I've always found wine and cheese pairing generalizations a little tricky, because there are always exceptions to the rule. But sherry, my goodness, what a different story. I can generalize away with sherry! And the first statement I'll make? Almost all of it is good with any kind of cheese! (For more specifics, though, read on.)
I tend to stay away from talking too much about specific wine and cheese pairings here. Because although I love the subject and have participated in numerous tastings, I find it subjective and often hard to translate effectively if the pairing is reliant on specific wines and cheeses that might be tricky to source. I've talked in general terms about what to keep in mind when pairing wine and cheese, and I've discussed why they're such a satisfying duo, but that's about the extent of it — until now. Sherry and cheese — let me tell you all about it.
I remember well a class I once attended: a round-robin pairing of seven sherryies with seven cheeses. I made the conclusion long before I finished my flight of wines (thus upholding my credibility) that each and every cheese went well with each sherry. It was startling.
For a great primer on sherry, read Mary's column on Why Sherry Is So Extraordinary.
I'm not sure just why sherry makes such a profoundly successful pairing partner to cheese. It may be due partly to the fact that sherry is a fortified wine, meaning that it's enriched with a neutral alcohol, which increases its alcohol level and intensifies its flavor, which make for a greater ability to stand up to the fattiness of a cheese. When you consider just how many different types of sherry fall under one umbrella — from manzanilla, characteristically dry and nearly briny, to Pedro Ximenez, which is syrupy sweet, with a concentrated raisin-like flavor — it's almost confounding just how versatile they are next to cheese.
Lucky is the person, I believe, who falls in love with sherry. Sherry is layered and complex, with rich flavors that make you think. It makes for an excellent pre- or post-dinner drink, and is so great next to dessert, too. And they're equally at home with all styles of cheese, from fresh cheeses and lightly aged goats to washed rinds and blues. Who can help but be a believer?
Some suggestions for styles of sherry to match with cheese:
Manzanilla Sherry: Bone dry, crisp, nearly bitter, with mineral notes. Lighter in style.
Cheese: Monte Enebro, Brillat Savarin, Garrotxa, Crottin de Chavignol
Fino Sherry: Also lighter in style. Salty, olive-y, oxidized, and nutty.
Cheese: Manchego, Parmigiano Reggiano, Pecorino Ginepro
Dry Oloroso Sherry: Almondy and oxidized, with notes of burnt sugar
Cheese: Fontina, Comte, Epoisses, Queso de la Serena, Serra de Estrella
Sweet Oloroso Sherry: Caramelized and sweet with notes of honey, not syrupy
Cheese: Meadowcreek Dairy Grayson, Mahon, Appenzeller, Cowgirl Creamery Redhawk
Pedro Ximenez: Rich and syrupy, with concentrated dark fruit flavors like grapes, figs, dates, and plums
Cheese: Blues, blues, blues. Can also match well with triple creme cheeses and aged goudas.
Remember, these are just suggestions! Sherrys are notoriously affordable, and last weeks longer than wine, so pick up a couple of bottles at once, educate your palate with some cheese pairings, and share with us any matches that are worth being married!
Nora Singley is an avid lover of cheese, and for some time she was a cheesemonger and the Director of Education at Murray's Cheese Shop in New York City, where she continues to teach cheese classes for the public. She is currently an assistant TV chef on The Martha Stewart Show.
Related: Recipe: Sherry Vinaigrette
(Images: Tio Pepe; Faith Durand)