Jascots' Definitive Guide to Matching British Cheeses with Wine
We are Jascots Wine Merchants, a supplier and sommelier to restaurants, hotels and caterers and as such we always need to know the perfect wines to recommend our clients to pair with their food. Food and wine matching is not something you can easily guess so we experiment regularly to be sure we know how the flavour combinations work.
The inaugural British Cheese Week takes place this month (Monday 26th May - Sunday 1st June), a campaign to raise the profile of home-grown cheese and so what better time to test a great selection of the finest British Cheeses and find some perfect wine matches. We invited West Horsley Dairy to bring a cheese board and we set to work!
We kicked off the experiment with the mildest cheese first and tried a number of combinations: we found some too powerful, too dry or too sweet before we reached the perfect balance with the fantastic Winchcombe Downs white from Three Choirs in Gloucestershire. We moved on like this, cheese by cheese, through the range of flavours on the board, trying each with our line-up of wines.
The variety that you find in British cheeses is amazing, and great fun for wine matching because you have the opportunity and versatility to try many different styles. Yet this can also be the great challenge with a cheese board - what one wine could go with everything?
We found the Champion of our Cheese Board was the De Bortoli Vat 5 Botrytis Semillon 2009 from Australia. A richly sweet wine made from Semillon grapes that have undergone "noble rot" which dries them out leaving lots of sugar and little moisture; the wine is similar to Sauternes from France and Tokaji from Hungary. Its sweetness paired perfectly with the tangier cheeses (Cheddar and Brighton Blue) and had more than enough flavour for the milder cheeses.
Here are our detailed findings and recommendations:
Three Choirs 'Winchcombe Downs' (Gloucestershire) with Sussex Slipcote (sheep's milk cheese, West Sussex)
To kick off, a patriotic pair! Slipcote is fresh, soft, and has a creamy, fluffy texture. Because of its delicate, light flavour we all agreed that it worked beautifully with the flowery, crisp aroma of Three Choirs' white wine without either of the two overpowering the other.
Clarence River Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough, NZ) with Wealdway Mature (goat's cheese, East Sussex)
Not your usual grub, this gourmet cheese is 6 month matured, coated in edible charcoal, and has a strong flavour intensity. The traditional goat's cheese match is Sauvignon Blanc and so we chose our Clarence River, though this racy number is not what you'd expect from classic Marlborough as it is full of more tropical fruit flavours of lychee and kiwis. Being so fruit driven it worked perfectly with this stronger more unusual style goat's cheese. A great one for summer al fresco dining!
Château La Vérriere (Bordeaux Superieur, France) with Tunworth (Hampshire)
This is a handmade, Camembert-style cheese which is rich and milky. So as not to drown out the creaminess of the cheese with the flavour of strong tannins, we chose a particularly silky red and La Verriere's juicy black fruits and toasty notes made for an exquisite, smooth partner.
The Crusher Pinot Noir (California, USA) with Mayfield (East Sussex) & Lord London (East Sussex)
We originally tasted the Mayfield, a semi hard cheese made from pasteurised cow's milk, with Maison de la Paix Viognier but there was not quite enough acidity to support this nutty cheese. On finding how well the fruity, smoky Pinot Noir complimented the Lord London (clean, citrus, creamy) we tried it with the Mayfield and it worked perfectly. We continued to try The Crusher alongside most of the others and eventually declared it the most versatile option for the board after the De Bortoli sweet.
Tronido Crianza Rioja Bodegas Navajas (Rioja, Spain) with Tornegus (Surrey)
The curve ball of the board, this washed-rind cheese (pinkish with a scattering of Egyptian Mint) had spicy, fruity, funky, bacony hints that led to it being tagged the 'Marmite' cheese of the group. A punchy cheese requires a punchy wine, and our Tronido Crianza is all red berries, sweet vanilla topped off with an earthy undertone of spices.
De Bortoli Bortrytis Semillon 2009 (Australia) with Quickes Traditional Cheddar (Devon)
Having been matured for over twelve months, this has an intense flavour. Salt loves sweet (think sweet & sour dishes), and the saltiness of the cheese will heighten the perception of sweetness in the wine - so if you already have a wine that's headed in that direction then these two make for plain sailing.
Taylors LBV 2008 Port (Portugal) with Brighton Blue (West Sussex)
This semi-soft, mellow blue cheese made from pasteurised cow's milk has all the hallmark flavours of a fragrant blue cheese. Same rules apply - the salty, nutty nuances of the cheese marry perfectly with the viscose, sugary texture of the Port. We thought a Ruby Port could work slightly better (as a fruitier, less woody style) and one of our team swears by Valpolicella Ripasso and blue cheese. There are a plethora of options to play with.
Finally, as most people will recognise, the Big Cheese continuum runs from fresh through to hard-aged. Youthful cheeses have a soft, milky and delicate texture. As a cheeses age however, the moisture in its body begins to evaporate, leaving behind fat and protein. Since this is where the flavour intensity comes from, these older cheeses tend to be more rich, savoury and concentrated in flavour.
Helpfully for us, wines run a similar course from delicate to bold, and their depth and complexity often correlates with their age too. Young wines are bright and spirited, with lively aromas and flavours of citrus fruits and fresh flowers. Once a wine has spent time in barrel or bottle it's a different story, and the flavours develop and knit together to acquire more nuanced secondary flavours which are all earthy, smoky and toasty oak.
For all food and wine matching advice, call our experts or drop us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Jascots Wine Merchants - 02089652000
The Cheeses & The Wines
Sussex Slipcote (sheep's milk cheese, West Sussex)
Three Choirs "Winchcombe Downs" 2012 (Gloucestershire)
Wealdway Mature (goat's cheese, East Sussex)
Clarence River Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (Marlborough, NZ)
Lord London (East Sussex)
The Crusher Pinot Noir 2012 (California, USA)
Mayfield (East Sussex)
The Crusher Pinot Noir 2012 (California, USA)
Château La Vérriere 2010 (Bordeaux Superieur, France)
Tronido Crianza Rioja 2010 Bodegas Navajas (Rioja, Spain)
Quickes Traditional Cheddar (Devon)
De Bortoli Botrytis Semillon 2009 (Australia)
Brighton Blue (West Sussex)
Taylors LBV 2008 Port (Portugal)
Cheese & Wine Rules to Remember:
- White can be right! On a standard cheese board often white wine is better and more versatile with many cheeses than red.
- If it is red, choose light or old. Some reds are too dry, choose a light or an older red with less tannin.
- Pair similar "weights" or textures. E.g. when the cheese is quite heavy, choose a thicker textured wine.
- Sweet & Salt = the perfect pair. A sweet wine and a salty cheese are a delicious combination!