Wine and Cheese
Sometimes there's nothing better than a chub of Velveeta microwaved with Pace Picante, some El Galindo chips, and a Dos Equis. That was the thought that hit me while I was trying to decide whether to recommend a Cava, Fino Sherry, or Rioja with Manchego. Matching wine and cheese should be fun, not work. But the truth is, if you're going to spend the time and money to have good quality cheese, you might as well show it in its best light. That means knowing which wine to have with it.
Thankfully, several Austin eateries with good wine lists are offering cheese plates. Alas, few servers have received sufficient training on how to pair wine and cheese. Restaurants compound the problem by offering cheese plates with multiple cheeses of radically differing flavors. The best solution would be an equal number of small glasses of matching wines. At least two restaurants (DemiEpicurious and Trulucks) are offering just that. Unfortunately, most restaurants avoid the issue by recommending that you just drink your favorite wine, a recipe guaranteed for failure. So how do you learn?
Let's start with the best resources: places that have great selections of both wine and cheese. An obvious candidate is Central Market. Both the North and South stores have superb cheeses and wines. But there's a snag. Maybe it's just me, but I haven't yet found a foodie at either store that really knows both departments. Whole Foods has much smaller stocks, but at least the cheese and wine departments are next to each other, which, hopefully, creates communication.
I think the best resource is Grape Vine Market. Since the retirement of Barbara Hoover at Central Market South, Grape Vine's Ike Johnson is my pick for best cheesemonger in town. He is both knowledgeable and committed to demystifying cheese. Add to that a strong working knowledge of the store's wines, and you have a formula for quick acquisition of the basics.
If you want to delve even deeper, the single best resource is The Cheese Primer by Steven Jenkins (Workman, $16.95). Stuffed with useable information and written in a friendly style, he even goes to the trouble of giving you his favorite brands and suggested wine pairings. Most important, he tells you how to evaluate whether the shop and its cheese are good.
Taking the time to learn a little before you try the restaurant cheese plates is a good idea. It ups your chances of having a memorable meal. For those who don't want to go to all the trouble, but want more than the Velveeta-Pace conglomeration, here are some great pairings:
Pure Luck Fresh Goat Cheese and Texas Sauvignon Blanc (Spicewood, Messina Hof or Fall Creek)
Hudson Valley Camembert and Van Duzer Oregon Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
Cabrales and Marques de Arienzo Reserva Rioja
Parmigiano and Badia Coltibuono Vin Santo
Roquefort and Chateau Climens Barsac
Explorateur and Tattinger or Perrier-Jouet Champagne
Alsatian Munster and Trimbach or Hugel Gewürztraminer