Food & Drink: A match made in Auvergne

Drinking Champagne with cheese is a divine indulgence, says Anthony Rose

If matching cheese and Champagne sounds overly self-indulgent, how about a partnership between cheese and Krug? Only the most ascetic of gourmets would turn down an opportunity to put this exclusive Champagne through its paces with a variety of Paxton & Whitfield's finest and smelliest - with Krug's eminence grise, Henri Krug, as master of ceremonies.

Krug, in case you need reminding, is a luxury few can afford. When Krug HQ noticed recently that Dom Perignon was selling for a tiny bit more, instructions were issued to "re-position" Krug Grande Cuvee, now pounds 69.99 (at Oddbins and selected Tesco), above it.

If Krug Grande Cuvee is expensive, it pales in comparison with the two even grander vintages on show: the 1989 (pounds 85), an aromatic, opulently flavoured Champagne which, according to Henri Krug, compares to "a concerto", and the 1989 Clos du Mesnil (pounds 150, both at Harrods and Fortnum's), a subtly stylish Champagne made from Chardonnay grapes grown in the Clos du Mesnil vineyard, which celebrates its 300th anniversary this year.

The notion that wine and cheese go together is probably a throwback to Sixties parties when rubbery cubes of supermarket cheddar were served on sticks with indeterminate wine. There are, of course, matches made, if not in heaven, at least approaching it. Vintage port and Stilton, or Roquefort with Sauternes are such classic combinations they have become gastronomic cliches. The principle that opposites attract, in this case fruit sweetness and salty blue cheese, is the key to discovering similar partnerships.

Less obvious but no less popular, the almost acrid pungency of goat's cheese works brilliantly with aromatic whites with lively acidity such as Sancerre and Pouilly Fume and some of the less assertive New Zealand Sauvignons. On the other hand, subtle red wines, particularly red Bordeaux, are destroyed by most cheeses, especially soft fatties such as Camembert and Brie. Reserva Rioja or mature Chianti Classico work better with hard cheeses such as Comte, Cheddar, Mimolette, or Parmesan.

Back in Jermyn Street, the 15 Paxton & Whitfield cheeses were sub-divided into four taste groups. In the first group, Cheshire, Beaufort, Berkswell (sheep) and Golden Cross (Sussex goat); the sheep and the goat got the better of Krug, while the fruitiness and relatively unfatty texture of the milder Beaufort from Savoie blended harmoniously with all three wines. The absurdly buttery Chanteraine and Boursault in the second group could not be wrested from the palate, but the Chaource, a perky cow's cheese with bite from the Champagne region, chimed perfectly with the bite of the Clos du Mesnil.

Among the group of intensely stinky cheeses that followed - Carre de l'Est, Langres Livarot and Maroilles - it seemed unimaginable that anything could stand up to the smelly Maroilles. In fact, its mild smokiness and pungency contrasted nicely with the full-flavoured fruit of the 1989 vintage. But it was the moderate pungency and slight graininess of the Carre de l'Est which won me over. As for blue cheese, Roquefort is too salty by half. Even Stilton's veins are a little too full-blooded. Fourme d'Ambert, however, a relatively mild but tangily creamy blue-veined animal from the Auvergne, is the answer.

Henri Krug wouldn't like you to take my word for it, though

White of the week

1997 Sauvignon Blanc, San Simeone Friuli, Grave DOC, San Simeone, pounds 4.85, Waitrose. In the crossfire between Loire Valley and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, it is easy to miss other cool-climate regions that achieve good quality, excellent value Sauvignon Blanc. From Grave del Friuli, in north- east Italy, this grassy dry white with grapefruit and gooseberry nuances is streaked with Alpine zing.

Red of the week

1996 Sutter Home Napa Gamay, End of the Vine, Napa Valley, pounds 6.99, Safeway. An unusual and delicious surprise. The Gamay in question is not the Gamay of Beaujolais fame but almost certainly Napa Gamay, aka the little-known south-western French Valdiguie. Made from 100-year-old bush vines, now sadly uprooted, it is a smoky, richly concentrated red full of blackberry and damson plum fruitiness. So farewell then ...

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