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Stage Your Own Wine and Cheese Tasting

It's great fun to get a group of friends together and do some wine-pairing research of your own.

What to Taste
I suggest tasting four distinctly different cheeses and four corresponding wines. A good group would include a tangy goat cheese like a French chèvre; a hard, salty cheese like Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano; a nutty cheese like Vella Jack; and a mature, soft-ripening cheese like Brie or Camembert.

For the wines, try a crisp, herbal Sauvignon Blanc; a refreshing sparkler; an earthy red like a Côtes-du-Rhône or Châteaunuf-du-Pape from France; and a powerful red with good tannin.

How to Taste

Each person will need four wineglasses, one for each wine, and a plate for the cheese slices. (So you don't get confused about which cheese is which, position the cheeses uniformly so that, say, the chèvre on each plate is at 12 o'clock, the brie is at 3 o'clock, and so on.) Serve the cheeses at room temperature.

Proceed by taking a sip of the wines, then a bite of one of the cheeses, then another sip of the same wine, noting your reactions. Does the wine make the cheese taste better, does the cheese make the wine better, or are both improved?

Now, staying with the same cheese, try the next wine with it. Go through all four wines and decide which is the best match for the cheese. Then start the whole process again with the next cheese, trying all four wines with it.

I prefer to taste the cheeses by themselves-without bread or crackers, which contribute their own flavors. And because you will be tasting lots of different combinations, it's a good idea to spit out the wines after you sample them. (Plastic drunk cups are great for this purpose.)

Finally, vote on your favorite combinations and enjoy them!

Karen MacNeil is author of The Wine Bible and Wine, Food & Friends, host of the PBS series Wine, Food, and Friends with Karen MacNeil, and chairperson of the Professional Wine Studies Program at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley, California.