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Pairing Off: Supermarket Cheese

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Each week, Pairing Off attempts to find just the right bottle of wine to go with ordinary food.

There's no real shame in picking up a brick of Colby, Monterey Jack or one of those so called "Swiss" cheeses you find on grocery shelves--not really. You can't make it to Scardello every day and those in-laws from Arkansas are fond of that orange stuff from Walmart.

Besides, shopping for inexpensive brands at the local grocer is relatively hassle-free. The blocks of Cheddar, Swiss and Monterey Jack I picked up for around $3 each from a supercenter all taste about the same.

Oh, the Jack showed some milky characteristics and the large, extremely cheap Swiss--the holes were more like dents--shared a flavor profile with tainted water. But even the Cheddar had a tang similar to the others.

Should make for an easy wine pairing, right?

Yes, in fact.

The wine guy at Majestic settled on Pinot Noir--a 2006 from Ventisquero in Chile, which presents a medley of fruit on the nose with some hints of fennel and a soft waft of something similar to strawberry parfait, yet tastes remarkably distinct from these aromatic clues. Each sip reveals a strong presence of tobacco and oak, backed up by more gentle flavors: vanilla, grass and tannins.

When savored with the cheese, something even more intriguing occurs. For instance, the Monterey Jack takes this wine and turns it into a stunning, velvety chocolate and cream excursion, rounded by notes akin to overripe plum, balsa wood and--if you can believe it--bacon. Cheddar finds some chocolate, but more of the pipe tobacco flavor while the wine imparts a tint of smoke to the cheese.

This is a rather dramatic shift.

It's a versatile wine and one of the best pairings thus far in our series. Only the so-called Swiss fails to draw out chocolate notes, instead sifting through the Pinot's fruitier side--and even that felt right.

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