Wine, Cheese and Fruit – What Works and What Doesn’t

In summer (or any time of the year, for that matter), there is this great food and wine tableau.

A platter of fresh fruit — perhaps grapes, and assorted berries — along with a selection of delicious cheeses. To serve with them, of course, are both red and white wines. Glasses are poured, samples of cheese and fruit sampled — everything is perfect!

Or is it?

How many of us have instead had a different tasting experience? You eat a few pieces of that ripe fruit, for example, but when you then take a sip of your oak aged Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc –yuck! The wine tastes all woody or metallic!

Same thing with that fabulous piece of runny Brie or soft goat cheese. Both dry red and white wines lose all their fruit and instead become dried up and tannic.

So what’s going on here?

Well, I will leave it to the scientists to give you the technical explanation. But, to put it simply:
* any wines aged in oak (which is most reds and whites) just don’t ‘like” the sweetness of fruit or fattiness of rich cheeses; and
* if the fruit you are eating is sweeter than the fruit in the wine you are drinking (which is almost always the case), the wine doesn’t react well to that either.

So does that mean we have to throw out the whole romantic “wine, cheese and fruit picture’?

Fortunately, the answer is — no! You just need to adjust things a bit.

One option is to serve sweet wines like Port, Sauternes or late harvest wines. This isn’t hard to do if it is at (or as) dessert. And they can really be matches made in heaven. In these cases, the fruit in the wine is riper than the grapes or berries, and they don’t clash. And, amazingly, the sweetness of the wines also cuts through the richness of cheeses in the same way they do with the fat in fois gras.

For dry wines, you can do two things. Either go for wines with no oak, or else adjust the kind of cheeses you serve. Aged Cheddar, Parmesan, Manchego — all go very well with full bodied, dry red wines that have a little age to them. Examples include Bordeaux, Burgundy and Syrah/Grenache based wines from the Cotes du Rhone; Brunello di Montalcino, Barolo and Barbaresco from Italy, and Rioja Riservas from Spain.

A final option is to serve dry sparkling wines with fruit (a la Champagne and strawberries!). To be honest, I’m not sure why this works — maybe the lack of oak in the wine. But it tastes great!

So there you have it — wine, fruit and cheese. While it doesn’t work as well as the movies or commercials would have you believe, you can certainly make it a pleasurable experience!



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