Wine and cheese are two of life’s great pleasures. Most people tend to pair red wine with cheese, however, there are many more possibilities to consider. While there are no strict rules when it comes to wine and food pairing it is important to be aware how wine and cheese interact and which wines and cheeses are more suitable to pair together.
Did you know that in days gone by when visiting a winery, prospective customers would often been given a piece of cheese prior to tasting the wine? This was done with the intention of masking any faults that the wine may have had because the flavour and fat of the cheese would desensitise the palate. Thankfully we have moved on and nowadays we have a huge selection of wonderful wines and cheeses to choose from.
When pairing wine with cheese the key is to match intensity of flavours, textures, acidity and tannin. The possible pairings are endless so to keep it simple I have divided cheeses into different categories.
Full flavoured mature hard cheeses such as, Manchego or Parmigiano have savoury flavours and are best matched with full bodied reds, for example a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot or a good quality Rioja Reserva. Alternatively you could try an oaked Chardonnay or an Amontillado Sherry. The mature cheese has a more concentrated flavour that soften the sensation of tannin in the reds. While the flavour of the cheese will not overwhelm the oaked white wine nor the distinctive nutty flavours of the Amontillado.
Fresh cheeses such as Feta, Ricotta, Mozzarella tend to be quite milky and mild so ideally you should have them with a crisp young Pinot Grigio or dry Verdejo or a red that is low in tannins such as Pinot Noir, Gamay (Beaujolais) or a Zweigelt from Austria.
Milder semi soft cheeses with more subtle flavours, such as Gouda, Gruyère, Havarti, are best paired with dry white or maybe with a touch of oak or a spicy red such as a Garnacha from Aragon or a Syrah from the Rhone.
Creamy cheeses, such as Brie or Camembert require wines with a higher level of natural acidity to balance the fat of the cheese. A well made Riesling, Albariño or even better a Godello, which has a slightly oily texture along with it high natural acidity. Another option is a sparkling wine because the bubbles and acidity will interact nicely with the cheese on your palate.
What about a strong blue cheese such as Cabrales a Stilton or Gorgonzola? A complete contrasting style of wine will work best. Try a Sauternes, a Port or a late harvest Riesling and be amazed at how the natural intensity of flavours, texture and sweetness balance with each other making a gastronomically perfect marriage.
Wine and cheese pairing is a great way to experiment and find your own personal preferences, while at the same time taste wines that you may not usually buy such as Jerez, sweet wines and good quality sparkling wines.