Matching Cheese and Wine for Entertaining

Sirius XM talk show hosts Christine, Kate and Sharon and I chat about The Great Canadian Wine & Cheese Match in the clip above (click on the arrow to listen)

You can also watch clips from CTV News, Global Television, CBC News and CTV Morning Live with more pairings, as well as a radio interview on CJAD, Montreal’s most popular talk show.

bottle of wine with Canada flag in the background


Matching Cheese and Wine for Entertaining

Christine: Hi there, I’m Christine Bentley and I don’t think Kate Millers going to let me say one word here because we are talking about wine with Natalie MacLean. Hi there Natalie!

Natalie: Hi Christine and Kate!

Christine: This maybe the last time you hear my voice because…

Kate: Well that’s not true I just said you’re into Prosecco.

Christine: Wine and cheese, well yes Prosecco.

Kate: You’re into Prosecco and I’m into cheese.

Christine: I’m into cheese too and wine and this is a national competition, right?

Natalie: It is and it’s different from a lot of traditional wine competitions because it’s happening online, it’s involving social media and it’s the People’s Choice Awards for Canadian wines. This year we’re pairing them with Canadian cheeses so it’s a lot of fun.

Christine: So who is your typical competitor?

Natalie: The way we organized it this year is we have six categories of Canadian cheeses, the most popular types, so you think mozzarella, cheddar, goat cheese, creamy cheese, blue cheese and so on. Within those six categories, you can nominate your favourite Canadian wine to go with that cheese. It’s wide open in terms of the wines you can nominate as long as they are made in Canada. We’re getting wines from coast to coast and all sorts of styles from dry to Sparkling to sweet and of course reds and whites and everything in between.

Christine: So how do you judge it?

Natalie: The first phase of this is you nominate a wine online and then you start voting for it and you get your friends to vote for it. So, it’s People’s Choice popularity. At the end, which is very soon May 31st … we’ll close off the voting and then a group of sommeliers, wine bloggers and I will taste the top six wines in each category blindly meaning we won’t know the identity of the wine …

Christine: Sure, you had to make yourself a judge, right? I think you need another judge. Kate is happy to join you.

Natalie: The difference here is that you know the grassroots support and that the wines we will taste have been put forward by Canadians from coast to coast. It’s really fun. It’s not as serious or technical as a traditional competitions. We’re going to sit there, we won’t know which wine is which but we will be pairing them all with cheeses and coming up with their favourites that we think everyday wine drinkers from coast to coast would love.

Christine: So you take a bite of cheese and then a sip of wine.

Natalie: Yes, that’s right.

Christine: And then another one and then another one…

Natalie: And repeat.

Christine: I have a great respect for that because I would forget, by the third pairing, what the first one tasted like. I think that takes quite an art?

Natalie: It does, it’s all about focus. We love what we do. When it comes to wine tasting, you’re writing a few notes and you’re spitting. You have to spit the wine or you’ll be slaushed by the six wine so that’s the difference between…

Christine: I thought that would be the point?

Natalie: It is after the competition is over.

Christine: So Natalie as you are the expert, the author of books, publisher at the website of course and the only person to have won both the MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award from the James Beard Foundation and the Excellence in Culinary Writing from Les Dames d’Escoffier International.

Natalie: Good job.

Christine: Thank you. You have some tips about how we pair Canadian wines with cheeses, so let’s go through them for our listeners. You know wine and cheese parties, to me it seems so 70’s but they’re coming back.

Natalie: Absolutely.

Christine: So what’s the easiest to pair?

Natalie: If we start with semi fresh or mild flavour cheeses, think mozzarella or goat cheese, they’re not strong or pungent in flavour. The lighter the flavour of the food, the easier they are and the more versatile they are with wine. You could choose a light wine to go with these light cheeses. I’m talking about Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, all wines we do really well in Canada. It doesn’t mean that reds are out. You would choose a light red, maybe a Gamay. This is a Beaujolais style of wine that we do here in Canada.

Christine: So what about say something you’re doing like a double and triple cream cheese? They’re very rich.

Natalie: People love those.

Christine: Yes.

Natalie: So you talk about camembert style or brie style …

Christine: Brie yes.

Natalie: When  that cheese is just flowing like lava over your baguette…

Christine: Stop it. I’m hungry now.

Natalie: I’ve done my job then. I want to make you thirsty, too, by the end of this. So now we’re talking about mouth coating texture of food.

Christine: Right.

Natalie: So you need to go with an equally rich, buttery wine like an oaked, aged Chardonnay or a Viognier which is very floral white.  They work well with the creaminess of the cheese. That’s one strategy when it comes to matching food and wine. You can do contrast. You can do ‘like with like’  or like with the complete opposite. You could take a wine that has a lot of acidity. Acidity is not to be feared in wine. Salt is to food as acidity is to wine. It brings forward the flavour. It makes your mouth water. With a creamy brie or a camembert style cheese, you might choose a Riesling, although it might be a little too light or maybe something a bit stronger, with acidity. A Sauvignon Blanc would work and cut through that cheese like a knife.

