Cheese may be one of the most delicious foods mankind has ever created, but to live on it alone would become quite tiresome. Even with the endless variety, the dairy and fat will eventually overwhelm the palate. A simple wine can bring the palate to life again. But what wine to choose? An easy question to phrase, but a difficult one to answer.
Before choosing a wine, one must consider the cheese. Is it a mild cheese, such as a young chêvre cheese? Or is it a stronger cheese, such as the famous (or infamous) Roquefort? The particular cheese on the table sets the guidelines for which wine should be served alongside it.
For Milder Cheeses
These cheeses, while by no means lacking in flavor, will not overwhelm the palate or the person unused to cheese. These include even those cheeses at first which would seem to be relatively stronger cheeses, such as Brie and Camembert, so long as they are not extremely ripe. Even mild cheeses can manage to work well with red wines, particularly those lighter in nature, with very fruity elements pushing to the front.
For Stronger Cheeses
This is the realm of the cheese lover, who holds up the wrapped bit of cheese after the purchase to inhale the odor of the cheese through the wrapper. Blue, washed rinds, aged, all variations on the theme of the older cheese. Sweeter wines, surprisingly, are among the best choices. A Riesling or a Sauterne works very well, so long as the wine is not too sweet. Fortified wines are also appropriate, such as a Sherry or Port. Think of the classic English pairing of Stilton and Port. Classics are often classics because they work.
Wines high in tannins can work here as well, as many aged cheeses are salty enough to counteract the tannins, though this may not be best for a blue cheese due to the unique flavors in these cheeses, perhaps from the particular molds. Very sharp cheeses, like an aged Cheddar or Parmigiano Reggiano take very well to a very dry red wine.
Aside From Taste
If you are at a loss for which wine will pair well with a cheese’s characteristics, an easier route is available. Pair a French cheese with a French wine. Set out an Italian cheese with an Italian wine. Serve an English cheese with an English wine. These pairings have traditionally worked, since for much of history, what wine tasters today may consider the most appropriate wines would have been unavailable to the common eater.
The Ultimate Rule
Although general guidelines can be put forth, pairing cheese with wine falls under the most important rule now accepted in the wine world. Your particular taste buds are the most critical factor in the whole affair. If a pairing is delicious, then it is one you should repeat. If that does not conform to the general expectation, then that’s all that means: it does not conform. Finding that perfect pair of cheese and wine is an exquisite thing indeed. What a shame to know that the only path to such knowledge is through much taste testing.
|Food||Wine (Best Pairing Listed First)|
|Blue-veined cheeses||Brunello, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chianti|
|Flavorful fresh cheeses (like Goat and Feta)||Sauvignon Blanc, Sparkling Wine|
|Hard grating cheese (like Parmesan and Pecorino)||Chianti, Sparkling Wine|
|Mild semi-soft cheeses (like Monterey Jack and Gouda)||Chardonnay, Cotes du Rhone|
|Semi-firm flavorful cheeses (like Cheddar, Swiss, and Fontina)||Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir|
|Smoked cheese||Chardonnay, Pinot Noir|
|Soft-ripened cheeses (like Brie and Camembert)||Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc|
|Strong Cheeses (like Muenster and Limburger)||Barolo, Cabernet Sauvignon|