Pairing Wine and Cheese

Wine and cheese are a great match. But not just any wine with any cheese. Restaurants still offer a mix of very different cheeses with a glass of port. However in cases that different styles of cheeses are served together, they should be paired with different styles of wine as well. Last night we tasted 12 different wines with 12 different cheeses with a group of friends. We combined 7 types of cheese with 7 types of wine and tasted which combinations worked best.

We had the cheese and wine for dinner, augmented with home-baked Italian bread and vegetable antipasti (sautéed mushrooms, roasted peppers, deep-fried fennel and eggplant-puree). All wines were shared by 13 people and everyone had two glasses to compare the wines side by side. Yes we ate almost all 5 kilograms (11 lbs) of cheese and finished 14 bottles of wine (including crémant de bourgogne as an aperitif and a chinon as a palate cleanser after the gewürztraminer).

Soft cheese with light white wine

We started the evening with a caprese salad: buffalo mozzarella with tomatoes, basil, salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil.

Soft cheeses such as mozzarella pair well with light white wines. Because of the tomatoes I chose this Gavi di Gavi “Minaia” 2010 from Nicola Bergaglio (Piemonte, Italy), a delicious wine made from cortese grapes. The wine has a very nice balance between fruit, acidity and minerality.

Soft goat cheese with sauvignon blanc

Next we tried the classic combination of soft goat cheese with sauvignon blanc. We had “Chèvre d’Or”, a raw-milk goat cheese from the Poitou region and generic French goat cheese on toast grilled in the oven (“chevre chaud”).

With this we drank a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc “The Ned” 2010 and a Henri Bourgeois Sancerre “Le MD de Bourgeois” 2009 (Loire, France). Not surprisingly the NZ had more exotic fruit (but still within reason) and the Sancerre had a great minerality from the steep slope with “Marnes kimméridgiennes” terroir (fossilised shells) at Chavignol.

Both cheeses went well with both wines, but the Chèvre d’Or with the MD de Bourgeois was a match made in heaven.

The classic combination is Crottin de Chavignol with Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé since it comes from the same region, but personally I prefer Chèvre d’Or.

White mold soft cheese with unoaked chardonnay

We had a generic piece of brie and a raw-milk triple-cream cheese called Pierre-Robert. The Pierre-Robert is very creamy yet very fresh.

Both wines were unoaked chardonnays. One old-world from the Côte Chalonnaise, Domaine de l’Évêché Bourgogne Blanc 2008 (French), and the other from the new world, Boschendal “The Pavillion” Chardonnay-Semillion 2011 from South Africa. The blend with semillon makes the wine rounder, which works great with such creamy cheeses.

The Pierre-Robert was an excellent match with both wines. The burgundy has more citrus compared to the ripe tropical fruits in the south african, but the freshness of the Pierre-Robert matched well with the burgundy and the richness of the Pierre-Robert matched well with the south african wine. The generic brie was OK with both wines, but as a cheese just not very interesting.

Washed-rind soft cheese with gewürztraminer

This strong pungent type of cheese goes well with a strong pungent aromatic type of wine: gewürztraminer.

We tried munster cheese with Gewurztraminer “Graf von Meran” 2009 from Kellerei Meran in Süd-Tirol/Alto-Adige (Italy) and liked the combination.

Medium-hard cow cheese with light red wine

Medium-hard cow cheeses that are not very salty and have not been aged for a long time are a good match for red wines that do not have loads of tannins. The possibilities are endless.

We tried emmentaler and young Gouda from the Beemster with a red burgundy Huguenot Marsannay “Champs-Perdrix” 2006 (Burgundy, France) and a Schellino Dolcetto di Dogliani “Massocco” 2010 (Piemonte, Italy).

Both wines paired with both cheeses, but the creamier Beemster went better with the fruitier rounder Dolcetto and the somewhat ‘drier’ emmentaler went better with the more structured red burgundy.

Note that the best Gouda cheese is not made in Gouda but in Beemster, a polder area close to where I live. Gouda from the Beemster is better than many other types of Gouda because of the quality of the grass in the Beemster polder and because of the natural ripening. The slow ripening process results in more interesting cheese than accelerated ripening under higher temperatures.

Aged hard cow cheese with full-bodied red wine

Full-bodied tannic red wines are the most difficult to match with cheese, since the wines are strong-flavored and thus ask for strong-flavored cheese, but often strong-flavored cheese is too salty to go well with the tannins.

We tried parmigiano reggiano aged for 24 months and Gouda from the Beemster aged for 18 months with a Barbaresco “Sorì Paitin” 1999 and a Tre Monti Sangiovese di Romagna “Petrignone” 2008. Both wines were hyperdecanted.

Both wines paired with both cheeses, but the best match was the barbaresco with the parmigiano (even though interestingly enough the sangiovese is produced much closer to the parmigiano than the barbaresco).

Blue cheese with sweet wine

Strong flavored and often salty blue cheeses ask for a sweet wine in contrast. Especially noble rot (botrytis) sweet wines are a great match for blue cheese, but other sweet wines are great as well. The possibilities are endless as there are many types of sweet wine and many types of blue cheese and with some experimenting you can find really good pairings.

We weren’t very adventurous this time and went for the classic combinations of Roquefort with Sauternes (Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey 1998) and Blue Stilton with Vintage Port (Quinta da Romaneira 1985). The vintage port was a bit mellow from age but still paired well with the stilton as well as the roquefort. The sauternes matched well with the roquefort, but even better with the Fourme au Sauternes that we also tried. That was to be expected, as this is Fourme d’Ambert that has been aged in Sauternes.

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14 thoughts on “Pairing Wine and Cheese

  1. Stefan –

    This is a gold mine of information in a short space. I just learned that Sancerre is Sauvignon Blanc last night, so enjoyed reading about both wines. And I shall remember that parmiggiano reggiano goes well with Barbaresco. Excellent. Thanks!

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  2. I am going to constantly refer to this post when I eat / serve wine and cheese at parties or just on my own. I have bookmarked this post! Your assortment of cheeses is pretty fabulous. The Époisses de Bourgogne is a favorite of mine that is very difficult to find here. Your variety of cheeses and wine pairings is fantastic. I am so glad that someone is not afraid to serve a light or full-bodied red with certain cheese. Thanks for this reference – I’ll refer back – wish I lived in your neighborhood, haha!

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