May 25 is National Wine Day, and National Cheese Day follows close behind (June 4), so in celebration of this perfect pairing of holidays, here are some tips for wine and cheese pairing. We’ve also included some out-of-this-world recommendations from the experts at Napa Valley’s custom wine and cheese pairing firm, IJK Cheese Company, founded by James Ayers, the cheese specialist; Ilse Chun, the wine specialist; and Kris Chun, the business mind.
There are two ways to pair wine with cheese: pair like with like, or pair opposites. For example, acidic wine and acidic cheese share a common aspect and complement one another (for example, sauvignon blanc and goat cheese), or an acidic wine may need a creamy cheese to balance it (like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich — the acid and the fat work together).
If you’re looking for something to bring the fruit flavors out in a young, tannic red wine, consider a salty cheese. Ilse Chun likens it to the Mexican practice of sprinkling salt in a fruit bowl — the salt brings out the fruit flavors.
How to taste: Take a sip of wine, then a bite of cheese, leave a little bit of cheese in your mouth, then take another sip of wine, letting the flavors meld together.
Below, Chun lists a few recent pairings that blew her team’s mind:
ELYSE WINERY "Black-Sears" Zinfandel 2010 (Howell Mountain, Napa Valley) $37 with Nicasio Valley Cheese Company Foggy Morning:
A fresh cow milk cheese is divine with fruity wines like Elyse’s lucious, jammy zin.
BELLO FAMILY VINEYARDS "Megahertz" Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (Napa Valley) $50 with Seahive:
This Utah Cheddar is hand-rubbed with local honey and salt from an ancient seabed in southern Utah. The sweetness of the oak in the wine mingles with the sweetness of the honey, and the salt brings out the fruit in the wine.
NEIGES Premiere Ice Cider (Quebec) $30 with Colston-Bassett Stilton Blue Cheese:
Chun swears by this zingy cider from Quebec (made like an ice wine) paired with tangy blue cheese (think salad with blue cheese and apples — yum). The strong flavors of blue cheese need a high alcohol, sweet wine to stand up to them. Port, sherry, and the classic sauternes are also good choices.