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Cheese Can Make Some Wines More Palatable

At times I have been faced with a Pinot Noir that has too much unpleasant astringency from tannins. I have experimented and found that if I take a bite of non-aged, mild cheddar cheese and then sip the wine, the wine becomes miraculously transformed into a thing of silk and satin with no troubling drying effect in the mouth.

After a little research, I found a good explanation for this. In The World of fine Wine (Issue 16, 2007), authors Bronwen Bromberger and Francis Percival discussed the challenge of successful wine and cheese pairing. They pointed out research from the University of California Davis that revealed that consuming cheese with wine (when drunk in isolation) can reduce the taster’s appreciation of certain aromas like mushroom, oak, mint and vegetation and decrease the perception of berry and oak flavors. The cheese also can decrease perception of astringency of a wine because the proteins in the cheese bind the tannins in the wine and the cheese coats the taster’s mouth with fat. So although cheese often blunts the aromatic and flavor profile of a wine, it may reduce the astringent effect of a red wine.

Noted wine professional Karen MacNeil, the chairman of Professional Wine Studies at the Culinary Institute of America in the Napa Valley wrote in Cooking Light magazine about the reduction of astringency in wines by accompanying them with cheese. “When tannic wines are tasted in the company of cheese, however, the protein and fat in the cheese create a kind of coating on the palate, preventing you from experiencing the harshness of the tannin. Instead, the red wine seems perfectly soft and lush.”

The downside to sampling cheese with tannic red wine is that the aromas and flavors of the wine are “dumbed,” and the enjoyment received from them is lost.

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