Wine and cheese go together like, well, wine and cheese. In fact, the two are such a natural pair that very few people put any more thought in to it than that. We get a lot of people asking us to choose a wine that will go well with cheese. Alas, the question runs a little deeper when you‘re looking for the perfect union of textures and tastes.
It‘s a commonly held notion that, in general, red wines pair best with cheese. However ask wine and cheese experts for the most cheese friendly wines and the vast majority will rattle off a list of white grapes. Among the reasons for this is that red wines have more tannin ─ the compounds that give wine structure but can also come across as bitter tasting or harsh feeling in your mouth. This sharpness is difficult to offset unless you are serving hard cheese with lots of butterfat.
As with most things relating to wine, tasting and experimentation are the best ways to identify what works for you and what doesn’t. Here are some general strategies to follow to start you on your way to wine and cheese bliss:
- If you’re cheese assortment is particularly varied, look for un-oaked white wines with fresh acidity such as Sauvignon Blanc, Albarino and lighter style Riesling. If you’d rather have red, look for lighter reds with low tannins such as Beaujolais, Barbera and Grenache.
- Consider countries and regions when pairing; French Chavignol Goat Cheese pairs well with Sancerre, a Sauvignon Blanc from France’s Loire Valley. Italian Gorgonzola matches nicely with Barolo, a red wine made from the Nebbiolo grape grown in the northern region of Piedmont in Italy.
- Use body as a guide. Lighter, younger cheeses such as fresh goat cheese or burrata pair best with lighter bodied wines for example Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Pinot Gris. Heavier cheeses such as cheddar or Gouda work better with a rich, full bodied Chardonnay or even a bold Cabernet Sauvignon with sharper cheddars.
- Flavor intensity can also be a cue. Stinky cheeses generally pair nicely with fragrant, earthy wines such as Red Burgundy or the less fruit forward examples of California or Oregon Pinot Noir. For whites, intensely aromatic Gewurztraminer is a good bet. Cheeses with less intense flavors such as Ricotta or Mozzarella are a better match with more subtle wines including Pinot Grigio, Vin Gris Rose and Dolcetto.
- Salty and sweet is not just for chocolate covered pretzels. Salty blue cheeses are a heavenly match with sweet wines such as Port or Sauternes. If you’d rather pair blue cheeses with dry wine go for reds with a lot of forward fruit such as California Merlot or Zinfandel or “grapey white wines like Muscat or Pinot Blanc.
There are so many combinations that these guidelines only begin to cover the options. So pour yourself a glass of Champagne, spread some triple cream cheese on a water cracker and ponder the possibilities.