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5 Simple Rules for Pairing Wine with Cheese

Brian Gurnham, Chief Cork Officer

Cheese, crackers and wine – sound familiar?  What better starter before a meal than a little of your favorite cheese and a glass of wine.  But how often do you put thought into which wine goes best with which cheese?    There are over 500 different varieties of cheese recognized by the International Dairy Federation, and easily 50,000 different wines produced, ignoring different vintages.  This produces a staggering 25 million potential pairings – yikes! 

Ever since my first trip to France, when I quickly learned “fromage doux”, I've been amazed by the varieties of cheese available across the globe.  In fact, the similarities to wine are noticeable.  There are acidic cheeses, hard cheeses, salty cheeses, creamy cheeses, strong aromatic cheeses, mild cheeses – you name a consistency, texture, or aroma and there is probably a cheese.

So what should you consider when pairing a wine and cheese?  Well my advice is keep it simple, and don't overthink it.  Here are five basic guidelines and some suggestions that will help you chart your path.

1)     Cheese style.  The first step in wine and cheese pairing is to think about the style of the cheese.  Most cheeses can be grouped into one of four broad categories – creamy soft and non-aged; hard stiff cheeses, usually aged, sharp and salty; blue, pungent, often salty cheeses; and fresh cheeses, spreadable, mild and not aged.

2)      Pair like with like. Match the style of the cheese with the style of the wine.  Consider the acid level, texture, and aromatic strength of a cheese when finding a complementary wine.  Pair a light wine with light cheese – fresh goat cheese with Sancerre (Sauvignon Blanc) or Vouvray (Chenin Blanc).  Pair a big cheese with a big wine - such as aged sharp cheddar with Syrah.

3)      Pair like with unlike.  I know, this contradicts #2 but that's OK, it's my article.  Seriously, much like pairing peanut butter and jelly, pairing a fat (peanut butter) with an acid (jelly), can make for an equally delightful pairing. Contrasting aromas, sugar or acid levels and even weight can produce some interesting, even if less common pairings, that prove opposites can attract.  One  fun combination - Roquefort or Stilton with Port. The salty flavor of the cheese balances the sweetness of the port.

4)      Pay attention to salt. -  Salt in cheese enhances the flavors in wine in the same manner it enhances the flavors in food.  If you are pairing a salty cheese, consider a fruit rich wine (Syrah or Zinfandel) rather than one with subtle aromas.  In addition to flavor enhancement, salt in cheese also reduces the perceptions of tannins and acidity, allowing wines with large amounts of either to be softened. 

5)      Pay attention to texture - The texture of cheese influences your wine choice. A light cheese (goat, feta, Swiss) goes best with a light wine (Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris), and a more full-bodied cheese (Muenster, aged Cheddar, aged Gouda) will usually pair well with a full-bodied wine (Syrah, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon).  Generally, but not always, hard cheeses are better with red wine, soft cheeses with white.

To help you get started, the table below from Marcella Wright, the CheeseMonger, provides a list of potential pairings for many cheeses.  But remember, like any food and wine pairing, personal taste is what matters, and the only way to determine this is to experiment.  Remember to be sure and serve the wine at the proper temperature, and bring the cheese to room temperature before serving, giving both their due.  You can start with a wine and find a cheese, or start with the cheese and locate a wine that compliments (or contrasts) well.




White Wine
Red Wine

Sparkling Wine

Dessert Wine
Asiago Soave Merlot Champagne Port, Madeira
Baby Swiss Pinot Blanc - Asti Spumante -
Blue Brie - Cotes-du-Rhone - Port
Blue Cheddar - Merlot - Tawny Port, Sherry
Blue Cheese Sancerre Zinfandel, Bordeaux - Madeira, Tawny Port
Blue Triple Cream Chardonnay - - Tawny Port
Brie Pinot Gris Gamay Beaujolais Champagne Sweet Sherry
Camembert Sauvignon Blanc Cabernet Sauvignon - -
Cheddar (Mild) Gruner Veltliner Gamay Beaujolais, Syrah - -
Cheddar (Medium) Chardonnay Merlot Champagne Port
Cheddar (Sharp) Pouilly Fuisse Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon - Tawny Port
Chevre (Aged Goat Cheese) - Merlot - -
Chevre (Fresh Goat Cheese) Vouvray, Chenin Blanc, Sancerre Pinot Noir - -
Chevre (Ripening Goat Cheese) Riesling, Chardonnay, Riesling - - -
Colby Riesling Pinot Noir Champagne -
Comte - Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon - -
Cotija Chardonnay, Riesling - - -
Cream Cheese Riesling, White Zinfandel Cabernet Sauvignon - -
Crème Fraiche - - - Muscat, Port
Feta Sancerre, Sauvignon Blanc Gamay Beaujolais Champagne -
Gorgonzola Gewurztraminer Merlot Moscato d'Asti Tawny Port
Gouda (Aged) - Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir - -
Gouda (Smoked) - Merlot, Pinot Noir - -
Gouda (Young) Riesling Gamay Beaujolais - -
Gruyere Sancerre Merlot Champagne Tokaji, Port
Havarti Chenin Blanc Tempranillo, Bordeaux - -
Limburger - Blaufrankisch - -
Manchego - Rioja, Tempranillo, Syrah - -
Morbier Pinot Gris Dry Rose - -
Mozzarella Pinot Gris Dry Rose, Chianti - -
Muenster Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris Zinfandel - -
Myzithra - Merlot, Meritage - -
Parmesan Chardonnay, Riesling, Sancerre Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah Lambrusco Port, Madeira, Sauternes
Pecorino Romano Gewurztraminer Merlot, Zinfandel - -
Provolone Chardonnay Sangiovese, Barolo, Syrah - -
Raclette Riesling Gamay Beaujolais - -
Romano - Merlot, Bordeaux - -
Roquefort Sancerre Bordeaux - Tawny Port, Sherry
Swiss (Mild) Riesling Gamay Beaujolais - -
Swiss (Robust) Pinot Gris Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Zinfandel - Port, Madeira
Triple Cream Vouvray Bordeaux Champagne, Blanc de Blanc -

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·  Wines and Seafood
·  Perfect Picnic Wines
·  What is that taste? Part 3
·  What is that taste? Part 2
·  What is that taste? Part 1
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·  7 Basic Food and Wine Pairing Guidelines


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