Wine and Cheese

Summer on the Tongue:
A Wine and Cheese Tutorial

by Clara Rose Thornton

Whimsical warm nights are upon us, with all of the magic that accompanies longer hours spent outdoors. While temperatures elevate, leisure time sees its stock rise and guitar riffs swim through the breeze, and people get quite serious about not being serious at all. Although, one thing that should be kept to decorum—despite letting everything else get a bit crazy—is pairing the perfect wines with the perfect hors d’oeuvres at your elegant backyard parties.

We’ve all heard the cliché of white wines being the better summer drink than reds. Though clichéd and not a hard-and-fast rule—as I happen to enjoy a robust Shiraz on many a summer evening—there’s a slew of reasons for this long-held truth in the wine world, harkening to the structural components and characteristics of those Rieslings, Sauvignon Blancs, Pinot Grigios and Chardonnays floating about your palate this summer.

White wine is better for hot temperatures because they are structurally simpler than reds. It is fermented grape juice, pure and simple, without the red grape skin soaking and chemically reacting with the juice, coloring and thickening it. White wine, made from the greenish-golden grape varieties of course, has the skin removed prior to fermentation, clarifying the pale juice. (Red wine grapes are fermented with the skins on, though technically, whites could also be made from red grapes if the skins were not allowed to ferment.) Resultantly, white wine lacks certain chemical substances that reds absorb from their grapeskins, like tannin. Tannin is the bitter-tasting compound that helps reds to mature and age well. This is why reds are generally better aged and whites turn sour if not drunk within the first year or two of their lives, while they’re the freshest. Tannin also prevents a wine from tasting good if chilled.

Therein lies the reason that whites are served cold. Coldness is better in the summer, and so are lighter, structurally simpler beverages that don’t bog down a system already feeling bogged down with heat.

There is a lesser-known summertime wine tradition, as well. There aren’t as many avid rosé drinkers in this world as there are of reds and whites. It’s shameful that such a unique, meticulously crafted drink doesn’t get equal recognition with its older counterparts, and worse, often falls victim to misconception. It may be that because of its salmon-pink color and how it usually walks the line between medium and light-bodied, many people think it’s a watered down mixture of red and white wines post-fermentation.

Rosés, meaning “rose-colored” in French, are produced from red grape varieties in the same fashion that any other red would be at the outset. The difference is that after two or three days, before the skins have a chance to deeply impart their color, heavier weight and specific chemical compounds to the liquid, they’re skinned off. It takes serious craftsmanship to know the exact, delicate moment when they need to be removed, or else the rosé will tip the balance toward a pitiful red or a muddled white. It should, instead, be a singular drink all its own, with a lightness lending itself well to hot temperatures.

I recommend two locally produced wines from Fresh Tracks Farm in Berlin and one delectable international selection as top choices for outdoor entertaining this season, paired with a variety of sumptuous cheeses from Grafton Village Cheese Company. Fresh Tracks produces a vibrant, soft and round American Pinot Grigio with a nose of banana leaf, nutmeg and warm vanilla. Paired with Grafton Village’s Duet, which is a layer-cake-style concoction pairing Vermont cheddar with Minnesota bleu cheese, it seems to dive right underneath the immense tartness of the bleu, allowing a mellowing wash over the palate that allows this potent cheese to linger harmlessly. Fresh Track’s Little Piggy Pink, a rosé made from a cold-hardy Swenson grape designed for northern climes, called Frontenac, belies its initially discouraging candy-like scent and emerges as a full-bodied, soft, semi-sweet treat that rolls easily from the front of the mouth through the finish. It pairs nicely with Grafton’s Clothbound Cheddar, a distinctive cheese aged in caves that gives a grounded earthiness to the Piggy’s bouncy tones. The maverick choice is the intoxicating Sage Cheddar with France’s 2007 Fat Bastard Sauvignon Blanc. The citrus-infused, lemongrass essence of the crisp, dry Sauvignon Blanc—with its mineral qualities—cuts directly into the intensity of the sage oil with pronounced ambition.

Happy summer tasting.

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