Wine and Cheese

In the world of gastronomy there may be no other combination as classic or as pleasurable. Indeed, wine and cheese have been enjoyed together for centuries. But now that our markets offer a multitude of wines and cheeses from around the globe, creating the perfect union of flavors may seem a bit daunting.

Good wine and cheese pairings do take some thought, but it doesn’t have to be a complicated task. The important thing to remember is that there are no hard-set rules. Taste is after all, a matter of personal preference. While you might appreciate the delicate, tongue-tickling combination of mountain Gorgonzola with Prosecco, your best friend may relish the explosion of flavors that takes place when Gorgonzola is paired with a big, oaky Sangiovese.

So instead of stringent rules, we’re going to offer some more general guidelines to get you headed in the right direction. To put it simply, when you think about matching cheese and wine, think about harmony. The goal is not to overpower the flavor of one with the other, but to create relationships where cheese and wine bring out the best of each other. They should have a similar intensity. They should strike a balance. And the key to striking that perfect balance lies only in your willingness to experiment and enjoy.

Pairing By Region

One simple way to achieve flavor harmony is to pair wine and cheese according to their geographic area or local region of origin. The thought here is that what grows together, goes together.

Every region has distinct climate and growing conditions that impart particular characteristics to its soil. Known as “terroir” in wine-speak, these characteristics affect not only the soil that the grape vines grow in, but the vegetation that the dairy cows feed on, too. As a result, wines and cheeses of the same region often carry very similar flavor qualities.

There are hundreds of creative possibilities for matching wine and cheese by region. Some very fine examples include:

  • Camembert and Chardonnay (Normandy, France)
  • Manchego and Amontillado Sherry (Spain)
  • Pecorino Toscano and Chianti (Tuscany, Italy)
  • Roquefort and Sauternes (France)

Pairing By Type

Other methods for pairing wine and cheese are more focused on the type or style of cheese you’ll be serving. For starters, a very general adage says that hard cheeses should be paired with red wines, while soft cheeses should be paired whites. This is actually a great place to begin your pairings – since harder cheeses tend to be stronger in flavor, they do need bigger-bodied red wines to stand up to them.

But as with most rules, there are some exceptions to this one. Don’t miss out on a well-aged Gruyere paired with a white Pinot Grigio, or a slice of soft, fresh Mozzarella alongside a glass of fruity red Beaujolais.

A second method for pairing by type is based on the cheese’s source of milk. Following these guidelines, fresh goat’s milk cheeses match well with crisp white wines like Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Sauvignon Blanc. Sheep’s milk cheeses pair up with Zinfandel or Gewurztraminer, and aged cow’s milk cheeses, like Cheddar, go with Sherry. It’s well worth a try!

A Final School of Thought

Select the wine according the style or texture of the cheese.

Blue Cheese: Perhaps the most challenging flavor to match, most blue cheeses pair well with sweet or slightly sweet wines like Sauternes or Port. If you’re in the mood for red, try a Bordeaux or Cabernet Sauvignon, but avoid very dry varietals.

Fresh Cheese: Cheeses like Mozzarella, Montrachet, and Feta are so mild and versatile they pair beautifully with almost all white wines, including Sancerres. As for reds, stick with lighter, fruitier varieties like Beaujolais and Pinot Noir.

Hard or Aged Cheese: Cheddar, Gouda, and Parmesan are the ultimate cheeses to pair with bolder red wines. Experiment with Bordeaux, Cabernet, Chianti, Montepulciano and Zinfandel.

Soft-Ripened Cheese: Luscious cheeses like Brie and Camembert go with everything from light whites (Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris) to fruity reds (Merlot). But Champagne is the preferred pairing here. The bubbles cut right through the cheese’s creaminess, refreshing the palate for every next rich bite.

Classic Pairings

By now you have learned several methods for pairing wine and cheese. As you might imagine, the delicious possibilities are almost endless. Just remember – there are no rights or wrongs, just personal preferences. With more experimenting and taste-testing, you’ll come to learn which combinations work, and which don’t. Consider the list of classic pairings below – they are so harmonious and balanced they have withstood the test of time. And to that we can only say one thing: “Cheers!”

  • Appenzeller and Riesling
  • Brie (especially triple crème) and Champagne
  • Feta and Roditis
  • Goat Cheese and Sauvignon Blanc
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano and Lambrusco
  • Stilton and Port (vintage or tawny)

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