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 fourcorresponding wines. A good group would include a tangy goat cheeselike a French chèvre; a hard, salty cheese like ItalianParmigiano-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 refreshingsparkler; an earthy red like a Côtes-du-Rhône orChâteaunuf-du-Pape from France; and a powerful red with goodtannin.
How to Taste
Each person will need four wineglasses, one for each wine, and aplate for the cheese slices. (So you don't get confused about whichcheese is which, position the cheeses uniformly so that, say, thechèvre on each plate is at 12 o'clock, the brie is at 3o'clock, and so on.) Serve the cheeses at room temperature.
Proceed by taking a sip of the wines, then a bite of one of thecheeses, then another sip of the same wine, noting your reactions.Does the wine make the cheese taste better, does the cheese makethe wine better, or are both improved?
Now, staying with the same cheese, try the next wine with it. Gothrough all four wines and decide which is the best match for thecheese. 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 orcrackers, which contribute their own flavors. And because you willbe tasting lots of different combinations, it's a good idea to spitout the wines after you sample them. (Plastic drunk cups are greatfor 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 chairpersonof the Professional Wine Studies Program at the Culinary Instituteof America in Napa Valley, California.