platform Dry Dock.

This sets the scene for the creamy, fatty ingredients of cheese, which when combined with the more astringent taste of wine, creates the idyllic match of this mouth-watering taste combination.

In fact, according to a 2012 study, ‘mouthfeel’ (the way food feels in the mouth) is a significant part of how people interpret food pairings, and combining foods or beverages on opposite sides of the taste spectrum creates a pleasurable taste experience.

Looking at this pairing from a wine perspective, the subtle wine flavours can be overpowered by high levels of tannin; however, combined with cheese, this brings a smoother taste sensation, thanks to proteins and fat in the cheese, which actually break down the tannin.

“At this point, you may be wondering why the absence of tannin in white wines still makes this a delightful combination. The answer here is because of the acidity, a component which is found more in white wines than in reds,” says Naidoo. “Acidity is important because it keeps the wine fresh and lively and this astringent in turn contributes to cutting through the creamy experience of cheese on the palate. It has a cleaning effect or palate cleansing, making wine an ideal match with cheese.”

While geographical areas impact on which wines and cheeses work well together, Dry Dock offers a few general guidelines to start you off on this delectable tasting journey.

Team Dry Dock. From left to right: Martin Pienaar (co-owner), Luthando Ntsangane, Jonah Naidoo (co-owner), Leroy Chiponda, Taryn Pienaar (manager)

If you have a special place for sauvignon blanc, then goat cheese is a great match. The sharp acidity in the wine echoes that of the tangy flavour of the cheese, creating a fresh and invigorating finish.

Then there’s the ultimate cheese indulgence of a fondue. Crisp, dry whites work well, complementing the rich cheesy experience. If your preference leans more towards a red, then choose a fresh, light bodied red wine to balance the cheese without overpowering it.

Here are some choices from the Sutherland wine cellar:

Sutherland Chardonnay is an elegant, lightly wooded wine with pure citrus fruit flavours, savoury notes, and a hint of oak.  This deliciously crisp wine pairs perfectly with creamy Brie cheese and citrus compote.

Another perfect wine pairing from Thelema is their Thelema Vin de Hel Late harvest. This well-balanced sweet wine from Muscat de Frontignan grapes has aromas and flavours of pineapple, citrus and apricots with refreshing acidity and honey notes on the finish. This makes for a perfect pairing with salty, savoury blue cheese. 

And an ultimate cheese-friendly wine is Thelema’s Gargantua Muscadel 2000.

This limited addition wine spent 19 years in oak barrels and is made from a single vineyard of Muscadel planted on Thelema Mountain Vineyard in Stellenbosch. Gyles Webb, Thelema’s cellar master, spent years crafting this wine and the result is the perfect combination of a rich, luscious wine with toffee, raisin, caramelised nuts, and honeycomb flavours with a rich, lingering finish contrasted by refreshing acidity.  This combination makes it the perfect pairing with strong cheeses like Parmesan and Gorgonzola, juxtaposing the tart cheese flavour with a rich, sweeter wine.

“The highly nuanced art of cheese and wine pairing has a rich history with local and regional recipes as well as pairings handed down from generation to generation,” Naidoo concludes.

“Ultimately this tradition forms part of our rich tapestry of connecting through food and wine, creating memories through both the good and challenging times. It’s time to raise a glass and toast: From all at Dry Dock Liquor: Happy cheese and wine day.”

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