I live in an area where the older generation still have traditional dinner parties. Invitations fell away for a time in the 1990s but I’m glad to say they’ve picked up again now – except that they’re dinner parties with a difference.
A glass of sparkling wine often replaces gin or vodka before a meal and few of us offer brandy or whisky as a nightcap. Drink/drive regulations have seen to that. But health considerations also play their part.
I suspect they’re behind a growing tendency to skip the dessert course and replace with an imaginative selection of cheeses. Wine with cheese is a marriage made in heaven just so long as you match the right wine with the right cheese.
Don’t imagine that your well-bred bottle of claret is bound to match everything on your cheeseboard. It’s great with Double Gloucester but its rich fruitiness and pronounced tannins could well undermine a mild Cheddar or creamy Caerphilly from Wales.
But if you’ve enjoyed a hearty bottle of Burgundy with the meat course, finish what’s left with the powerful Epoisses, a relatively unknown unpasteurised cow’s milk cheese (also from Burgundy) that goes beautifully.
Spanish red wine
Strong, generously-flavoured cheeses also partner a spicy Spanish red wine like Cosmo Palacio 2005, with its lovely, long finish. Spanish Vina Cana Rioja Reserva 2000 goes especially well with the salty fruitiness of Camembert.
Among the white wines, Sauvignon Blanc is a classic partner with goat’s cheese. Whatever the merits of German Rieslings, they die the death when confronted with almost any cheese apart from the blandest Cheshire. Try a French Riesling from Alsace. But if you’re producing either a British Stilton or French Roquefort, either plump for a spicy Alsace Gewrztraminer or a sweet Sauternes.
If you plan to offer Vouvray with cheese, check the label first. The dry version goes with Greek Feta, the sweet with a soft blue cheese.
Discard any thoughts of serving rosé wine, either dry or sweet, with cheese. It doesn’t work, though I did once get away with partnering a dry rosé sparkling wine with an elderly Parmesan. Indeed, that was a success.
A fair number of us may keep a bottle of Spanish sherry in the house to produce a glass or two at Christmas. The rest of the bottle may not be broached again until the following Christmas, by which time its contents will have sadly deteriorated.
The solution? Drink what’s left no later than early spring, either with strong blue cheeses or the difficult-to-match Gouda and Gruyére. And, finally, there is always tawny or vintage port – both traditional classics with cheese.