What is cheese? Well, don’t tell your waistline, but cheese is essentially fat and salt - delicious creamy fat and salt. These are not attributes that pair well with dry wine traditionally. That being said, it hasn’t stopped almost ever cellar door on earth having a variety available to nibble on while you sample their wares. Fat blocks the wine from getting to your cheeks - it coats your mouth and hence the texture of the wine is changed. Salt, too, changes the wine considerably. While it may not be the most popular thing to say out loud, the best cheese and wine matches are with sweet wines, not dry table wines. There are always exceptions, but sweeping generalisations are far more efficient.
Here are two exceptions for dry wine and cheese pairings. Old chardonnay and hard cheddar is quite a delicious marriage, as is blue cheese and very old cabernet wines, and an old Bordeaux (particularly if someone else is paying) is really quite something. I find young reds too clunky with most cheeses, and the cellar door experience is mostly taking advantage of the fact that serving everyone a little slow-cooked beef cheek is just impractical. If you are not into dessert wines, then look to the styles of Alsatien whites, like Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer. There needs to be some residual sugar for this to work, but you need not go all the way into fully sweet. If you find these delicious aromatic whites from the likes of Hugel, or Rene Mure and Dopff, then go in search of soft and pungent cheese. If you can find some Munster or Epoisses, you will be on your way to a very good lunch indeed. A little heads-up here - b
While in France there are Appellations d’Origine Protégé (AOP) ( Pretected regions of origin – think Champagne) and the equivalent Denominazione di origine Protecta in Italy, and various others for each wine making country, here in Australia we have Geographical Indications, or GIs. It may not mean much to the average consumer, but they are kind of a big deal.
LET’S GO LOCAL
Did you know there are 20 Geographical Indicators in Victoria alone? You may have heard of some of them: Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Heathcote and so on. Sound familiar? These are all specific areas of grape production and wine-making, and they are protected names with specific boundaries. Probably the most famous case of regional identity is Coonawarra in South Australia. Defining the boundary of which wineries were on the highly lauded Terra Rossa was a contentious issue, and in many cases, the result is the difference between a recognisable wine region and one that many don’t know, despite being geographical neighbours. This ability to put Coonawarra on the label of your wine also translates to the ability to sell the wine at a higher price. So even though it might seem trivial to fight over where the grapes were grown, it is a significant issue for many winemakers.
WHY IT MATTERS
No one takes the provenance of the ‘where produce comes from’ argument more seriously than the French. The French have AOP laws covering all manner of produce, from wine and cheese to chickens and lentils. The idea behind this philosophy is that produce that comes from a specific region has qualities specific to the region – and in the case of the French, it also relates back to a long tradition of regional pride - with the ingrained defence against mimicry being that only you make your produce in your region. For instance, you can’t make Champagne in Tasmania. We can make terrific sparkling wine using the same kinds of methods, but the product by name cannot be replicated outside of Champagne. These appellations laws that control the region and the production methods are, however, far more controlling than the system that is in place in Australia.
METHOD, NOT MADNESS
In Australia, the GIs are specific to region. They do not go so far as to control the grapes that are to be used to make the wine, nor do they dictate a style. In Champagne, the rules state that to be called Champagne the wine must be sparkling, in Sauternes the wine must be sweet as a result of Botrytis Cinerea, or “noble rot”, and failing to meet this stylistic criteria means you cannot use this word on the label. In Australia, however, if you have Coonawarra on your label, there is no governing body saying that you have to make a table wine from Cabernet Sauvignon. Wisdom would suggest you don’t try to make Pinot Noir (the climate is all wrong), but there are no rules against it.
FREEDOM DRIVES CREATIVITY
We are lucky here to not be less restricted in how wine is to be made or the style in which it must be created. This freedom leads to tremendous experimentation and ultimately better wine experiences for everyone. In the same breath, this lack of regional specificity also makes awareness of the local strengths harder to reinforce. There is a strong argument for consumers to know that great Riesling comes from the Clare Valley, and great Pinot Noir from Mornington Peninsula, but this is possibly too restrictive for such an inquisitive and ultimately young wine-producing nation such as Australia. As always, the best part of further understanding is going out and trying more wines from a variety of places and finding out for yourself - what do you think are the regional heroes?
e careful not to touch the cheese with your fingers as it really is quite generous in the odour department.
I like soft, white gooey cheese, like ripe camembert and fraomager d’affinois. This cheese is designed for a host of wines, starting with Perry, or pear cider as it is often called in Australia. The white mould, triple cream ‘mouthgasm’ as some call it, is also a wonderful match with sweet botrytis effected Semillon, like De bortoli Noble one. The saltiness of the cheese and the sweetness of the wine are brilliant together, and the acid of the wine cuts through the glorious fat and makes your mouth instantly ready for another bite. This, to me, is the ultimate in cheese and wine matching. Find some good quality bread, a nice patch of green to lay a picnic blanket and just enjoy these good things in life. Taking friends is optional if you are prepared to share.