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Interview with a Wine Guy: A Little Wine with My Cheese


Published August 5, 2010 at 2:31 p.m.

The cheese-and-wine party is a classic: Invite a group of people over to your house, buy plenty of wine and cheese, and a good evening is surely in store. But how do you make sure that your wines and cheeses match? I figured Charles Alexander, one of the men behind Cheese Traders and Wine Sellers, would have an answer.

Alexander and his business partner, Robert Bochoven, have owned Cheese Traders for three and a half years. Alexander is the principle wine buyer, a 1993 NECI graduate, and a former professional baker. For seven years, he had a wholesale baking company called Catamount Cookies. After he sold his cookie company, Alexander decided to try his hand at another business, and soon he was buying wine for Cheese Traders.

Seven Days: How do you create a good wine and cheese pairing?

Charles Alexander: Knowing the components of both. A wine with a certain amount of acid is going to require a certain type of cheese. A hard, aged cheese, for example, would be paired with a robust, full-bodied red wine. The components in the wine and the cheese blend well together. Opposites come together and match. That just the way it works.

S.D.: If someone doesn’t really know that much about the components of wine and cheese, what would you recommend they do to figure out a pairing?

C.A.: Try it. Talking to someone first, and then trying [what they suggest] is always the best way to learn. Just like the best way we learn about wines is by trying them. Go to your local wine store and speak with your local wine merchants. They can be helpful.

S.D.: Why do you think that wine and cheese are such a classic pairing?

C.A.: It has to do a lot with tradition and, again, they match well together.  You know, why does a glass of milk go so well with peanut butter and jelly? It just works. Or chocolate chip cookies and a glass of milk. A biscotti and an espresso. It has a long history.

S.D.: What would you say is your favorite wine and cheese pairing?

C.A.: If I had to pick one, I would say a blue cheese and Sauternes. Or, if I had to go another way, I would pick a port wine — any vintage port — with chocolate.

S.D.: What are some of the most difficult aspects of supplying a wine store?

C.A.: Making the right decision. Buying the right wines for the store. It is one of the most important things, because if you make bad purchases, then you lose customers ... Not every choice you make is good, but if you do some homework and you are familiar with the wines and the producers, then you are more likely to make a good decision. But occasionally, especially with new items ... Well, you can always put [something] on sale.

S.D.: Is there anything else you think people should know about wine-and-cheese pairing?

C.A.: The rules aren’t etched in stone. However, in general, white wines pair better than red wines with younger cheeses, with softer cheeses, [and with] fresh cheeses ... For example, fresh mozzarella or a Swedish farmer's cheese. You can have them with red wine, absolutely, particularly with a Camembert or brie, but some of your white wines will be more commonly used. The chemical components in each item blend together better. Red wines, on the other hand, do pair a little better with many of your harder, aged cheeses, although ... I cannot give you a chemical or technical explanation for it. It is just from my personal experience.