The combination of wine and food, and in our case, cheese and wine, is a fascinating and at the same time complicated and difficult process that is tending to become a “science” for tasters and sommeliers.
Unconsciously, when we try a food like a cheese, we know that we must pair it with a wine, just like we know that a wine cannot be consumed on its own, but needs an accompaniment. The ideal marriage in order to avoid divorce is when the one manages to elevate the other instead of cancelling out its flavour.
How can one find the right combination? A body of knowledge has more or less been collected and recorded for us to follow. One should consider, however, that in an agricultural country like Greece with its very wide variety of cheeses and even wider variety of wines, it is difficult or one could even say pointless to compile a detailed list of wines that can be matched with each type of cheese and vice versa, which cheeses can be matched with each wine. Not to mention that a list of this kind would be completely subjective and possibly totally different to other such lists since preferences do tend to vary.
What we can do is group and categorise some cheeses and some wines, and generally indicate which types of wine and which types of cheese go well together. Once we have been given the right framework in which to begin our search, it will then be up to each of us to discover the combination that gives us the greatest satisfaction.
First of all we must set aside any myths and maxims that limit our choices, such as: local products only go with local wines or that cheeses only go with red wines.
We can apply the proposals of many experts on the subject. Among the many different views out there, they all more or less have some points in common. Let us borrow the views of Ilias Mamalakis from his personal website: The first rule that applies to the combination of two products is that the one must be mild and the other strong. In other words, if you have a great wine, pair it with an average cheese and vice versa.
A strong cheese with a wine of a more average nature.
However this is not all. We must set a few more rules, at least the basic ones, to see how we can combine these two products with the endless variety of flavours and aromas.
We thus begin by categorising cheese and wine. So we have the white, fresh cheeses, which are often defined by their high acidity, strong fatty taste and average to high level of saltiness. Then we have the mature yellow cheeses which are also known for their fatty taste, full flavour and saltiness. Lastly, there are the spicy cheeses that have a strong peppery and intense salty flavour.
On the other hand, wine is roughly divided into white wines with rich bouquets of flowers, good levels of acidity and cool flavours. Red wines release aromas and flavours of spices, wild berries, chocolate and other earthy flavours. Sparkling wines are distinguished by the freshness of their bubbles and the aromas of mainly white wine. Lastly, there are the sweet wines with honey, fresh grape and smooth chocolate flavours. As you can see, there are common characteristics in the flavour of mainly the two products.
There are two rules to this combination. You either combine the same flavour element, namely acidity with acidity, or combine two opposite elements, such as fattiness with acidity. Therefore a fresh, white and somewhat sour cheese pairs well with an Athiri wine of Santorini, a Sauvignon Blanc, a Savvatiano or a Roditis. One can also pair a fat-rich white cheese of Macedonia with a red, fresh wine, such as a xinomavro for example. Yellow cheeses with a high fat content go perfectly with red wines that have high acidity and mild bouquets of spices.
Lastly, spicy and strong cheeses need a partner that can add a touch of sweetness , such as a sweet wine from Samos. Remember that the internet is an endless source of information on the subject. Do not hesitate to ask for advice on how to pair cheese and wine until you find the combination that suits you best.