Christine: These are mainly whites. Would you go to a hard cheese, like a cheddar, for a red?

Natalie: I would. It’s not to say that you can’t do red with the cheeses we just talked about but I do think whites work better. We do so many terrific cheddars in this country from coast to coast. I would do a Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc. Think about the traditional pairing of a Bordeaux wine from France and a British cheddar. To take that original old world pairing and apply it here in Canada, I would take a Balderson cheddar and a Cabernet Franc or Cabernet Sauvignon from Featherstone Winery in Niagara. You will have a terrific match because the harder the cheese the longer it ages. The higher the concentration of butterfat, the stronger the flavours and the more the acidity and the salt comes forward. What you’re looking for is equal weight and texture in your glass.  You do want a muscular red for that.

Christine: Let’s go to Christine’s favourite, Sparkling wines. Doesn’t bubbly wine help defuse salt?

Natalie: It does because bubbly wine has natural acidity. You’re looking at salt and acidity as being almost twins when it comes to the glass and the plate. With Sparkling wine, you really don’t have to buy Champagne. There’s nothing wrong with Champagne but it will cost two or three times more than a terrific Sparkling wine from Canada. A bubbly from Benjamin Bridge winery in Nova Scotia or a great Sparkling wine from Niagara or B.C would be terrific with just about any type of cheese because it’s the most food friendly style of wine on the planet. Think back to our creamy cheeses, that swarm of bubbles and that crisp acidity. You have a bite of the cheese … it’s layered, it coated your mouth and then in comes the bubbly to wash it all away so that your next bite of that creamy cheese is almost as good as the first one.

Christine: So what is the closest wine, that we make in Canada, to Prosecco?

Natalie: It would be our Sparkling wines and we make them more in the style of Champagne.

Christine: Okay.

Natalie: We use the same grapes and we use the same method, the second fermentation happens in the bottle.

Christine: Okay.

Natalie: So Prosecco is usually a fairly dry…

Christine: Yes.

Natalie: … style of wine. It is budget-priced. So Prosecco usually comes in at maybe $15 or $20 in our liquor stores. Our Sparkling wines average between $25 and $35 while a non-vintage starter Champagne is going to clock in at $60 or $70 and go up from there to vintage dated. It’s really still a bargain that we produce here. We have a cool climate which is what you need to produce terrific Sparkling wine.  Prosecco and all Italian Sparkling wines are produce in the North of the country where it’s a cooler climate. You need that for good bubbly.

Christine: Now I love a blue cheese. I like strong blue cheese but I find I don’t actually drink wine when I’m having blue cheese because of conflict. Is there anything that goes with it?

Natalie: Blue cheese is often at the end of the meal and that’s where we bring out the dessert wine because … yes, there’s a wine for that. There’s a wine for everything. If you are a determined hedonist, you will always find the wine. Blue cheeses is probably the strongest, most pungent tasting cheese. It has the most salt.  It is the most concentrated cheese. When you get that intensity, it can make an ordinary dry table wine, like Cabernet Sauvignon, taste bitter or hot or really alcoholic. So what you need is the wine with a bit of sweetness because sweet is the foil to those salt and heat. It softens and tempers. It’s also the reason why if you have a spicy Asian dish, a wine with a bit of sweetness in it is your match.

So let’s go back to the blue cheese. It has wonderful flavours but they are intense. Canada does make Port style wines.  Portugal has the trademark on Port so we don’t call it Port but we do fortified Port style sweet wines. We also do Ice wines. They are low in alcohol but they have that sweetness. Depending on the type of blue cheese (blue cheeses range in flavours too).  I tried a beautiful one from Quebec … Elizabeth Blue. It was a creamy blue cheese. It isn’t as harsh. I paired it with a lovely citrus and orange apricot, jammy Ice wine from Reif Winery in Niagara. It was just gorgeous or go for a Quebec hard cider. It’s technically not a wine but we include them in this competition … wines and ciders.   Quebec make wonderful ciders so think apple pie and a swirl of blue cheese…

Christine: Just stop it. Stop it. Stop it, right now. Tell our listeners how they can enter the contest.

Natalie: Sure. Go to my website which is so that is, you’re going to see a little box for the Great Canadian Wine and Cheese Match there. Click on that. It’s really easy to nominate a wine and you don’t have to be a wine expert. That’s not the point here. It’s your favourite Canadian wine or you can just go and vote for the wines that are already nominated. You don’t have to nominate one. What’s really great is you can see the wines that people are suggesting for different types of cheeses. Get a shopping list of Canadian wines you want to try this summer maybe for Canada Day. Throughout the summer, there’s no stove gets turned on with this kind of snack. Try the different combinations. That’s the fun of it and you’ll see the rankings change hourly depending on who’s voting. You can really make a difference. You will know which wines are winning by voting.

Christine: Natalie MacLean, thank you very much for talking to us.

Natalie: Well Cheers, Christine and Kate, I hope you’re still hungry and thirsty.

Christine: I’m starving. We’re going to try to move the show. Unfortunately we have to be here till noon.



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