Cheese and Wine

June 23, 2010

There are several different schools of thought about how to pair up wine and cheese. Judy Ridgway states in The Cheese Companion: a Connoisseur’s Guide, “Cheese seems to have a particular affinity with wine, and the two tastes can really complement each other. There are two schools of thought here; those who suggest that you should simply drink your favorite wine with your cheese and enjoy it, and those who believe that some wine and cheese combinations really do not work and that you should plan the match with care. In practice, the former view is more likely to dominate, but if you have the time you really can add to your enjoyment of cheese by finding the best partnership.”

When it comes to purposely selecting pairs, there are three main methods, as Ricki Carroll described in Home Cheese Making. They include:

  1. Serve complementary flavors (a big sturdy cheese with a full-bodied wine).
  2. Select contracting flavors, such as champagne and triple-crème cheese, to provide interest and balance.
  3. Choose products from the same region. For example, serve a California dry Jack cheese with a spicy California Zinfandel.

In Making Artisan Cheese: 50 Fine Cheeses that You Can Making in Your Own Kitchen, Tim Smith suggests keeping this in mind when pairing:

  • “In general, white wines pair better with cheese than red wines. (However, do not keep from experimenting!)”
  • “Together, wine and cheese need to counterbalance or foiling (via acidity and tannin), or they require a matched texture and flavor profile. Rich wines should be paired with rich creamy cheeses, and sharp wines with sharper cheeses.”
  • “The salt in the cheese exaggerates the taste of alcohol in the wine, making them seem ‘hotter.’ A salty taste in cheese is best counterbalanced by a hint of sweetness in the wine…”
  • “Stronger-flavored cheeses (such as mature, washed-rind cheeses) are the most difficult to match and do not go well with strong, ample-bodied wines (especially reds). Pungent cheeses are best complemented by sweet wines. Oaky wines clash and overwhelm most cheeses, unless oak flavors are inherently associated with them.”
  • “You aren’t compromising aesthetics by switching back to dry white wine for your cheese course. If your cheese course follows a dish accompanied by red wine, and is being served before (or instead of) dessert, the two styles of wine can coexist.”
  • “When in doubt, go native. Local cheese and wines tend to work well together, and can be paired confidently.”
  • “When planning a cheese course, choose either the cheese or the wine first, or pick an array of both that offers a range of possibility for all palates.”
  • “The use of herbs, spices, and crusts in or on the cheese, as they may influence the effect of the wine. Also, don’t overlook the potential for incorporating cheese into salads and other light dishes for the complementary flavors offered.”

Some recommended pairings:

  • Brie and Camembert: white wines with texture, like Chardonnay or Pinot Gris. Red wines with medium body and moderate tannin, such as Syrah and Merlot. Sparkling wines do well.
  • Cheddar: Red wines such as Zinfandel, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Bordeaux.
  • Feta: white wines like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio, or a dry rosés
  • Goat’s Milk Cheeses: Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Syrah , Merlot,
  • Gorgonzola: Sparkling wines or sweet wines including a late-harvest Riesling
  • Gouda: Chardonnay, Riesling, or a light Zinfandel
  • Gruyère: Burgundy, Chardonnay, or Pinot Gris. A Pinot Noir can work sometimes.
  • Mozzerella: a light zippy wine such as a Pinot Grigio or a dry rosé
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano: Sparkling wine before the meal, and a full-bodied red during the meal, such as a Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Zinfandel.
  • Swiss: Gewürztraminer or Riesling

As far as the order in which to serve the cheese and wines, Carroll interviewed Steve Jones of Provvista Specialty Foods in Portland, Oregon, who said, “Usually, I move from lighter to heavier fare; that seems the most natural. For instance, start with a sparkling wine and fresh chèvre. Move through an Alsatian wine served with a true Muenster or Chardonnay (my least favorite wine to pair with cheese) with a rustic sheep’s-milk cheese. Then move to a heavier red with an aged hard cheese, and finish with port or sherry served with blue cheese.”

In Mastering Cheese: Lessons for Connoisseurship from a Maître Fromager, Max McCalman and David Gibbons get a little more specific about serving the two together. In summary:

  • Pay Attention to Serving Temperatures: Serve cheese at room temperature, red wines slightly chilled, and white wines slightly warmer than chilled.
  • Smell the wine and cheese separately
  • Taste: Taste the wine first, clear your palate, and then the cheese. Then taste both together, allowing them to commingle.
  • Wait for the finish: do not rush the tastings of the wine, cheese, or the wine and cheese together.
  • Refresh your palate: have some water and bread
  • Follow the suggested order for the pairings, but don’t hesitate to go back and do them out of order
  • Reflect

Other Readings:


5 Responses to “Cheese and Wine”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sally S, Gerry Schroeder. Gerry Schroeder said: Cheese and Wine « The Candle Wine Project […]

  2. […] to go with it, maybe using Woodier’s suggestions. After I’ve made that pairing, I would let the cheese guide me into what wine to drink, abandoning Woodier’s rare […]

  3. […] I don’t care for beer, so one could attempt this instead with wine. What was kind of scary to me and their tasting was that they had 13 beers to taste! I also find it […]

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