By MELISSA BYRD
The University Daily Kansan
Benjamin Franklin once said, “Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance.” Genius that he was, Franklin summed up why wine is the perfect party beverage. Not only does wine break the ice, but it’s classier than the old keg-in-a-black-trashcan routine. And it tastes damn good.
So if you want to up the swank quotient on your next soiree, serve wine. But if you really want to impress, serve wine with a perfectly-paired cheese. Read on to learn how to match wine and cheese and throw a party that will put the keg into temporary retirement.
First, you must decide which wines you will serve so you can pair them with the right cheese. Having both red and white wines is a good idea to give guests more choices, or you can go with a theme, such as wines from a particular region or country.
Though it may take extra planning, it could help to ask your guests to bring a bottle of wine to share, says Jennifer Stanton, owner of Wines By Jennifer®, a global wine boutique and tasting room in Parkville, Mo.
When your friends bring a bottle of wine, they should also bring along an index card with the name of the wine written on it. This way, people can write notes about the wine and the cheese paired with it for future reference, Stanton says. If you decide to provide all the wine, hand out index cards with the descriptions when your friends arrive.
Finally, set up your table with the wine, cheese, breads and crackers and index cards.
You shouldn’t drink wine by itself, says Tina Stamos, wholesale and special projects manager at Au Marché, 931 Massachusetts St. Rather, wine is meant to go with specific foods — especially cheese.
The variety of cheeses is as limitless as the types of wines. When serving cheeses, Lora Wiley, owner of Au Marché, suggests presenting them in groups of three. For example, pick three different bleu cheeses or soft-ripened cheeses. Or choose three cheeses from different regions with varying colors and textures.
Here’s a quick lesson: The cheese should not overpower the wine. “You want to pick something mild, so you’re not covering up the wine,” Stanton says. Steer clear of spicy or heavily-flavored cheeses that may influence the wine you’re sampling, she says.
Take the cheeses out of the refrigerator about an hour before you serve them to achieve the maximum flavor, Stamos says. As with wine, the taste of the cheese will change with time.
And remember, pairings are just a guideline. Rules are never absolute when it comes to food and wine. “You don’t have to get stuck in a food rut,” Stamos says. “The fun is in the variety and experiencing it all.”
Budget about 3 1/2 ounces of cheese per guest, says Steven Jenkins in his book, The Cheese Primer. Jenkins recommends serving no more than five cheeses; more could be overwhelming.
The cheeses at a specialty store are more expensive because of the way they are processed, Stamos says. Many are aged a year or more, which contributes to a higher cost — they’re different from the plain cheddar or Monterey jack you would find at a grocery store.
Try the wines without the cheese first, Stanton says. This will allow you to savor their flavors.
Wines should be tasted from lightest to heaviest. Start with whites such as Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, then work your way up to the richest and driest wines like Pinot Noir, Syrah and Cabernet.
Taste your wine in small samples. Smell, swirl and smell and swirl some more before finally tasting. Drinking wine is not like drinking any other beverage, Stanton says. “You really need to swirl the glass to open up the aromas in the wine because it’s been sleeping in the bottle,” she says. “You’re letting it out and letting it breathe.”
When you take a sip of wine, let it flow over the top of your tongue and swish it around your mouth, Stanton says. Because your tongue is covered in taste buds, each part will pick up different flavors. “You need to, more or less, chew your wine,” Stanton says.
A simple French baguette and three types of assorted crackers go well as accompaniments, Stamos says. You don’t want a bread that has a lot of flavor that takes away from the cheese and wine. She also suggests serving different types of olives, pickles and other preserved items as palate cleansers, along with fresh fruit. This makes the table more visually appealing.
Finally, have a great time doing something different. Julian French, Shawnee sophomore, says a wine and cheese party appeals to him because it’s a change of pace from the usual party scene.
“People don’t have to be drunk and crazy to have fun,” French says. “I like chillin’ with my friends while sipping a nice glass of wine. It’s really relaxing.”
Cheese: Taste and Texture, Suggested Wines, Suggested Foods
- Tangy, ripe and earthy; semi-soft to hard
- Cabernet Sauvignon, sparkling wines or Port, Syrah, Zinfandel
- Figs, pears, walnuts, fruit, nut breads
- Creamy, rich, buttery; soft
- Sparkling wines, Chardonnay, medium-bodied Pinot Noir
- Green apples, strawberries, pears, toasted walnuts, crusty bread
- Mild to sharp, tangy and robust; semi-hard to hard
- Gewurtztraminer, Riesling, medium-bodied Merlot and Syrah
- Red or green grapes, apples, cherries, cashews, dark breads
- Mellow rich caramel; semi-hard to hard
- Riesling, fruity Zinfandel, Merlot
- Red apples, toasted almonds, dark breads
- Sweet to sharp, buttery; semi-hard
- Sauvignon Blanc, young Cabernet Sauvignon, light-bodied Pinot Noir
- Green grapes, cherries, toasted almonds, pumpernickel bread
Source: Jennifer Stanton; For further information on wine and cheese pairings, visit www.winesbyjennifer.com.