Pairing Off: Grilled Cheese

For a brief moment I regretted this week's pairing. Not only did my first attempt turn into a smoldering slab of charcoal--oozing orange stuff and damn near sending the smoke alarm into a shrieking fit--but the wine experts I consulted gave me a right grilling.

"What cheese," asked Lin Sellman of Goody Goody's Addison store. "What kind of bread? With butter or without butter?"


"But that's the beauty of grilled cheese," Ben Wilemon of Farpointe Cellars in Frisco chimes in. "You pair to the cheese."

For the record, I picked up both mild and medium supermarket cheddar, one dyed hunter's orange, the other a dull white. At the suggestion of Chris Meesey, editor of the Food Czar blog, I bought whole wheat bread--all of it from Kroger's.

But, as Wilemon points out, the very nature of grilled cheese, it's versatility, the options available to inventive home cooks, allows for some wiggle room when it comes to wines. "For sharper cheese, I'd go with a Merlot or Cab," he says. "Lighter cheeses, maybe a Grenache."

Meesey leans in the same direction. "My first thought was Cotes du Rhone," he explains. "Ideally we want something with lots of fruit because, as everyone knows, fruit and cheese are an ideal match for any picnic." Of course, with gray smoke rolling through the flat and neighbors spilling into the courtyard in fear for their lives, the idyllic part was missing. Yet his instinct is right. "Cotes du Rhone, with its backbone of Grenache and Syrah, would be fabulous."

It's also possible to find a fitting white varietal--Pinot Grigio comes to mind. But for my particular "blackened" cheese sandwiches, I went with Sellman's suggestion: Kawel, a South American Malbec ($10).

"It's got a little body and roughly the same fruit character as Pinot Noir," he says. "It's low in tannins and very smooth."

And, indeed, it makes for an entirely functional pairing--nothing eye-popping, just a straightforward exhibition of the manner in which food and wine interact. There's just enough acidity to cut through the orange goo cheese while adding much needed touches of fruit. Against the white tolerable cheese, the fruity character bowed to a nice, mellow, alluvial nuttiness, blending neatly into the, um, toasted wheat bread.

And, as an added bonus, the Malbec carried enough weight to wash away the bitter sting of charred crumbs, leaving in its wake subtle notes of dried fruit and something I could only describe as resin.

Not bad at all.

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