No-fuss pairings of wine and cheese

Wednesday, October 25th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

By Rebecca Murphy / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News

Cheese and wine would seem the perfect couple. So why all the fuss?

Laura Werlin doesn't understand it. The food journalist and author of The New American Cheese (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $35), says people can get too caught up in convention when pairing these two.

"Most people think of red wine with cheese, but, in general, I think white wines go best with cheeses," says Ms. Werlin, whose book profiles American artisan cheesemakers and gives recipes using their cheeses. "Guidelines for serving cheese are similar to those guidelines for serving wine, although I don't go strictly by wine guidelines," she says. "I believe you can go back to a white wine with a cheese course after the entrée, even if you have had a red earlier in the meal, especially if a red is not going to work with the cheese."

Ms. Werlin groups cheese into four categories: mild, fresh cheeses like mozzarella and goat cheese; soft and ripe cheeses like brie and Camembert; sharp, firm cheeses like Cheddar and Gouda; and strong, pungent cheese like blue and Parmigiano-Reggiano.

And she prefers white wines, particularly those with a bit of sweetness, with cheese. Since the cheeses she writes about are from the United States, she also likes to recommend the nation's wines. She recently discovered cheese-friendly Fetzer California Johannisberg Riesling 1999 ($7). Other noteworthy U.S. rieslings, she says, are from Washington state producers Chateau Ste. Michelle and Hogue, Texas, winery Messina Hof and California wineries Chateau St. Jean and Smith Madrone.

She also favors sparkling wines, saying they "go well with several kinds of cheeses, from brie to blues." She recommends Gloria Ferrer's Carneros Vintage Reserve Royal Cuvee Brut 1992 ($25). Other fine U.S. sparkling wines are made by Domaine Carneros and Iron Horse Vineyards in California, Gruet of New Mexico and Argyle in Oregon.

"Soft, ripened cheeses are often compatible with fruit-forward reds with a little tannin ... [that are] well-balanced, not huge and so tannic that your teeth are stuck together," she says. American red wines that match her description include pinot noirs from Oregon vintners WillaKenzie and Chehalem, and gamays from J. Lohr of California. Excellent Port-style wines are made by Quady and Ficklin in California.

"My approach to cheese and wine is cheese-centric. So, say I have an Arkansas goat cheese that I want to serve. I first think about how it will be served. Is it a celebration? Then I'll serve a sparkling wine. Maybe I am going to serve it as a cheese course between the main course and the dessert, and I am having a red wine with the main course. I'll try to pick a fruit-forward red to go with the main course and the cheese.

"If I am going to start the meal with a Camembert on crostini with mushrooms, then I'll pick a nice, slightly sweet chenin blanc. So, whatever else you have planned can help you pick the wine you will serve with the cheese."

One American artisan cheese that is widely available and is extremely wine-friendly, she says, is Humboldt Fog.

It is not a fresh goat cheese, she explains, because it has been aged one or two months. The aging changes the character of the cheese and develops its flavors.

"Humboldt Fog goes with a wide variety of wines, white and red," she says. "I have yet to find anything that was a terrible match." She adds that she has served it with soft cabernet sauvignons and Oregon pinot noirs.

Maytag Blue is another American artisan cheese that is widely available. "It is a soft, slightly sweet blue cheese," she says. "These go very well with sparkling wines or a fruit-forward red."

Lest you think that American cheese means thin slices of orange plastic, think again. Cheesemakers in the United States are making international styles like Gouda, havarti, provolone, mozzarella and Camembert as well as American Cheddar and goat cheeses. Granted, it is not always easy to find them.

If you want to further explore the world of cheese, check the Web site of the American Cheese Society at

And Ms. Werlin offers one final note about serving cheese and wine: "Mostly, you should listen to yourself. Cheese should not be a chore or intimidating. Don't be afraid to experiment to see what works for you. Have a sense of adventure. If the match does not work, the worst that can happen is you will have a good bottle of wine and a good piece of cheese that you will consume separately."