Cheese Can Make Red Wine More Palatable

At times I’ve encountered a wine that has too much unpleasant astringency from tannins. By astringency, I mean a harsh, drying, puckering, or bristling sensation in the mouth, particularly noticeable when a wine is kept in the mouth a while before swallowing. These wines are almost always red, since tannins come from the grape skins during fermentation. The astringency is often noticeable in young wines that need time for the tannins to develop and soften. Or in a wine that is poorly made.

I’ve experimented, and found that if I take a bite of non-aged, mild cheddar cheese, then sip a tannic pinot noir, the wine becomes miraculously transformed into a thing of silk and satin with no troubling drying effect in the mouth. But the wine doesn’t taste as good.

After a little research, I found a good explanation for this. Bronwen Bromberger and Francis Percival wrote an article in “The World of Fine Wine” about successful wine-and-cheese pairing. They quote research from the University of California at Davis revealing that consuming cheese with wine can decrease the perception of astringency because proteins in the cheese bind the tannins in the wine, and the cheese coats the taster’s mouth with fat. The wine then seems soft and lush. While reducing the astringent effect, however, the cheese blunts the perceived aromas and flavors of the wine, resulting in the loss of full enjoyment of it. This is why many wine critics prefer white wines with cheese.

Another technique for reducing tannins is to add some ice cubes to the wine. This blunts the aromatics and flavors as the wine chills, but softens the tannins and reduces the harshness of astringency. The trick is to titrate the ice cubes so as to soften the wine, yet leave it tasting perfect.

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