Pairing Wine with Cheese

Making a pleasing pairing between wine and cheese can be more of a challenge than it might seem. In Italy alone there are some 400 types of cheeses, with every other country having almost as wide a variety. The type of cheese (fresh, soft, hard), the type of milk it is made from (sheep, cow, buffalo or goat), the age of the cheese, its fat percentage and the processing specifics all will impact its intensity of flavor, texture and most importantly, its acidity, sweetness level and fat content. These factors will influence the success of any wine pairing with a specific cheese.

To simplify the process, think of the progression of a meal and how it is ordered to show each course at its best. The two guidelines in particular that will help you are: light before full and young before old.

Youthful, fresh cheeses would pair nicely with a crisp, vibrant wine with good acidity, either white or red. Consider Chenin blanc, Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, white Bordeaux and other similarly-styled whites.

Bloom (often called “Bloomy”) Rind Cheeses—those with soft rinds, such as Brie—work with rich whites such as Champagne, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Marsanne/Roussanne and fruity reds; Grenache/Garnacha, Pinot Noir and Gamay/Beaujolais.

Washed rind cheeses, including Taleggio, Epoisses, and others washed in brine (salt water), would pair well with the fullest whites and rich reds. They also compliment sweeter whites.

Serve creamy cheeses with richer sparklers and fuller white wines. Firm and harder cheeses would pair with a bold red wine.

More mature semi-hard cheeses are delightful with full-bodied whites and medium to full bodied reds. The firmer cheeses need a bolder wine to stand up to their concentrated flavors.

Hard cheeses are aged to remove their water. Rich and intense reds will pair well with these flavorful cheeses.

Bleu cheeses are rich in aroma and flavor. They pair well with dessert wines and flavorful reds with balanced tannins.

Wine and cheese pairing tips:

Pair similar characteristics in both wine and cheese.
Champagnes and rich sparkling wines pair well with double and triple crèmes.
If in doubt, Riesling is an extremely flexible wine to pair with a diverse selection of cheeses.

Consider marrying wine and cheese combinations from the same country and region, remembering the pairing basics.

Fruity whites and reds pair best with cheeses. Salt helps accentuates the wine’s fruit.
Oaky and highly tannic reds become more astringent with an abundant salt and umami (savory) character in many cheeses.

Salty and blue cheeses pair well with many dessert wines (the saltier the cheese the sweeter the wine).

A top-quality cheesemonger that deals in wine and cheese is a good pairing resource.
Extremely ripe or aged cheeses can be a challenge to any wine, especially if they are ammoniated (overripe to the point of developing an ammonia smell).

If in doubt, try the combination before serving. A cheese’s minor acidity and sweetness variations can make or break a pairing.

Classic pairings

Champagnes and sparkling wines with rich, buttery, creamy cheeses.

Sauvignon Blanc and goat cheeses (Chevres).

Porto, Madiera and Sauternes/botrytised wines with Bleu and Stilton Cheeses.

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