Instead of trying to remember which cheeses goes with which wines, focus on these few simple pairing principles.
Evaluate the four major components of wine: tannin, alcohol, acidity and sugar, and balance them with the intensity of the cheeses you'd like to pair them with. Consider:
• Mouthfeel: How do the wine and cheese harmonize in your mouth? A creamy, oaky white wine will work well with a rich, buttery cheese. A tannic, not-too-fruity red will pair nicely with a lean, not-too-salty cheese like Gruyère or Appenzeller.
• Weight: Goat cheeses have a pleasant lightness, while sheep milk cheeses taste heavier due to the higher fat content. Consider how bold a statement a cheese makes on its own and balance that flavor with an appropriate alcohol level in the wine.
• Acidity: Fresh cheeses and younger wines pair well because they tend to be higher in acidity. The acidity mellows in both aged cheeses and older wines; so they will tend to harmonize.
Think about the salty/sweet combination of chocolate covered pretzels or a Snickers bar. This same principle can be applied to pairing wine and cheese.
• Stinky, washed rind cheeses like a Taleggio (cow’s milk, semi-soft) with an off-dry or semi-sweet white like a German Riesling. Look for the words “Kabinett” or “Spätlese” on the label.
• Strong, peppery blue cheeses with sweet dessert wines…a classic example of opposites attract.
Looking for the Bogey and Bacall of the wine and cheese world? Try (with complete confidence):
• Goat cheese and Sauvignon Blanc (Both young and acidic-Harmony Principle)
• Uber-rich triple cremes like Pierre Robert or Brillat Savarin with sparkling wine or champagne. (Opposites attract: The light bubbles in the wine work to offset the richness of the cheese.)
• Port and cheddar. Both wine and cheese are aged and lower in acidity.
A good rule of thumb when pairing wine and cheese:
What grows together goes together.
It's not a bad idea to take a look at regional pairings that have historical roots. Some memorable match-ups are:
• Parmigiano Reggiano and Lambrusco, both from Emilia-Romagna.
• Spanish sheep milk cheeses like Queso de la Serena and sherry. (Don’t underestimate the pairing ability of sherry. Its savory quality works wonders with nutty cheeses).
• Sancerre and lightly aged goat cheeses like Chevrot or Chabichou du Poitou from the Loire Valley.
• Époisses and Pinot Noir: A Burgundy match made in heaven, or a heavenly match made in Burgundy, whichever you prefer!
Whites Are Easier to Pair
The tannins in most red wines conflict with the natural protein in cheese. The resulting matches are often bitter or astringent. Red wines are also typically less acidic, which makes them harder to pair. Acidity balances the fat in cheese.
So reach for a white wine, unless you’re pairing a familiar red or serving a classic combination.
Additional Pairing Tips
*Serve Cheeses in this order: Young to Old, Mild to Strong, Soft to Hard
*Easy to Pair Wines
Champagne, Blanc de Blancs
Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc
Pinot Noir, Syrah
Not too tannic Fruity Wines
*When tasting, try wine first, then cheese.
*A No-No: Raw goat's milk cheese and champagne (Causes a metallic taste)
Now you’re an expert. So relax and start experimenting to find your favorite pairings. What’s the worst that can happen? Even “mistakes” can be enjoyable when you’re lucky enough to share them with friends.
Want to learn more? Stop by for Crossing Vineyards’ Wine, Cheese and Charcuterie Pairing on Thursday, May 28 at 7PM.
Christine Carroll is a Certified Specialist of Wine. She is also a columnist for Wines and Vines Magazine in San Rafael, California, and one of the principals of Crossing Vineyards and Winery. You can contact her at: email@example.com