(This article was originally published in the magazine “Flavours from the not so far east” first (and only) edition: ’11 Rivers Bounty’, December 2009)
Traditionally wine has been regarded in part as something to wash down food, but in our recent indulgent times the idea of ‘matching ‘ food and wine has grown. Similar to the homeopathic (herbal) medicine principle of ‘like with like’, so simple foods with simple wines, rich wines with rich foods etc. White wines do go well with fish and chicken and poorly with red meats, while red wines taste metallic with fish but fine with steak. In reality foods and wines are each mixtures of textures and flavours and finding a compatible combination from so many contrasting ingredients can be challenging. Often it is a ‘try it and see’ situation. What if we brought together two famously flavoursome “11 Rivers” products – wine and cheese? Will they hit it off, become a couple, or will they argue, fail to communicate and be incompatible? So on the afternoon of Monday, 26th October 2009 we gathered to try and answer this eternal question. ”We” are the cheesemaker Ferial Zekiman (Maffra Cheese) and Terry-Anne Gaskin (Capra Organic Goats Cheese), with Fleur Dawkins (Glenmaggie Wines) and myself (Ken Eckersley, winemaker at Nicholson River Winery). Our host and independent judge is Brad Neilson of the Tinamba Hotel.
First we had to agree on what was a ‘match’ and how we were going to go about the exercise. Considering that there are two aspects of food/wine in the mouth; the feeling of sweet, salt, acid, bitter and savoury on the tongue and the aroma/flavour aspect detected in the nose as we breathe out. There had to be compatibility then at two levels – a balance or even an enhancement of their features in the mouth and nose. A mismatch would be when the wine/cheese appeared to cancel each other out or even brought out something unpleasant in the other. The method chosen was to taste the cheese and then to follow with the wine – and wait. (A spittoon was used – otherwise we would not survive the rigor of some 30 cheese/wine tastings!). We discussed each one to reach a consensus.
Initially there was disagreement and even confusion but as each of us got the gist of the experience, our perceptions sharpened and we seemed to speak as one.
The first bracket was two Capra goat cheeses: the “Mountain Ash” – fresh, salty and creamy; and “Serenade”- mature, strongly flavoured, earthy with a white rind. Seven wines of various styles were tried with each. The powerful “Serenade” was matched with the similarly complex 2006 Montview Chardonnay (Nicholson River), an oaked soft style, and the 2003 Botrytis Semillon (Nicholson River), coming through as enjoyable combinations. The “Mountain Ash” was kinder and the unoaked 2007 Glenmaggie Chardonnay brought out its creaminess, while with the 2006 Nicholson River Pinot Noir, they gently complemented each other.
Noticeably very dry styles like Sauvignon Blanc and Sparkling seemed to ‘vanish’.
The second bracket was five Maffra Cheeses and they were tasted with three dry red styles and a sweet botrytised white. Normandie Brie (soft white with mouldy rind) – The creamy interior seemed compatible with several wines but when the mouldy exterior was taken into account only the 2006 Glenmaggie Cabernet Sauvignon shone through. Mature Cheddar (18 months) – a friendly cheese to the red wine styles, with the Nicholson River Pinot Noir and Syrah and the Glenmaggie Cabernet Sauvignon all coming up well. The following three cheeses were complex and intensely flavoured – Glenmaggie Blue (matured for 2 months), Glenmaggie Blue (7 months) and Raclette; only the likewise complex and intensely flavoured Botrytis Semillon (Nicholson River) could join them in a memorable oral and nasal experience! The exception was the mix of the young Blue with Nicholson River Syrah, a particularly flavoursome combination. Otherwise it seems the more traditional Australian tannic red styles are best kept away from the complex cheeses.
The two and a half hours of concentrated chewing/tasting/spitting passed quickly; it was a pleasure to share the experience with such dedicated sensualists! All the cheeses and wines by themselves were a delight, but when you put them together there can be a synergy, something more than each has to offer.
Our host, Brad Neilson has the last word: “Is it common knowledge that red wine goes with cheese??? Matching food and wine is one of the most difficult and subjective things to get right…. Most of us open a bottle of red and expect it to match most of the cheese on the plate; we found this was seldom the case…. It can be also said it is about personal taste, but when paired up wine and cheese can do something special that brings out the best in each other, even the experts can’t agree on any absolutes in the cheese and wine matching game…. Try it for yourself at your next dinner party; you may be pleasantly surprised at your findings…. We were!!!!!!“