As indicated by the crowds at our area wineries any weekend afternoon, wine tasting is a popular pastime. Many wineries offer charcuterie boards and cheeseboards for purchase, and groups will often bring their own.
If you’re looking to enjoy the combination of wine and cheese, or are planning a get-together, how do you know which pairings will be the best? This guide may help.
What Creates Cheese?
All cheese begins with a milk product, with cows, goats, sheep and buffalo the most common producers. What helps to create the cheese is a natural bacteria, the acid that sours the cheese and allows it to ripen. When using pasteurized milk, bacteria cultures must be added.
Similar to wine aging, the older a cheese, the sharper its flavors. Younger cheeses are more mild, soft and subtle.
The biggest tip is to buy good cheese. Avoid the pre-packaged cheeses commonly found in the dairy section. Instead, look in the gourmet cheese section and purchase 4-6 different styles of cheese, varying in type and age.
Tips to Pairing Wine & Cheese
To help you select the best-tasting combinations of wine and cheese, follow these tips:
Choose From the Same Region
Wine and cheese are both fermented products that taste like the place where they originated. When pairing European wines and cheese, look for what grows together in the same region, like a Spanish
Cava with Manchego cheese. The terroir can play a similar role in the United States. For example, pair a New York wine with a Finger Lakes cheese. Or try some of Virginia’s artisanal cheeses, like those from the Culpeper Cheese Company or Arrowine & Cheese in Arlington with some fine Virginia wines.
Match Aging and Intensities
Cheese can range from a soft, mild and fresh option like a creamy goat cheese or soft mozzarella to long-aged version like a full-bodied Manchego. Match a young cheese with a young wine or an aged cheese with an aged wine.
- Mild Cheese Pairing: Typically, dry and fruity reds like a Pinot Noir or Beaujolais, or a crisp white like a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio make great selections for milder cheeses.
- Stronger, Older Cheese Pairing: Fuller-bodied, bold and heavier wines, like a Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel, or a California Chardonnay, are best paired with stronger and aged cheeses like Cheddar, Gruyère, Manchego or Gouda.
- “Stinky” Cheese Pairing: Strong-scented, washed-rind and blue-veined cheeses like Roquefort, Stilton and Blue cheese pair nicely with sweet wines, late harvest wines and Port-style wines.
- Creamy Cheese Pairing: Sticky, creamy cheese like Brie, Camembert, Cremont or Époisses de Bourgogne are a good match with sparkling wines with high carbonation and acidity.
Seek out Contrasts
Try pairing opposite textures and flavors like a dry sparkling wine with a soft, creamy, buttery cheese. A salty blue cheese can pair nicely with a sweet wine like a Port or Sauterne.
Look for Versatile Wines
If you are serving a cheese board, with several types of cheeses, look for a versatile “food-friendly” wine that can work well with various varieties of cheese and other foods.
- Light-to medium-bodied reds like a Merlot, Pinot Noir or Cabernet Franc
- Light whites like a Sauvignon Blanc or Chenin Blanc
- Dry, tart Rosés
Likewise, there are versatile cheeses. If you’re stuck for ideas, choose a firm, nutty cheese like a Swiss, Gruyère, Comté, Emmentaler or Gouda. Be sure to take the cheese out of the refrigerator for about an hour before serving.
Do you have a favorite wine? Don’t be afraid to try different cheeses to see what you like!
Wines to Avoid
Since cheese can accentuate the tannins in oak, one of the worst pairings is a super-oaky, low-acid wine. A higher-acid wine would be a better choice.
The whole idea behind wine and cheese pairing is to enjoy the richness and flavors of each. Finding good matches is just part of that fun.
with White Wine
|Champagne||Creamy Boursin, Brie, Camembert, Vacherin Mont d’or, Soft-Rind Cheeses|
|Chardonnay||Brie, Mild & Buttery Cheddar, Cheshire, Colby, Fontina D’Aosta, Gruyère, Monterey Jack, Triple-Cream Cheeses|
|Sauvignon Blanc||Feta, Goat Cheese, Havarti, Mozzarella, Cheese with Garlic & Herbs|
|Riesling||Blue Cheese, Brie, Edam, Emmentaler, Feta, Havarti, Raclette, Regular Gouda, Teleggio|
|Pinot Grigio||Fontina, Crème Frâiche, Feta, Ricotta|
|Chenin Blanc||Camembert, Goat Cheese, Havarti|
|Rosé||Feta, Fontina, Havarti, Provolone, Ricotta, Mozzarella|
with Red Wine
|Cabernet Sauvignon||Aged Cheddar, Danish Blue, Smoked Gouda, Aged Cow Cheeses & Hard Cheeses|
|Pinot Noir||Brie, Camembert, Cheddar, Feta, Smoked Gouda, Gruyère|
|Beaujolais||Cheddar, Feta, Neufchâtel|
|Merlot||Smoked Gouda, Gruyère|
|Zinfandel||Gouda, Pecorino, Grilling Cheeses|
|Chianti||Parmesan Reggiano, Pecorino|
|Sangiovese||Asiago, Grana Padano, Pecorino|
|Syrah||Gouda, Edam, Havarti, Raclette, Soft-Ripened Cheeses|
|Tempranillo||Semi-Hard Sheep Cheeses|
|Port||Blue Cheese, Gorgonzola, Roquefort, Stilton, Soft-Rind Cheeses|
|Tawny Port||Pecorino Romano|
|Ice Wine (Red/White)||Roquefort, Maytag Blue, Blue-Vein Cheeses|