Wine and Cheese Are Natural Pairs, But…
Many of our guests are intimidated trying to pick the “right” wine for their cheese. But there’s really no reason to be. First, there are no rules. It really depends on your personal likes and dislikes. Second, it’s all about experimenting to find what you like—a good excuse to buy more wine and cheese!
While there are no rules, here are some guidelines to help you in your experimenting. And keep in mind the goal of a good pairing is to make two things that taste good on their own, taste even better when consumed together.
1. MATCH INTENSITIES TO CREATE BALANCE
- You want to avoid pairings where the cheese or the wine overpowers the other one. For instance, a big heavy red wine would overwhelm a fresh young cheese. The cheese would just get lost so the pairing hasn’t made the two better.
- Instead, you want to pair a light, young cheese with light wines such as Rieslings, Pinot Gris, or Pinot Noirs.
- On the other end of the spectrum, consider a hard Parmigiano-Reggiano, or a Manchego? You remember how those cheeses left a glistening film on your fingers and lips? And how they filled your mouth with flavor rather than cutting through to the back of your mouth with clean crispness? Well, that’s fat content! And any full-flavored fatty cheese, like washed rinds or sheep’s milk cheeses, needs a medium- to full-bodied wine like a Rhone or a new world Cabernet Sauvignon.
2. LOOK FOR COMMON CHARACTERISTICS – LIKES WITH LIKES
- One approach is to find a flavor in the cheese and then find a wine that also has that flavor. Pairing the two will elevate that flavor.
- A good example is pairing a sweet aged Gouda with a lightly sweet wine.
3. PLAY UP CONTRAST
- Another approach is to pair contrasting flavors. That sometimes creates an altogether new flavor.
- A classic contrasting pairing is sweet and salty.
- Consider pairing lightly sweet wine with a salty cheese, like Blue Cheese
4. WHAT GROWS TOGETHER, GOES TOGETHER
- You know that the growing conditions where a wine is made can impart particular flavors (called “terroir”) to a region’s wines. The same is true with cheese. The cheese’s flavor is affected by the vegetation the animals graze on.
- So if a wine and cheese are made from the same region, there’s a better chance they will share common flavor characteristics.
- A good example is matching a Spanish Manchego with a Spanish Rioja.
- Washed rinds are a great one for this as well because they are often washed in local wine.
- This doesn’t always work, but it can be a good starting place.
5. ORDER IS EVERYTHING
- If you are going to do multiple pairings at a dinner or an event, order the tastes from lightest mouthfeel and lowest alcohol content, to heaviest mouthfeel and highest alcohol content. In other words, begin with the lightest and work your way to the heaviest and most complex.
6. HAVE FUN
- Remember, these are just guidelines. At the end of the day, we encourage you to just wing it and start experimenting to see what pairings make your palate happy.
- And remember, even a bad pairing can be educational.
A FEW OTHER THOUGHTS:
- Think bubbly. When you aren’t sure what to choose, go with Champagne. It goes with almost everything.
- Don’t limit yourself to wine. We are at ground zero for craft beer here in Colorado, and there are great pairings there. We address that in a separate post. And don’t forget craft ciders. Again, experimentation is your best guide. Taste and have fun.
- Ask us! We used to make wine professionally, as well as being professional cheesemakers. And cheese and we’ve certainly consumed our fair share of both. We’ll be happy to give you a recommendation based on our past experimentation.
Some Suggested Pairings for Various Cheese Styles
Fresh and Soft Cheeses. These cheeses pair very well with crisp white and dry rose wines as well as sparkling wines. Just avoid big, tannic red wines as they will overpower the cheese. Our favorite pairing in this category is a fresh, lemony chevre with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc.
Cheeses: Chevre, Mozzarella, Ricotta, Feta,
Wines: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chablis, Un-Oaked Chardonnay, Sancerre, Lambrusco, Champagne
Creamy, Bloomy Rind Cheeses. These rich, buttery cheeses pair well with rich white wines or low tannin fruity red wines. Champagne is also great because the effervescence cuts through the richness of the cheese.
Cheeses: Brie, Camembert, Triple Cremes
Wines: American Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, French Beaujolais, Côtes du Rhône. Champagne!
Semi-Hard, Medium-Aged Cheeses. These well-balanced cheeses have a firmer texture and stronger flavors, but they go with the widest variety of wines. They want medium-bodied whites or fruity reds. Just don’t go too big!
Cheeses: Challerhocker, Appenzeller, Comte, Gruyere, Havarti, Young Cheddar
Wines: Chardonnay, white and red Burgundy, Viognier, Rose, Rioja, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Merlot, Beaujolais, vintage Port, young Tawny Port.
Hard Cheeses. These cheeses have been allowed to develop deep flavors as they’ve matured and so they want full-bodied whites and tannic reds that can match their intensity. They all have a bit of sweetness, some more than others (Aged Gouda) and some have a slightly saltier taste (Parm). Both pair with a sweeter wine.
Cheeses: Parmigiano-Reggiano, Aged Gouda, Clothbound Cheddar,
Wines: Chardonnay, Aged white Burgundy or Bordeaux, white Rhone blends, Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot, sparkling whites and reds, vintage Port, Muscat, Sherry.
Washed Rind Cheeses. The trick with these cheese is to find a wine that complements rather than competes with these strong flavored cheeses. We find the best matches are a rich, aromatic/fragrant whites or something with some sweetness. If you want to go red, try a medium-bodied red. A fortified wine can also work. (Beer is probably the best match at the end of the day.)
Cheeses: Taleggio, Epoisses, Pont L’Eveque
Wines: Gewurztraminer, Riesling, White Burgundy, Sauternes, Sparkling Red, Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Muscat, Port, Tokaj.
Blue Cheeses. Blue cheeses require a wine that is not only a little sweet but which also has some “oomph”. This is to help balance and complement the saltiness which the cheese brings to the table. We generally avoid pairing Blue Cheese with red wines. These creamy, pungent, salty cheeses tend to make red wine taste excessively bitter. A classic wine pairing is Stilton with Port because the strength of the cheese can hold its own against the sweetness and high alcohol content of the wine.
Cheeses: Stilton, Gorgonzola, Roquefort, West West Blue
Wines: Sauternes, late harvest Riesling, Port, Sparking wines
Some Suggested Pairings for Various Wine Styles
Light bodied whites like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, and dry Alsatian or German whites: Pair these wines with goat cheeses and fresh cheeses.
Medium-bodied whites and dessert wines like Chardonnay, Sauternes, or Muscato: Pair these sweet, ‘stickier’ wines with goat cheese, alpine cheeses, aged Goudas and blue cheese.
Medium reds like Pinot Noir, Rioja, Syrah, Grenache, and Tempranillo: Pair these acidic reds with cheddar, younger Goudas and washed rind cheeses.
Jammy Reds such as Malbec, Zinfandel, Barolo, or Chianti: These ultra-fruity reds go well with sheep’s milk cheese, hard cheeses, and blues.
Bold Tannic Reds like American or traditional French Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Australian Shiraz: These guys pair fabulously with full-flavored mixed milk cheeses and sheep milk cheese.