Not long ago, the only cheese in America was sliced onto rye, melted into macaroni or spritzed from an aerosol can. Today, artisan cheeses are tended by trained cheese mongers at specialty shops; even major grocers offer Brie, Gorgonzola and other classic styles. While wine with cheese is an easy and elegant entertaining option, our growing selection has folks wondering: which wine is best with which cheese?
The short answer: Choose a white wine with firm acid, a red with soft tannin, sparkling wine or sweeties.
The long answer is a long answer. If your schedule doesn’t permit research, turn to these guidelines for pairing cheese with wine.
Rely on regional pairings
Before cryovac packaging and refrigerated trucks, local winegrowers and cheese makers worked together, tweaking flavors for compatibility, so everyone would have something tasty to eat and drink.
So, Epoisses de Bourgogne and Delice de Bourgogne (a Brie-like triple creme), are perfect pairings with the Chardonnay- and Pinot Noir-based wines of Burgundy, France.
Goat cheese, the specialty of France’s Loire Valley, makes a dynamic partnership with Sancerre and other Sauvignon Blanc-based wines of the Loire.
Gorgonzola from Italy’s Piedmont region (as well as Robiola d’Alba, Taleggio and Grana Padano) finds delicious harmony with Piedmont wines, including Barbera d’Alba, Nebbiolo de Langhe and Moscato d’Asti.
The Old World is centuries ahead, but U.S. patriots can practice regional pairings such as Oregon’s Rogue River Blue with Oregon-grown Riesling and Pinot Noir.
Look for opposites that attract
Pair cheese’s scrumptious creaminess with wine’s acidity to refresh the palate. Avoid low-acid/high-alcohol wines from warm climates including California, Australia or southern Italy. Instead, turn towards cool-climate regions including Oregon, northern France or Alpine Italy.
For the creamiest cheese (such as a triple-crème) or stinkers (such as Taleggio), rely on the scrubbing bubbles of Champagne, Prosecco and other sparklers.
When serving spicy-hot cheese (like pepper jack), soothe three-alarm palate singe with sweet or very fruity wine.
Sweeter for the sweets
Cheese topped with quince paste or studded with fruit may tickle a sweet tooth, but makes dry wine taste bitter by comparison. For sweet condiments and dried fruit, choose a sweet Riesling, Vouvray or Moscato.
Remember the biochemistry of Bacchus
For folks who feel wine’s first duty is to be red, serve hard, aged or blue cheese – including Parmesan, aged Cheddar and Gorgonzola - to soften red’s wine’s tannin. Avoid the highest-tannin reds, including Cabernet Sauvignon.
Wines for cheese at The Chopping Block
During The Chopping Block’s wine and cheese classes, we’ve found delicious pairings, guaranteed to delight any cork dork or curd nerd:
- Caves de Buxy Bourgogne Chardonnay (France) with Brie, aged Vermont Cheddar, Parmesan and other cow’s milk cheese.
- Babich Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand) with goat’s milk cheese, often called “chevre”.
- “Libertat” Cava Brut, Vincola de Sarral (Spain) with Taleggio and other stinkers.
- Syrah Grenache “Sauvage", Anne Pichon (France) with blues including Bleu d’Auvergne.
- Moscato d’Asti DOCG, Albino Rocca (Italy) with St. Andre (and other triple-cremes), blues and stinkers.
Your Own Cheese Plate
You’ll wow guests with your own cheese course with these tips:
1) Keep it simple. Too many cheeses confuse the palate and makes wine pairing difficult. Select 1 to 3 cheeses of the same milk (generally cow or goat). For variety, select cheeses of different shapes, colors or consistency (such as hard, soft or runny). 3 to 4 ounces total per person is plenty.
2) Add classic accompaniments. Fruit (grapes, apples or pears) and a bread (plain crackers or lightly-toasted baguette) are all you need to complete your cheese plate. Nuts are an added treat. Avoid citrus, pickles or highly-spiced items. For cheese as dessert, add honey, fig spread or other sweet condiment (also available at The Chopping Block).
3) Roomify. Allow your cheese at least 1 hour at room temperature for optimum flavor and texture.
And, if you want the fun but not the work, join us at the Merchandise Mart for Culinary Heaven: Wine and Cheese Pairing on Friday, November 16, 6:30pm to 8pm. To register, click here.