Pairing Wine and Cheese

A match made in heaven is how most people would describe the centuries-old tradition of having wine + cheese together. With the right combination you will experience an amazing pairing that will leave you talking about it for months to come. While an error can be costly, unappetizing or both. This guide aims to help with some simple tips to best mix and match two of life's greatest epicurean pleasures.

As with all wine and food pairings, there are a number of considerations to evaluate like texture, acidity, tannins and fat.

General wine + cheese pairing philosophy?

When you ask for a suggestion on what wine to have with your cheese or what cheese to buy for the special bottle you purchased, you often get a lot of variety. I heard a lot of advice that seemed to counter each other or be in complete defiance of other wine pairing rules I know. So I reached out to some specialty cheese shops to find our how they approach the onerous task of pairing a complex beverage with an equally complex culinary creation. I mean the number of wines and cheeses seem endless, with many more regional varieties available locally than what you can access in most markets.

Gina of Venissimo Cheese offered, "I always want to find balance. I don't want the cheese to overpower the wine, nor the wine overpower the cheese. I like to look for pairings that bring out the best in each other. That being said, everyone has a different palate, so results will vary. But you can never go wrong with the saltier the cheese, the sweeter the wine. That's one reason a blue with Port is so magical."

Jenny and Mike of Small Goods USA advised, "one great rule of thumb to get you started with wine and cheese pairings is regionalism. 'What grows together goes together.' Wine and cheese both exhibit ‘terrior' – that distinctive taste of place. Terrior comes from the soil, the local water and the general microbes of a particular region. By choosing wine & cheeses that come from the same general location, you’ll start to hone in on similar profiles that often work very well with each other."

Your best wine + cheese pairing ever?

When asked to talk about thier absolutle favorite wines and cheeses to put together, there was no shortage of ideas. Gina of Venissimo Cheese's go-to favorite pairing-in-a-pinch is Camembert with Cabernet Sauvignon. Both strong and assertive, they are truly elegant partners, balanced and beautiful. For something truly decadent, she suggests that you try a truffled cheese like Moliterno with a Barolo. (I did, amazing!!) Jenny of Small Goods USA preffers a rich, gooey, creamy cheese with an effervescent wine. The bubbles really play nicely with the pastes found in denser Brie’s, Camembert and double & triple crème’s. She describes it as, "Bubbles help to lift the density up while imparting a quick, clean finish to the cheese."

In an article written in Food + Wine magazine, the author interviewed some of the best winery tasting rooms in the country to find out there suggestions. Here are some of the ideas they found:

Wine: Domaine Carneros Vintage Brut
Cheese: Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam, a buttery triple cream
Wine: Copain Wines Syrah
Cheese: Matos St. George, a cheddar-like cow-milk cheese
Wine: Duckhorn Vineyards Estate Red Wine
Cheese: L'amuse Signature Gouda, a caramelly Dutch cheese
Wine: St. Francis Winery Port
Cheese: Rogue Creamery Caveman Blue, a robust, raw cow-milk blue cheese
Wine: Shinn Estate Vineyards Pinot Blanc
Cheese: Goodale Farms Feta, a light, tangy goat cheese

Your worst wine + cheese pairing ever?

Gina of Venissimo Cheese: "I normally adore alpine cheeses with almost any wine. However, I once put the washed rind Appenzeller alpine with a crisp New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and it was horrific."

Mike of Small Goods USA: "There have been very few pairings that I haven’t gotten something out of. They might not have been very complimentary, but learning comes from unpleasant pairings just as much as from the perfect ones. But, I think the most difficult cheeses to pair are the flavored kind. Cheeses that are infused with spices, chilis and spirits are just plain awkward to match with the tannins of a wine."

Wine and Cheese Pairing

Just as with any food pairing, it helps to think of either complementary or contrasting flavors.

Wine and Cheese Pairing Tips:

  1. Match wines and cheeses with equal intensity.
  2. Wines with higher ABV pair better with more intensely flavored cheese, while lower ABV wines are less intense so they match better with a more nuance flavored cheese.
  3. Sparkling wines are incredible with salty, soft, or creamy cheeses.
  4. Match super funky cheeses with sweet or desert wines.
  5. When in doubt, get a firm, nutty cheese like Swiss, Gruyère,or Gouda.

If you have a specific cheese in mind, first contemplate the category it belongs to. The wine-cheese pairing possibilities are endless, but to simplify the strategy, you can divide cheese into four major categories:

Creamy, decadent cheeses, with a soft rind. Often pungent in odor.
Stiff cheeses, which are can be made from mild to sharp and/or salty. They are often aged.
Aromatic, often salty cheeses, with a blue or marine tinged marbling.
Soft, often spreadable cheeses that can be tangy or mild. They are not usually aged.

Soft Cheese Pairing Examples

Cheese Wine
Camembert Champagne
Garlic and Herb Merlot
Brie Chardonnay
Robiola Gewürztraminer
Taleggio Pinot Blanc

Hard Cheese Pairing Examples

Cheese Wine
Gouda Pinot Noir
Cheddar Cabernet Sauvignon
Parmesan Sparkling Wine
Double Gloucester Zinfandel
Pepper Jack Moscato
Pecorino Valpolicella
Gruyere Malbec
Fontina Barbera

Blue Cheese Pairing Examples

Cheese Wine
Gorgonzola Port
Stilton Sauternes
Blue Riesling
Cambozola Eiswein

Fresh Cheese Pairing Examples

Cheese Wine
Ricotta Pinot Grigio
Mozzarella Chianti Classico
Goat Chenin Blanc
Feta Beaujolais
Burrata Sauvignon Blanc

How do you select sources?

I know that when I go to an artisan cheese shop, butchery or bakery that I am there because I want to source the finest product from the best producer. I know that many cheese store owners share the same deep passion that wine shop purveyors do, so I asked about how they find the producers that they choose to work with.

Gina, the founder and Cheese Wiz of Venissimo Cheese, replied "there are really only a few local importers that bring in cheeses from outside the USA. We like to work with those nearest to us as the cheese suffers less from various forms of transportation (boat to plane to truck to plane to another truck is just too much). Even domestic producers tend to ship their products in bulk to these wholesalers for distribution. We learn about new cheeses every week from these distributors, and we frequent the Fancy Food Show and American Cheese Society conference every year to discover new gems. Our motto is that we will try anything once. Then we'll only get more of the best!"

Jenny of Small Goods USA enthusiastically stated, "first and foremost, Smallgoods is about supporting and sourcing boutique, American-made cheeses. We take pride in highlighting 'the small guys,' who we’ve gotten to know over the years. While we have tremendous respect for overseas products, we believe it’s important to support our own local, non-industrialized food systems by giving these amazing and often overshadowed products a venue to shine. We source products that respect the land and the animals in ways only small-batch makers can do. Happy animals make great cheese. We support that 100%."

Well I have had the pleasure of getting some amazing cheeses from these two local cheese suppliers and I encourage you to go find a local store to become aquainted with. Not only are you supporting you community, but you will have an invaluable resource to reference & you will be getting the highest of quality cheese. Win win for all involved. Until next time, enjoy a glass of wine and some cheese. Cheers.