Wine and Cheese Pairing Guide

"Sweet dreams are made of cheese, Who am I to dis a Brie, I cheddar the world and a Feta cheese, Everybody's looking for Stilton." ~ Parody of "Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This" by the Eurythmics

Pondering the age-old question, so you want some cheese to go with that wine? Perhaps no, but whether you're hosting a grand soiree, a simple gathering or the casual impromptu get-together with friends and family, you may want to rely on some much needed 'cheesy' advice to help you put together a fantastic menu (no pun intended).

If your mission is to provide your guests with warm hospitality, lively conversation and a delectable spread of well thought out food and drink choices; then stay tuned, because this guide will make the task so much more straightforward. Regardless of whether the menu is complicated or simple, it better be delicious, am I right? While serving a sumptuous gourmet cheese board is the perfect starter for any memorable event, following the steps in this preparation guide will help you get there.

Not only is the preparation simple, but more importantly there's no cooking involved, and guests will enjoy discovering and savoring old favorites while possibly discovering new flavors. As a wine enthusiast and as the potential host you'll want the presentation to come dressed to impress, and the pairings to be on point. So you'll want to grab some of the pairings combinations for yourself ahead of time, to see how the contrasting flavors work together before you throw the big shindig, it's a good idea to have a mini trial run.

With today's overwhelming combinations of wine and cheese available today, it can make your head spin. But relax, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to choosing the right combinations of cheese and wine. Just keep in mind the few simple considerations I've outlined below and you're off to the races.

A cheese course is about observing and enjoying contrasting and complementary flavors. For a fool-proof gourmet cheese course, select 3 – 5 kinds of cheese that vary in texture and flavor. Add some crusty sourdough bread, a combination of seasonal fresh or dried fruit, a variety of olives and nuts and voila!

Remember, wines are meant to cleanse the palate, wash away the tongue-coating richness of the cheese and prepare your mouth for the next delicious bite. It’s essential that your selections don’t overwhelm the cheese and vice versa. Primarily, you’ll want to match wine(s) and cheese of the same intensity level. Just remember “like for like.”

Take a look at the gourmet cheese categories and wine recommendations below for guidance. You’ll see how easy it is to serve an elegant wine and cheese course. For best results, add friends and family, and you have the perfect party started.

Fresh – These cheeses are not aged and usually are white and light in flavor, smooth and sometimes tangy. Try chevre (goat cheese), feta and smoked mozzarella.

Beverage Pairings – Acidic white wines stand up to the tang and milky flavors of fresh cheese. Try a Viognier or a lightly oaked Chardonnay with French goat cheese, Boutari (a white Greek wine produced on the island of Santorini) with Greek Feta and Pinot Grigio with mozzarella.

Bloomy – Encased in a whitish, edible rind, bloomy gourmet cheeses are often velvety, gooey with a mild flavor. Add Brie, Camembert or Pierre-Robert to the cheese board for a decadent treat.

Beverage Pairings – Seek out a carbonated beverage to refresh the mouth from the rich and creamy flavors. Traditionally, bloomy cheeses are served with Champagne or the more economical selections like Cremant. or Cava from Spain and Brut Prosecco from Italy. Another good suggestion would be for a barrel-aged Chardonnay from California or even Chile, which have aromas of vanilla, smoke, and toast that will complement the buttery notes in the cheese.

Washed Rind – During the aging process, washed-rind cheeses are usually bathed in brine or washed with liquor such as wine, beer or spirits. It’s this brining process that gives the cheese an aromatic quality. Almost all have orange or reddish hued rinds. Not mild and not sharp, washed rind cheeses are full-flavored. Give Taleggio, Drunken Goat, and Epoisses a taste.

Beverage Pairings – The fruity and tannic flavors of red wines work well with the stronger flavors of washed rind cheeses. Try Italian reds such as Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino with Taleggio, a Spanish Rioja with the Drunken Goat and a Cabernet Sauvignon with Epoisses.

Semisoft – These supple cheeses are rich, creamy with stronger flavors. Fontina is herbal and nutty while Morbier offers sweetness with greater pungency.

Beverage Pairings - Sample these with light and fruity reds such as a Pinot Noir or fruity whites such as Sancerre.

Firm – Typically, firm cheeses are still pliable and packed with flavor. The best is a bit crumbly and aged for robust, nutty goodness. Cheddar, Gouda, and Gruyere are crowd pleasers.

Beverage Pairings - Traditionally, a pint of English ale is the traditional beverage of choice for Cheddar, but a Sauvignon Blanc or dry red wine with plenty of acid is sophisticated enough to complement. Gouda is excellent with a Syrah/Shiraz and pairing Beaujolais with Gruyere is brilliant.

Hard – Hard cheeses are dry, crumbly and aged for intensity. Piave, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Aged Comte boast salty, caramelized, nutty flavors.

Beverage Pairings – You’ll find hearty wines can hold their own against these cheeses. Try a Barbera or Chianti with the Piave and Parmigiano and Merlot with the Comte.

Blue  – The bluish-green veins give blue cheese its punch. Listed from robust to strongest in pungency are creamy Gorgonzola, nutty Stilton, and salty Roquefort.

Beverage Pairings – Intense gourmet cheeses like blues can is often best tamed with sweet dessert wines, liqueurs, and even a fruity beer. Port, sherry, and Sauternes (my go-to) are traditional blue libations. For a unique treat, try a raspberry flavored beer like Belgian Lambic (look for Lindeman’s Framboise) and, all to be savored while lingering over dessert.

Sara Kahn Nutrition Contributed in part to this article. 


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