Anatomy of a Wine Pairing

CheezeitsWhat, you wouldn’t pair Cheez-its with wine?

Several weeks ago, I read a guest post on 1 Wine Dude about a perceived lack of practiced food-and-wine pairing among Millennials – roughly those in their early 20’s – early 30’s.  The post was written by an intern, Shelby, who is a Philadelphia “millennial” who also writes for a local food/drink/culture blog,  Table Matters.

What caught my attention was that the piece was spurred by a moment of anxiety about successfully pairing food and wine, something to which the writer did not feel well-suited.  I am by no means an expert in pairing, but have spent much time experimenting with pairing food and wine in various ways – sometimes with excellent results and sometimes…not.  Regardless of the result, the process is almost always entertaining – such as this great wine and cheese steak experiment .  One of the great aspects of learning is that the important moments are found in the failures and the victories.  Of course, I once organized a scientific session at an international conference on the importance of “negative” results…

The bottom line is that of course a pairing will fail sometimes.  But, so what?  The fun is in the process.

Stargazers Wine

So, I give you the anatomy of an experimental cheese and wine pairing.
This experiment was begun when Evan started eating Cheez-Its with the wine I had just poured for him.  I love Cheez-Its, too, and there was nothing off-putting about eating them with our local wine.  Thinking this might be due to the crackers’ salty fattiness, we pulled out all of the “real” cheese we had in the refrigerator, which didn’t contain any blue since we just finished it all.

The Wine:  Stargazers Vineyards 2007 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon   This is a food wine.  The wine started with blackberry, mushrooms, and soil in the mouth.  It started a bit thin – with all the tannin and acid up-front and nothing left for the finish.  It opened nicely, however, reaching a much fuller body after 20 minutes, or so.  Over time, the flavors became a bit darker, but also exposed some mineral and herbs that weren’t apparent in the beginning.

CheeseThe Cheese Pairings:

1. Cheez-Its: Ok, not technically “cheese”, but bearing some similar qualities.  These snack crackers tasted fine with the wine.  They are crunchy, salty, and a bit fatty and greasy – this more austere wine style was the right match.  The crackers produced mint and sparkle in the wine.

Jilltasting2. 1 yr aged Gouda (cow’s milk, Netherlands):  This was my favorite pair.  The cheese has a nice, oily texture that was a great match for the wine.  Also, the fat “corrected” the initial (on opening) metallic note of the wine.  Evan forgot to tell me what he thought about this one.

3. 5 yr aged Gouda (cow’s milk, Netherlands):  I adore this cheese.  The flavors are nuttier and richer than the 1 year, and the salt crystals are more pronounced.  The effect of those crystals was odd for me; it made the wine feel lighter-bodied and more acidic.  In essence, it made it drink like a Pinot Noir.  It changed, rather than enhanced, the wine.   Evan forgot to tell me his thoughts on this one, too.  I think he was too busy eating the cheese.

4. Provolone (cow’s milk, Italy):  This was the least successful pairing.  The only aspect of the cheese that “worked” with the wine was its fattiness.  They brought out tinny, sharp notes in each other that was borderline unpleasant.

5. Manchego (sheep’s milk, Spain):  We disagreed on the this one.  This was Evan’s favorite pairing.  He noted a spice note in the cheese that complemented the wine very nicely.  I, on the other hand, did not like it.  I thought the texture of the cheese was all wrong for the wine, and also that the flavors of the cheese and wine neutered each other.