After my recent visit to the Jura I’ve rethought my ideas about which wines make the best wine pairings for Comté cheese.
We were guided through a tasting by flavour analyst Claire Perrot who suggested a couple of matches I wouldn’t have thought of - Champagne and Alsace Pinot Noir.
Comté is France’s most popular AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) cheese by a significant margin selling about twice as much as its nearest rival Roquefort.
It’s a cooked pressed Gruyère style cheese which in fact used to be referred to as Gruyère de Comté. Individual wheels vary hugely though I found them in general more caramelly, nuttier and slightly less salty than Gruyère but less fruity than Beaufort though there will obviously be differences between winter and summer cheeses - summer cheeses being fuller-flavoured than winter ones.
The French tend to eat Comté fairly young which makes it an unchallenging partner to a wide range of wines including reds. Once it’s older, nuttier and more intense you may want to veer towards whites or some of the other suggestions below:
Local dry Arbois whites
The classic local terroir-based match. Most of the ones I tasted were a blend of Chardonnay and the local Savignin grape which gives the wines a nutty, slightly earthy, mineral character which chimes in perfectly with the cheese. I suspect old Muscadet, which I've been tasting recently, would work well too.
Arbois’ distinctive sherry-style white is a fantastic match for older Comtés. And on that basis . . .
Amontillado and palo cortado being the two wines recommended by the Comté website although since I’ve successfully paired dry oloroso with Gruyère I suspect it would work well with Comté too. (Sherry is more sympathetic to Comté than port, I think.)
The big surprise. I tasted a biodynamic Champagne from Lassaigne, les Vignes de Montgueux, which was just delicious with a 15 month old winter Comté. Vintage Champagne I suspect would be fantastic with older Comtés still.
Aged or minerally Chardonnays
On the basis that Arbois wines containing Chardonnay work well others should too, particularly mature Chablis and other mature Chardonnays such as this one from Kistler that struck gold with a 56 month Comté. You wouldn’t want the oak influence to be too pronounced though.
Old white Bordeaux - an 18 year old Domaine de Chevalier Pessac-Léognan was stunning with both 2 and 4 year old Comtés at a tasting I did with affineur Bernard Antony three years ago.
Alsace Pinot Noir
I may be able to comment more on this when I return from Alsace at the end of next week but I really liked a 5 year old 2006 Schueller Pinot Noir with a fresh, milky six month old Comté. Older burgundies, German and Austrian Pinots should pair well too.
Mature - and immature but not overoaked - Languedoc reds . . .
A surprise perhaps but I’ve drunk Languedoc Syrah - young and old - successfully with youngish Comté.
. . . and mature Spanish reds
I've had striking success with a 9 month old Comté and an 8 year old Navarra red from Chivite. Mature Rioja reservas and gran reservas of course, should work too.
So a number of different possibilities which indicates that Comté is a pretty easy-going cheese which earns its place on a cheeseboard. The common factor in the most successful pairings however seems to be age. Mature wines seem to work particularly well. The wines I’d hesitate to pair with it are high alcohol new world reds with a lot of jammy fruit and intensely herbaceous whites like New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc which I don’t think would work as well. I don’t think rosé does Comté many favours either.
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