How to pair wine with cheese

By Greg Masinton – Wine Consultant and Club Carboy Manager

Like Laverne and Shirley, wine and cheese just seem right together, so much so that it’s hard to mention one without the other. The history of this gastronomic dynamic duo is a bit milky (pun intended) but is generally traced back to European days of old. People back then had a custom of buying cheap bottles of wine and huge blocks of cheese because they knew, after hundreds of years of trial and error, that cheese somehow made wine taste better. The cheaper the wine, the more cheese. Why? Didn’t matter.

Later, we learned the secret was in the tannin. Less expensive wines – and some great wines that haven’t quite developed yet – are often marked by having strong and bitter tannins. This doesn’t make them bad. On the contrary, tannic characteristics are some of the most intriguing elements of wine. Regardless of the quality of the wine, the more bitter the tannins, the more milk fat and protein needed to effectively mask that bitterness. Thus, the combination of wine and cheese as lifelong pals was created.

The best way to demonstrate the beauty of wine and cheese is to go to your local urban winery and enjoy some wine with a specially curated cheese board and take notes. Or, for you folks not interested in leaving the house, you can invite some friends over and throw a tasting.

Now, most people do this all backwards. They read about mixing cheeses from cows, sheep and goats and adding a selection that ranges from soft to hard, new world to old and fresh to aged. Then they go get the wine. We in the wine business tend to prefer starting with the wine and adding the cheese selection later. The pairing results might be the same (and probably should be), but choosing the cheeses based on the wines allows for a better exploration of the specific qualities of latter.

With that in mind, here are some tips and pairings that might be useful in planning your sampling soirée.

Pairing Examples

White Wines – Cheese
Champagne, Prosecco or Sparkling – Camembert
Sauvignon Blanc – Gruyère
Pinot Blanc – Taleggio
Riesling – Bleu Cheese
Chardonnay – Triple Cream Brie

Red Wines – Cheese
Beaujolais or Valpolicella – Pecorino Toscano
Sangiovese – Parmigiano-Reggiano
Merlot – Smoked Gouda
Bordeaux or Cabernet – Aged Cheddar
Port – Gorgonzola

Pairing Basics

  • White wines tend to pair better with cheeses, but light to medium bodied reds work just as well.
  • Choose 4-6 different wines and accompanying cheeses and plan a display that ranges from light and fresh to sharper, bolder and deeper to lessen the impact on your guest’s palates.
  • Go with contrasting flavors. Sweet cheeses compliment more acidic wines. Full-bodied and lush wines pair better with double and triple cream options.
  • Serve the wines at proper cellar temperature; 45 degrees for white and 60 degrees for red. Also, take the cheeses out of the fridge at least 30 minutes before serving to come to temperature.
  • Lastly, always allow time for discussion. Try the wine first. Then, take a bite of cheese. Reflect on bitterness, sweetness, acidity, complexity. Repeat. Are there changes? Talk. Share.

Wine and cheese can be special, but if paired incorrectly, the combination can leave you wondering what all the hubbub was about. So, take care, plan accordingly, and choose the right combinaton. Or, again, you can always just head down to your local winery and let the professionals do what they do.