The idea of pairing wine with cheese is to improve the flavor of the cheese as well as the wine. By creating a good wine pairing, the flavor profiles of the wine will pop out easier, as will the texture and flavors unique to the cheese you’ve chosen to serve. It has been said that in ancient Greece, cheese was grated into wine to enhance the flavor of both.
You may be wondering “How do I know how to pair which wine with which cheese?” Just like with pairing wine with food, there are no specific “rules” when it comes to wine and cheese pairings. I can offer you suggestions, and yes there are certain pairings that just won’t work, but as a rule, you should serve a cheese you like to eat with a wine you like to drink.
Pairing Cheeses With Specific Wines
With a rich flavor and complex tasting notes, Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the most popular red wines in the world. These wines are bold and intense, with deep fruit flavors that are often heavy on licorice or cassis. Other wine tasters hint at cedar or even “pencil lead” notes in Cab Sauv, but you’re the best judge of your own taste.
In general, avoid sheep’s milk cheeses when pairing with Cabs. Pretty much all cow’s milk or goat’s milk cheeses will work, no matter the age. This complex wine can carry the sometimes salty flavors found in these cheeses. Even mildly flavored bleu cheeses pair well with such a complicated wine. I’d suggest Gouda as a beginner’s cheese to pair with Cabernet Sauvignon.
Featuring flavors of red berries and a heavily floral nose, Pinot Noir is a generally pricier and more luxurious red wine than other varietals.
No goat milk cheeses will work with this wine, the cheese from goat’s milk is simply too acidic. Also avoid bleu cheeses, as the inherent flavor in these cheeses will wash out the exquisite fruit flavors of a good Pinot. My suggestion would be a hard sheep’s milk cheese, like the classic Spanish Manchego or Zamorano.
This popular red wine is often described as “lush” or “full bodied” but can also be gentle enough to support many types of cheese. Blended Syrah and Shiraz is even more “gentle”, and has a quality that wine snobs call “backbone” which allows for more open ended pairing with cheese.
Strong flavored sheep’s or cow’s milk cheeses are the ideal match with Syrah. As with most of the wines on the red side, avoid bleu cheese. A nice British farmhouse cheddar is an eager mate for this spicy little wine, as is an Alpine cow’s milk cheese like Bierkase.
Seriously versatile, and featuring flavors of apple, citrus, and sweet butter, Chardonnay can pair with cheeses that most other wines would rebel against. Remember that Chardonnay is the principal varietal used in the production of Champagne and sparkling wines, so this can be a very sweet or dry wine, but is always a celebratory one.
Cow’s milk cheeses and cow’s milk blues pair perfectly with Chardonnay. In particular, the sweet fruity flavors of Chardonnay blend well with the big acidity found in even the most aged cow’s or even goat’s milk cheeses. Avoid sheep’s milk cheeses when drinking Chardonnay, as the flavor of this cheese will be almost unnoticeable. You may as well be eating yogurt. Epoisses, a soft and stinky French cow’s milk cheese, would be an ideal candidate for pairing with Chardonnay. A good bleu for Chardonnay would be something like Beenleigh Blue from England.
Champagne / sparkling wine
Sparkling wines and Champagnes pair better with cheese than most other types of wine. Why? The bubbles in the champagne provide a quality to the cheese experience that interacts with butterfat and can wipe away any possible bad interactions. Cow’s milk and goat’s milk would be your best bet, although Champagne and sparkling wine are well known for pairing with exotic and otherwise difficult to pair bries and soft cheeses. The perfect pair with a Champagne may be Fromage de Meaux, a soft raw cow’s milk brie. You could also try a stinky but dense cow’s milk cheese like Langres or Morbier.
Known as an incredibly “crisp” wine, this highly acidic and light bodied wine is not exactly versatile when it comes to cheese pairing.
Avoid cow’s milk cheeses with Sauv Blanc, as their salt and acid contents clash with the often fruity after-flavors of a good Sauvignon Blanc. Bleus are also a bad idea — I’d stick with sheep’s or goat’s milk cheeses. Try a sweet and buttery sheep’s milk cheese like the French cheese Ossau Iraty or Berkswell.
By learning these basic rules — for instance, avoiding bleu cheese when pairing with any wine besides Champagne, or pairing reds with sheep’s milk cheeses — you can take the guesswork out of wine and cheese pairing. As always, eat what tastes good, and drink what you like. If you follow your own taste, you will find it difficult to be disappointed with any pairing.
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