From the US Navy’s ‘happy hour’ to its immortalisation as ‘woine toime’ by Kath and Kim – the tradition of Friday night (or let’s face it – any night) knockoff drinks and canapés has been putting a smile on workers’ faces since monks started making wine – and it’s now making a comeback!
The pubs and bars are doing it, with small plates of finger food propping up drunken Friday night knockoffs; your mates are doing it, with platters and hors d’oeuvres to soak up your Sunday arvo bevvies; and even Oxford’s dons are doing it, with the recent addition of the term ‘wine o’clock’ to the Oxford English Dictionary’s prestigious pages.
But since the gastronomic culture of our country has evolved from Peter Russell-Clarke and Huey’s Cooking Adventures, to MasterChef and its Heston-esque spin-offs, kabana and pickles are no longer acceptable fare for your five o’clockers.
Not only that, as wine is now one of Australia’s major exports, chances are you may know someone in the wine industry – or someone who thinks they should be – which means you not only have to get your food right, you now also have to think about pairing it with the right wine.
Fortunately, there’s a simple solution. Cheese.
Like Dawson and Joey, Ross and Rachel, Carrie and Mr Big, wine and cheese were made for each other, which makes it relatively simple to peruse the menu with panache, or be a ‘host with the most’ at your next cocktail hour.
So what do the experts say about the best wine and cheese pairings?
The Wine Enthusiast’s Jeanette Hurt says that while the tried and tested pairings of Vintage Cheddar with Cabernet Sauvignon, or Parmigiano-Reggiano with Chianti work perfectly, due to their balance of rich and fruity flavours – texture is just as important.
“Real aged Parmigiano is a nutty, nuanced, hard cheese with a distinct crumble, and the mouthwatering fruit of Chianti balances the salty richness of the cheese,” she writes.
“The tang and crystalline crunch of Cheddar combine magically with the cassis and tobacco notes and gravelly texture of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Meg Houston from Serious Eats tells us that while it may be fun to line up a bunch of wines and cheese to show your culinary paring prowess, there are some wines that will work with just about anything.
“It’s fun to open a range of bottles to sample with your cheese assortment, but if you must pour a single wine with a mixed plate of cheeses, try Riesling, especially off-dry,” she writes.
“The wine is low in alcohol, but its acidity, sweetness, tropical fruits, and mineral backbone let it partner broadly. Alsatian Gewürztraminer is another great choice. It’s dry with a delicate body, but its floral aromas will waft ethereally above the savoury notes of all of the cheeses.”
Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammack at Wine Folly agree, confirming that white wines are typically more versatile than reds when it comes to cheese pairing – with one exception.
“This is because white wines are devoid of tannin making it much easier to match them together,” they write.
“If there’s one cheese that doesn’t match up too well with many white wines, it would be blue cheese. It tends to overwhelm.”
And for a cheese that plays well with most wines, there’s nothing safer – according to Jeanette Hurt – than Parmigiano-Reggiano.
“Parmigiano-Reggiano is arguably the most versatile cheese to pair with wine,” she writes. “It pairs superbly with whites and reds, bubbles or no bubbles.”
She also recommends a good cracker to soak it all up. Which we won’t argue with.
“Perhaps it goes without saying, but forget squishy white bread and saltines,” Hurt writes. “Instead, serve hearty, crusty bread and crisp, flavourful crackers.”
So for the perfect wine and cheese pairings for your next woine toime, here are our recommended cheeses for Australia’s top wine styles…