Wine and Cheese
Wine and cheese go together like, well, wine and cheese. It seems as though there are no end to varieties of cheese and varietals of wine. Can pairing wine and cheese be that complicated? Well at times the simple answer to that is yes, but it doesn’t have to be! Just as there are different factors to wine such as acidity, tannins, and body, cheese has its own factors. The good news is that all of these differences lead to easy tricks for pairing and lots of surprising combinations to make your tastebuds dance and impress your guests. These tips and tricks will help turn your home into the go-to spot for perfect pairings.
How to Know What to Pair
So how do you know what to pair? We need to keep in mind the qualities of our wines and cheeses and which ones match to which.
Similar to pairing wine with food, an easy place to start is pairing wine with cheese from the same region. This works mainly with Old World wines, but can still be applied to a fair amount of New World wines by using similar logic as to where the grape first originated. Much of this is due to the climate. This works in most cases and is an easy best beginning.
Age, Depth, and Complexity
Wine and cheese both have a wide range of types, ages, depths, and complexities. The trick is pairing these, and though in many cases, like for like can work, there are plenty of others where opposites can attract. Matching like flavors and complexities in most cases is an easy and no fret way to pair.
Young and soft cheeses with silky textures and creamy body, usually still full of moisture, pair especially well with young and lively wines, full of fruit, good acidity, and spirited aromas. Think Pinot Noir, Beaujolais, and Red Blends for reds, and Unoaked Chardonnay, Viognier, and Champagne for whites.
Old cheeses who’ve aged, losing their moisture in what’s called “affinage”, are full of rich fatty and savory flavor. Old, bold, and rich wines are the ones who can stand up to their richness and in many cases, sharpness. This requires a wine with good tannins, that tacky feeling on your tongue some wines like Cabernets and Syrah give off. These tannins clear fat and protein off the palate, making them perfect for sharp-aged cheeses with plenty of fat and protein to go around. Aged Spanish Tempranillos can have a smokiness to them as well, making them great partners for these cheeses as well.
Salty cheeses, like goat or the various blue cheeses, pair especially well with sweet wines as the saltiness brings out the sweetness even more. Moscato and Sauternes have a reputation for being excellent pairings with these savory heavy hitters.
Cabernet Sauvignon and Aged Cheddar
By far this is one of the easiest and most common wine and cheese pairings and for good reason. Something strong and sharp like cheddar needs a bold and full-bodied wine to stand up to its intense personality. Similar to pairing with a fatty cut of meat like a ribeye, the Cabernet Sauvignon cuts through the fat with its lip-puckering tannins, allowing for a perfect harmony of fat and flavor. What more could you want?
Chardonnay and Fontina D’Aosta
This is one example for Chardonnay, as the world’s second most popular grape (behind Cabernet Sauvignon) is both complicated and controversial in its production. This particular pairing is for a moderately oaked Chard that brings out the nutty flavors of the Fontina. Of course, heavier, lighter, or unoaked can change the pairing you’d want. An easy way to match it up: the heavier the presence of oak, the harder the cheese. A double oaked Chardonnay could hang with aged cheddar, while an unoaked Chablis could fit with a bloomy cheese like brie. Honestly, you could make an entire tasting party of just cheeses and Chardonnays and not go wrong! Blue Cheese is another awesome pairing with Chardonnay.
Pinot Noir and Camembert
Yes, Pinot Noir has a reputation as being one of the most versatile reds to pair with food. This stays true with cheeses but also depends on the origin. A light to medium body Pinot from Burgundy or Oregon State pairs well with a bloomy cheese like Camembert, which brings a creamy body and similar earth tones that can match that of a fine Pinot Noir. Alternatively, a full-bodied Californian Pinot Noir would work with a semi-hard cheese like Munster or Fontina.
Sauvignon Blanc and Goat Cheese
A classic pairing if ever there was one, Sauvignon Blanc’s vibrant acidity and notes of tangy lemon and cool minerality can cut through the earthy funk of goat cheese while also bringing out herbiness and finding body in the creaminess as the cheese melts in your mouth.
