Side by Side… Max Allen & Will talk out harmonious drink & cheese pairings.

If you want to spark a lively discussion – and hopefully put smiles on your friends’ faces – the next time you sit down to tuck into some cheese and wine, try this simple tip: don’t open a bottle of red.In fact, try not even opening a bottle of wine at all…

We’ve been exploring the gastronomic permutations of cheese and drink matching for almost two decades. And we’ve found, time after time, that the traditional go-to choice of a big red wine is seldom the best: the drying tannins of a cabernet, or the full-bodied power of a shiraz can often clash with the complex flavours and textures of good cheese. White wine, sweet wine, sparkling wine – even (or especially) non-wine drinks such as cider, beer and Japanese sake – are often far better choices. And the fact that a lot of people haven’t even considered there could be an alternative to red wine when it comes to the cheese course makes it worth trying at least one of the following combinations. You might be surprised – but you won’t be disappointed.

The word we keep coming back to when describing great cheese and drink experiences is “retronasal”: how the flavours on your tongue shoot up the “smell chimney” at the back of your mouth to be perceived by the aroma receptors behind your nose. Which is why crisp perfumed riesling plus dense perfumed Gruyère-style cheese equals retronasal joy.

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Cider and Camembert

Not an unusual match at all, really – if you’re from Normandy, that is. Look for the most rustic, cloudiest cider you can find (preferably from Normandy), ripen your Camembert to its oozing best, and then revel in the rich, barnyardy retronasal explosion of flavour as you combine the two in your mouth.

Ale and Cheddar

Or Wensleydale, or Cheshire – the point is, we have found that a full-flavoured English-style beer, such as a fragrantly hoppy India Pale Ale, is a sensational partner for England’s hard, cooked cheeses. We think it’s the tangy intensity of the cooked curds and the oily intensity of the hops that have something to do with it.

Fino Sherry and Manchego

This is a classic Spanish match, when you think about it: you arrive at a small, welcoming tapas bar down a narrow laneway as dusk falls, you settle at the bar and the waiter offers you a plate of dry-textured, salty sheep’s milk cheese and a glass of bone-dry, briny fortified wine, and suddenly all is right with the world.

Moscato and Fresh Curd

Think freshness and youth: barely fermented curds, almost straight from the udder, matched with a wine style that, effectively, is still-fermenting grape juice, almost straight from the vine. Think opposites attracting, too: the sweetness of the moscato is a great companion for the acidic twang of the cheese.

Champagne and Parmigiano-Reggiano

The key to this match is texture: there’s an exquisite affinity between the tingling feel of bubbles in Champagne and the crunchy little crystals of calcium lactate embedded within the dense richness of a good old parmesan. Oh, and umami, too: there’s heaps of savoury deliciousness in both the yeastiness of Champagne and the cheese.

Sake and Roquefort

We know, it sounds bizarre: Japanese rice wine and French blue cheese – a culture clash. But trust us: splash out on a good, medium-dry junmai sake and try it with this classic cheese. We think you’ll be surprised. The fruity aroma and intense flavour of the koji mould used to make the sake is a great match for the saltiness and sweet blue-mould flavour of the Roquefort.

[Words by Max Allen & Will Studd]