Jan. 20 is National Cheese Lover's Day. A celebration of curds and whey could turn out to be more fun than you would expect. Below is a suggested list of pairings so you can pick your favorite block of cheese, and wash it down with a grapy libation.
Blue-Veined (Stilton, Roquefort, Gorgonzola)
Blue-veined cheeses are difficult. They have a strong, robust flavor that can make lighter wines taste bland and watery. This family of cheeses needs a wine that is strong in flavor and tannins like the Grgich Hills 2009 Estate Grown Napa Valley Zinfandel ($34). This wine is made without pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers, giving a true Zin flavor in each sip: fruity, spicy and racy — the very characteristics that mellow out the tang of the cheese while softening its after bite.
You want a wine that will contrast with the sweet creaminess of the cheese. Something crisp and dry like the Villa Maria Estate Cellar Selection Sauvignon Blanc ($22) brings a balance between the acidity of the wine and the milky creaminess of the cheese. Spoon some Tabasco Pepper Jelly over the brie to jazz up the flavor and enjoy how the spice mixed with the sweet creaminess brings out the melon flavors in the wine.
Lovers of good, sharp cheddar cheeses should enjoy the Educated Guess 2010 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($20). This juicy wine was aged 12 months in oak, giving the sharp edge of cheddar a run for its money. It doesn't do away with the cheese's tang, it just brings out the flavors and makes it better. Isn't that the best type of pairing?
This Swiss cheese originates from the town of the same name and is known to be sweet and salty with nutty flavors when young, turning earthier as it ages. Flavors that evolve over time like this also need a wine that evolves over time like the Terra d’Oro 2010 Amador County Barbera ($18). Blackberry, blueberry and spice draw make for an enticing first sip filled with juicy black cherry flavors and a smooth finish.
A quintessential pairing comes in the form of a slice of Manchego, a crusty piece of warm bread, and a glass of the Torre de Gazete 2011 Cencibel — aka Tempranillo — ($14) from La Mancha in central Spain. The nutty, earthy flavors of the cheese are enhanced with the plum and cherry flavors of the wine.
This cheese is made using a specific recipe and production method mainly within the region of Emilia-Romagna; it's not regular shaker cheese found on tables of the chain pizza joints. To enjoy the subtleties of this cheese, you need a wine with its own subtleties like MatchBook Dunnigan Hills 2010 Syrah ($16). The wine's black fruit and chocolaty flavors temper the saltiness of the cheese.
Tips: Pair your favorite wines and cheeses by matching up opposites: sweet (Riesling) goes with spicy (pepperjack), or crisp (Pinot Grigio) goes with creamy (Jarlsberg). Or try complementing the two like light-bodied (Albraiño) for lighter cheeses (creamy goat), and big wines (Cabernet) with bigger ones (Gouda).