Holiday Cheer with Wine and Cheese

Host a Wine and Cheese Tasting this Holiday Season.

By Georgene Mortimer, Island Winery

We all love the idea of being with friends during the holidays, but sometimes we refrain from hosting a get-together for many reasons: too much work and not enough time, lack of confidence in your hosting skills or maybe your friends don’t know each other and it might be awkward.

If these are your reasons for being hesitant to host a holiday gathering, a wine and cheese tasting can be the perfect remedy. Part of the fun of this event is getting to try different combinations of wine and cheese and talking about your experiences. The tasting can be a focal point to get the conversation started.

During the planning stage, limit the number of guests to those who can fit comfortably around your table or sitting area. Set out two wine glasses — one for white wine, one for red — and a water glass for each person. Then lay out your pre-sliced cheese, opened bottles of wine and lightly flavored breads or crackers. After a while, palate fatigue sets in, making it harder to distinguish the subtle differences between the flavors. At this point, you can add cured meats, olives, roasted vegetable salads and herb breads or focaccia to your spread.

Begin by pouring everyone a glass of the same wine and taste the different cheeses with the wine. Cheese and wine naturally belong together. The astringency in the wine balances out the fat in the cheese. More interestingly, these properties play off each other in such a way that they change each other’s flavors. While some of your guests might prefer one combination to another, by avoiding bold-flavored wines and cheeses, there will be no wrong pairing.

Cheese selections should cover a range of textures, flavors and colors. Avoid funky cheeses with strong aromas and ones that are heavily seasoned. Instead, select a soft, mild cheese such as Brie or Camembert; a semi-soft cheese with some flavor and color such as Roquefort or Gorgonzola; a yellow or orange semi-hard cheese such as Gouda or Edam; a full-flavored, aged cheese with crystalline texture, such as Parmigiano Reggiano, Asiago or an aged Cheddar. Also, be sure to include a cheese from either goat’s milk or sheep’s milk, such as Manchego.

Wine selections should include mostly white wines and at least one light or medium-bodied red. At a minimum, select a young, fruity white wine; a fuller, aged white wine; and a light-bodied red wine. Familiar white wine examples would be a young Sauvignon Blanc and oak-aged Chardonnay. More eclectic selections would be a Verdelho for the fruity wine and a white Rioja for an oak-aged wine.   

While bold red wines like Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon pair well with the sharp aged cheese, they will overwhelm the rest of the selections, so avoid them. Light- to medium-bodied reds such as Pinot Noir, Grenache or Dolcetto would be perfect.

What to do with the leftovers? Divide up the cheese to send home with guests. Pour all the wines into a pitcher, add some fruit and perhaps some Brandy, to enjoy a delicious wine punch the next day.

Happy Holidays!

The perfect bottle of hand-crafted artisan wine awaits at Island Winery at 12 Cardinal Rd. Wine by the glass and cheese platters are available Monday-Saturday from 12:30-5:30 p.m. and Sunday from 12-4 p.m. (843) 842-3141 or islandwinery.com.