Cheers to Cheese! The Ultimate Guide to Wine and Cheese Pairing
There’s an undeniable allure in the perfect pairing of cheese and wine. A soft, creamy Brie meeting the red berry fruitiness of a pinot noir or an eye-wateringly strong stilton coming together with a rich, sweet port can be magic. Cheese and wine pairing is an art form; when you find the perfect match, it can be heaven!
But finding that perfect match can be daunting! Gorgonzola or Gouda? Merlot or Malbec? Riesling and Roquefort?
If you’re new to the game and don’t know where to start, here’s a comprehensive guide on how to pair wine with cheese. In our guide, we help you navigate the world of corks and curds, with a few tips and tricks along the way.
So, let’s uncork, unwind, and dive into the enchanting world of cheese and wine pairing.
How do you Pair Wine with Cheese?
Pairing cheese and wine may be an art form. When you visit a winery, wine bar or any other place to drink wine, you can usually rest at ease knowing that the hard work of matching wine with the perfect cheese has been done for you by the expert staff. But if you it’s up to you to find the perfect match, fear not because the perfect pairing will ultimately depend on your taste. However, there are a few rules to follow that will help you find the right symphony of flavours.
Consider the Intensity
Think about the intensity of both the cheese and wine. A robust red wine will completely overpower a light mozzarella, while a strong blue cheese won’t be a great partner for a zesty sauvignon blanc. Milder cheeses like goat cheese or fresh mozzarella pair well with lighter wines like pinot grigio. In contrast, more pungent cheeses, like blue cheese or gorgonzola, can stand up to the complexity of a robust red wine like cabernet sauvignon.
Think about Texture
Creamy cheeses like Brie or Camembert find a perfect partner in Champagne or sparkling wines as the effervescence helps cut through the richness of the cheese. Pair harder, aged cheeses like parmesan with full-bodied red wines; the density of the cheese stands up to the boldness of the wine.
Complement or Contrast:
If you want to try a complementary pairing, match the intensity and flavours of the cheese with those in the wine. A bold red wine like tempranillo pairs wonderfully with a robust aged Cheddar. For contrast pairings, balance is essential. Pair a creamy, mild cheese with a crisp, acidic white wine to create a mouthwatering contrast.
You can’t go wrong with pairing cheeses and wines from the same region. If they grow together, they go together! Think a French Brie and a Burgundy Pinot Noir or an Italian parmesan and a Tuscan Chianti.
Sweet and Salty Balance
The age-old adage of opposites attract runs the same for cheese and wine! Sweet wines, such as dessert wines or ports, complement the saltiness of aged cheeses. A sweet Sauternes will pair beautifully with a salty stilton.
Bubbles go with everything!
Sparkling wines like Champagne or prosecco, are wonderfully versatile and make the perfect partner for a wide range of cheeses.
Finally, trust your taste preferences. If you enjoy a particular combination, that’s what matters most!
Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of which cheeses to pair with which wines.
How to Match Cheese with Wine?
There are many mouthwatering combinations of cheese and wine that you can experiment with, but let’s look at a few standard combinations that have stood the test of time.
Hard cheeses generally have concentrated, robust flavours and have a sharp or salty taste. The key is to find wines that can complement or contrast with the intensity and characteristics of the cheese. Cabernet Sauvignon is an excellent match for aged Cheddar, Gouda, or parmesan, as the wine’s robust tannins contrast the rich, nutty flavours of the cheese.
On the flip side, a full-bodied, oaked chardonnay will complement the buttery and slightly sweet nuances of hard cheeses like aged Gouda or Asiago.
Other good hard cheese pairings include:
- Merlot and Gruyère or Emmental
- Syrah and aged Gouda or Pecorino Romano
- Zinfandel and aged jack or manchego
- Rioja and manchego or pecorino
- Malbec and aged Gouda or Grana Padano
Soft cheeses are known for their creamy, velvety consistency and mild flavours. They range from mild and milky, like mozzarella and ricotta, to complex and earthy, like Camembert or Brie. Soft cheeses are incredibly versatile and are the perfect canvas for a range of wines.
Champagne or sparkling wine complements any of the soft cheeses. The effervescence contrasts the creaminess of soft cheeses, and the bubbles cleanse the palate. Mild soft cheeses like goat cheese or Brie are even more delicious when served with a crisp Riesling or rosé.
Other good wines to pair with soft cheeses include:
- Pinot Grigio
- Pinot Noir
- Sweet dessert wines like Sauternes or late-harvest Riesling
Marbled with veins, incredibly complex, and gloriously pungent, blue cheeses are the Big Daddy of the cheese family. Known for the distinctive blue or green veins running through its creamy interior, blue cheese results from introducing specific mould cultures during the cheese-making process. The veins of mould create a sharp and tangy taste that ranges from mildly piquant to intensely robust, depending on the variety and aging process.
Blue cheeses can be crumbly or creamy, and they often boast a rich, buttery texture that melts in the mouth. Think Roquefort, gorgonzola, and stilton. These bold and piquant cheeses are best paired with wines that complement the robust characteristics of the cheese. Port and any blue cheese are a classic combination.
Other wines that work well with intense blues include:
- Late-Harvest Riesling
- Syrah / Shiraz
- Champagne or sparkling wine
Washed Rind Cheeses:
Washed rind cheeses have a distinctive bright orange or pinkish hard rind and a soft creamy centre. These cheeses are washed with beer, wine, or brine during the cheese-making process, encouraging bacteria to form the colourful rind. Varieties like Limburger, Taleggio, and Epoisses have an intense aroma and robust, savoury flavours and can be an acquired taste. Other washed rind cheeses include Munster, Vacherin, and Stinking Bishop (the name says it all!).
Good wines to pair with these unique cheeses include:
- Alsatian Whites (gewürztraminer, pinot gris)
- Pinot Noir
- Champagne or prosecco
- Cabernet Franc
Top Tips for Cheese and Wine Pairing
Now that you have a good idea of what to pair together, here are a few top tips to remember to pair like a pro:
- Always serve the cheese at room temperature.
- Start with the lighter, milder cheese and move towards the more mature or pungent cheeses and heavier wines.
- Wine – cheese – wine. Taste the wine by itself first, then eat a small piece of cheese and drink the wine with it. Your taste buds will either cry or sing.
- Refresh your palate with a palate cleanser like plain crackers before the next pairing.
From classic couplings to experimental blends, there are many delicious ways to enjoy these two delights. But, as with anything, practice makes perfect! So, head to your local cheese and wine shop and start pairing!