December is THE time for getting together with friends, hosting and toasting.
We're always making wine pairing recommendations and one of the areas we've built up some of our best knowledge in is cheese. So we thought we'd put together a mini guide if you were planning to have some friends over for an evening of cheese and wine, including some of our favourite pairings.
Getting the night started
Having recently celebrated our very own 20th birthday bash, we've been wrapped up in party prep land of late, so it's safe to say we've picked up a few tips and tricks along the way.
From the guest list to the playlist, planning a party can be a lot of fun, but also stressful when your to-do list is a long as your arm. For us, part of the excitement of hosting is thinking about what we’re going to drink – it’s why we love working in this industry after all.
Getting the right fizz sets the tone for the evening, but knowing your guests can be key. Some may not enjoy the riper, sweeter fruits in Prosecco or may find certain Champagnes a bit too toasty. So a safe bet is always to land somewhere in the middle. Cremant does that perfectly for me and Cava is also a great option. A glass of fizz on arrival with some nibbles or canapés is the perfect way to start any celebration.
The great news is that you can find some fantastic value for money bottles out there. I love the Bocchoris Cava, with its richer, creamier feel and crunchy green apples. The Domaine Landreau Cremant de Loire is an excellent traditional method sparkling wine, bursting with fresh citrus, a touch of toasted hazelnuts and refreshing bubbles. It's a real crowd pleaser and also a lovely wine to pair with some of the softer cheeseboard classics - such as an ash-rinded goat's cheese or a Camembert.
Choosing the wines
When it comes to choosing wines for a get-together, it's best to go for the crowd pleasers. I'd recommend avoiding any whites which might have a little residual sugar or too much oak and reds which are really light or with big tannins - unless of course you know exactly what your friends like to drink.
I get asked a lot about how best to serve wine too and whilst it can be tempting to over chill your whites it can sometime dull the wine so my advise here is don't over chill. Oh, and don't serve your reds too warm either - if they’re great wine let them show their character! Which brings us nicely on to my next tip - glassware! A glass of fizz on arrival is always a treat and the perfect way to start an evening, allowing people to settle in and catch up (always in the kitchen - no matter how big or small)
Here are a few suggestions for the best party wines that will work well across the board:
Spritzy, refreshing Vinho Verde full of light citrus fruit and lemongrass with a clean, mineral finish.
The perfect Sauvignon Blanc alternative, with beautiful lemon/lime, ripe pear and apple fruit and mouth-watering acidity.
Simple, fresh fruity Malbec - lots of intense plum and cherry aromas, soft and juicy on the palate.
Intense red and black cherry jump out at you with a velvety texture and rich, soft tannins.
And now for the cheese
We may have gone overboard here with the number of cheeses on the list. But having recently put on a fair few tasting events with our friends from The Wintertarn Dairy and Chorlton Cheesemongers, we were struggling to cut any out. Besides you can never have too much cheese around Christmas time right? As ever, we've put our favourite wine pairing for each in there too!
Cheddar - Montgomery's
So, I don't think you can have a complete cheeseboard without a good quality cheddar and there are loads out there. I've waxed lyrical about Montgomery's cheddar before and for me it simply has to go on the table. I promise you, it's worth hunting down and any reputable cheesemonger will have it amongst their selection. You can find it at both the Wintertarn Dairy in Altrincham and Chorlton Cheesemongers if you're in the Manchester area. It's made by Jamie Montgomery who is the third generation of the family to keep the farm in South Somerset. Rich and savoury, it almost melts in the mouth.
Mature - Lincolshire Poacher
I tried this last Thursday and wow - I was blown away. Simon Jones (the fourth generation of his family to make Lincolnshire Poacher cheese) and his herd of Holstein Friesian Cows are committed to making the very best cheese they can. The Poacher is aged for around 16 months before its release. Simon also makes a vintage with an extra 4/8 months of ageing. It's creamy and rich, and as you get closer to the rind the flavours amp up and the nutty character really shines through. Try this one with a Cab Sauv.
Sheep's - English Pecorino
I wasn't sure whether to include this or not, as it is notoriously difficult to get hold of. But the White Lakes Dairy English Pecorino is an utter stunner. A creamy textured, semi hard cheese with a subtle nuttiness and a flavour that just goes on and on after you've eaten it. I'd pair this with the lovely, youthful, fruit forward Mencia from Bodegas Adria. It'll go down a treat.
Blue - Colston Basset Stilton
Stilton can only be made in Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire or Leicestershire. It's regulated and protected - whilst sadly the same can't be said for other cheeses, such as cheddar.
One of only 6 producers of Stilton in the world, Colston Basset Dairy has been going for well over 100 years and is widely regarded as one of the world's best blue cheeses. It's unctuous and slightly sweeter than other blues, with a lovely, soft buttery texture. Perfect with a ruby port - we love Niepoort's range and their Ruby Dum is a cracking match here.
Soft - Gubbeen
A truly unique cheese from county Cork in Ireland. There is an organism native to the Gubbeen farm which influences the flavour and isn't found anywhere else in the world, believe it or not.
Gina comes from a Spanish cheesemaking background and her husband Tom is the sixth generation of his family to farm at Gubbeen. The cheese itself is semi soft with quite an intense flavour, a slightly meaty character and wonderful depth. A Chardonnay would be great here or if you're feeling a little more adventurous, the Vincenzo Orange Wine with its quincy flavours, pithy texture and nutty finish would work a treat.