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Saturday 28 November 2015

Cheese and chardonnay make a surprisingly good match

The vast majority of us, I suspect, automatically choose a bottle of red wine to accompany the cheese course.

In Australia, particularly, this is seen almost as an unwritten rule – but rules are made to be broken and many white wines can do the job just as well as reds, particularly the leaner, more modern styles of chardonnay that are popular right now.

Matching wine and cheese can be a complex matter; and not all combinations are matches made in heaven.

Subtle wines can sometimes be overpowered by pungent cheeses, while delicate cheeses can be overwhelmed by rich, powerful wines.

Hugh Johnson, the veteran English wine writer, says: “Fine red wines are slaughtered by strong cheeses; only sharp or sweet white wines survive.”
Johnson says there are two basic rules: the harder the cheese, the more tannin the wine can have, and the creamier the cheese, the more acidity required in the wine.

Chardonnay, which can range in style from rich and oaky, to lean and acidic, can be a surprisingly good partner for a wide range of cheeses.

The rich, oakier styles do marry well with rich blue cheeses with plenty of bite but more subtle styles can be completely 
overwhelmed by some of the more powerfully flavoured hard cheeses. Pungent Stilton, for instance, is probably best paired with rich Sauternes or Australian dessert wine rather than chardonnay.

The combination of rich texture and high acidity generally makes chardonnay extremely cheese friendly, however, particularly those that are unoaked, or only subtly oaked, as is the way with many new-wave Australian chardonnays, which tend to be fresher and crisper than their predecessors and have the brisk acid to cut through the creaminess of many cheeses.

Cheeses with a hint of sweetness and nuttiness pair particularly well with high-acid and medium-weight chardonnays, particularly those that have not undergone malolactic fermentation (a process which adds creaminess to wine). These elegant styles offer the perfect counterpoint to the richness of cheese.

In France, the classic combination is to match cheeses with wines from the same region; say the rich Epoisses cheese of Burgundy with a lean chardonnay from the Côte Chalonaise or nearby Macon.

This rule works less well in Australia but if you are putting together a cheese platter and want to match it with a white wine, then good choices would be more subtle sauvignon blancs (which in France are a traditional match for goat cheeses) or an elegant and preferably younger chardonnay from one of Australia's cooler-climate regions; the Yarra and Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, Orange in New South Wales, Tasmania or the Adelaide Hills and Eden Valley in South Australia.

Heggies 2013 Chardonnay
What a beautifully balanced wine this is; looking great at two years of age, it sits midway stylistically between fruit-forward Australian chardonnays and the more elegant wines of France. It certainly has a little bit of European swagger despite being made from fruit that is grown in the hard country of Eden Valley, above the Barossa in South Australia. The winters here are cold and wet, the summers dry. The gravelly soils produce grapes with intense flavour and minerality. Seven different chardonnay clones go into the blend, which offers a beguiling mix of ripe stone fruit flavours and tangy citrus notes, along with a hint of ripe green apple. Quality French oak plays a support role and there are some flaky pastry and creamy nuances, along with crisp acid, on the finish.

Food match
A chardonnay made in this medium-bodied style makes an excellent match for soft young Australian cheeses made in the style of Brie and Camembert, along with more powerful semi-soft imported French cheeses like Livarot and Pont L'Eveque. But this also paired superbly with a soft Tasmanian goat cheese made in the French chevré mode; “Zoe” by Tongola Goat Cheese, and also with a cloth-wrapped cheddar from Wicked Cheeses.

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