Merlot and Gruyère
Merlot is a completely underrated grape that is amazing on its own and is often used in some of the best-blended wines in the world. . You can find them in Bordeaux Blends, especially Right Bank Bordeaux where they make up the majority, and Washington State makes a more full-bodied version. Paired with the buttery and semi-hard Gruyère, Merlot brings out more of the nutty notes while bringing its earthiness and blackberry notes, making for a combination to die for.
Riesling and Teleggio
Not for the faint of heart, yet worth the plunge, Taleggio can be a little stinky but paired next to the off-dry nature of a German, French, or Washington State Riesling, the grassy notes of the cheese fold nicely into sweetness and freshness of Riesling.
Rosé and Feta
There are lots of ways to get this one going, though just taking them both together is just fine. Rosé brings acidity and notes of raspberries and often minerality which cuts through the fattiness of the feta and working side by side with the saltiness to keep your mouth watering. Not to mention the two work perfectly well on a salad, you can have this pairing over and over again!
Pinot Grigio and Parmesan
This pairing is almost too easy. Pinot Grigio’s sharp acidity stands up to the dense and nutty parmesan, giving it a boost with notes of citrus. Try them by themselves or with classic Italian dishes like Shrimp Scampi. Make sure to pour the Pinot Grigio into both your glass and the scampi sauce!
Champagne and Brie
Because why not? Champagne can handle the fat of the brie while taking on the creaminess to add to its toasty flavor and bubbles. Did you know that one of the main grape varietals in Champagne is Chardonnay? True French Champagne isn’t alone in this delicious pairing, as Crémant, Prosecco, and Cava can step right in and get the job done, too.
Syrah and Havarti
Though it can be found by itself in Crozes-Hermitage or the New World, it’s also prevalent in many Cotes du Rhone Blends. Syrah has a body and pepper that can go blow for blow with the sharp and buttery flavor of Havarti. Experiment with Rhone blends and you can have a new experience every time.
Zinfandel and Gouda
Gouda’s rich and firm tang is balanced and perfumed thanks to the jammy nature and full body of Zinfandel. As Zins go forward and age, they add pepper, richer blackberry, vanilla, and blackcurrant notes that stack onto gouda, especially smoked gouda, to give it a robust experience.
Sauternes & Roquefort Cheese
Sauternes is made from Semillion grapes that get a Botrytis (aka Noble Rot), a fungus that shrinks the grapes down, but renders them sweet. The hardest to harvest and the most expensive dessert wines in the world. What better match to our funky friend and his mold-induced decadence? Soulmates. Er. Mold-mates.
Roquefort Cheese is the sheep equivalent of Blue Cheese. It’s even more savory and salty, and THE go-to pairing is Sauternes. The honeyed sweetness compliments perfectly, notes of lemon curd, meringue, apricot preserve, top this salty aged wonder in the best way. Decadence? Of course.
Cheese for gift baskets can feel daunting, but now that we know the tricks, it’s easy to use some of the more popular cheeses and pairings. A basket with Aged Cheddar, Brie, Gruyere, Gouda, Goat Cheese, and Havarti is an easy start to highlight the classics. And something so simple can pair perfectly with the wines in our California Wine Mixer gift basket.
Or go off the beaten path with fun cheeses, like Fontina D’Aosta, Camembert, Burrata, Manchego, Epoisses, Robiola, Taleggio, Stracchino. Pair this with the Wild Child Wines to surprise the adventurous connoisseur in your life.
For the Old World fan in your life, the Passport Collection can match with a set of French and Italian cheeses like Mozzarella, Goat Cheese, Ricotta, Brie, Chambertin, Pecorino, Parmesan, and Gruyère.
When you really want to curate something special, you can even think of a fondue kit, because why stop at just cheese when you can dip everything in it? A fondue kit and our Winemaker’s Favorites gift basket is a match made in heaven.