Pairing Cheese & Wine: Tips, Combos, and Twists
Author: Tom Planer
Wine & cheese is one of the classic food & wine pairing combos. But does all wine go with all cheese? It’s not quite so simple. While it’s tricky to go too far wrong there are some rules, and if you follow them, you and your guests will be in cheese & wine pairing heaven.
Generally speaking, slightly tannic, medium to high acidity red wines pair well with most cheeses so if you’ve got to choose one bottle, this is a safe bet. If you’re prepping a cheese board and are looking for something to go with everything - Pinot Noir, Grenache or Cabernet Franc would all be good choices.
In fact in France, cheese is typically served before dessert, which is a great way to finish up any leftover red wine you may have been drinking with your main course before moving on to a sweeter wine for dessert.
If you go down a level from this there are some useful tips and tricks to making good pairings generally.
Top General Tips for Cheese and Wine Pairing
1. Try to match the intensity: A key principle in pairing cheese and wine is to match the intensity or boldness of the cheese with the wine so you don’t overpower the cheese (or the wine). Mild cheeses pair well with lighter wines like Pinot Gris or Gamay, while strong, pungent cheeses can hold their own with full-bodied wines like Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah.
2. Contrast or complement: When pairing wine with cheese, you can either complement the flavours of the cheese or create a contrast. Both can work well. For example, a rich, creamy, buttery cheese could be complemented by something equally rich (like Viognier or oaked Chardonnay) or could be contrasted with something light & acidic like a Riesling.
The only exception here is don’t try to pair any cheeses that are fresh or acidic with non-acidic wines. It can make the wine taste flat & what we call flabby (which means lacking in acidity). Nothing bad will happen - it just makes the wine a bit meh.
3. Experiment with sweet and savoury: Acidic sweet wines, like Tokaji, Sauternes or a Moscato, can create a delicious contrast with savoury, salty cheeses like blue cheese, aged Comte or Gouda. Don't be afraid to mix and match sweet and savoury flavours to find your perfect pairing.
Take it one step further and you can start pairing specific wines with specific cheeses. It’s possible to pair whites, roses, orange, dessert, fortified and even sparkling wines with cheese and create some amazing combinations.
Wine Pairings for Different Cheese styles:
1. Soft cheeses (e.g. Brie, Camembert): These creamy, buttery cheeses pair well with both light or full bodied white wines, as well as lighter fruity reds like Pinot Noir or Beaujolais.
2. Goat & Sheep cheeses (e.g. Chevre, Feta): Tangy, fresh goat cheeses are a natural match for crisp, acidic white wines with a bit of grassiness to them. Things like Sauvignon Blanc or Vermentino are great - but can also work beautifully with a refreshing rosé.
3. Hard cheeses (e.g. Cheddar, Gouda, Parmesan): Aged, hard cheeses with nutty, salty flavours pair really well with nutty, aged, white wines, but they work with a variety of wines and can also be enjoyed with full-bodied reds like Cabernet Sauvignon or Malbec & rich, oaky whites like Chardonnay.
4. Blue cheeses (e.g. Stilton, Roquefort, Gorgonzola): The strong, pungent flavours of blue cheeses call for bold wine pairings that can stand up to their intensity. Full-bodied reds like Syrah or Zinfandel, sweet dessert wines like Port or Sauternes, or even a robust, earthy orange wine can create a delightful contrast with these assertive cheeses.
5. Washed-rind cheeses (e.g. Taleggio, Epoisses, Munster): These funky, aromatic cheeses are best paired with wines that can balance their strong flavours. Try a medium-bodied, fruity red like a Gamay or a Pinot Noir, or a rich, full-bodied white.
Unusual Pairings Cheese & Wine Pairings That Work
Champagne might not be the first thought to pair with cheese but it can work surprisingly well. If you’ve got a crisp, citrus acidic sparkling wine, use it to cut through a creamy Brie, Camembert or Délice de Bourgogne. If you’ve got a richer, more biscuity, nutty number - you could try it with an aged, nutty Alpine cheese. Like Schlossberger or Emmental.
The rich, deep, sweet red wines called Vin Doux Naturels are an incredible pairing for chocolate desserts - but also go really well with cheese. A punchy Roquefort or Stilton would be a great choice here as the wine itself packs a lot of flavour and can handle the intensity of the cheese.
Orange wines can have a slight saltiness and a decent amount of tannin which can make them a great pairing for salty, sheep's milk cheese. Give them a try with Manchego or Ossau-Iraty.
At the end of the day, the most important rule in cheese and wine pairing is to have fun and trust your taste buds. Don't be afraid to experiment with different combinations and find what works best for you. And remember, there's no right or wrong when it comes to enjoying food and wine – as long as you're having a good time you're doing it right (and you normally are when cheese & wine are involved!).
Now that you've got the info you need on cheese and wine pairing, it's time to gather your favourite cheeses, pop open a bottle (or two) of wine, and start exploring the wonderful world of flavours and textures that await you.
With these simple tips, tasty combos, and fun twists, you're well on your way to becoming a cheese and wine pairing pro. Now all that’s missing is the wine - did we mention our wine club is the great way to explore the world of wine with wines paired to your tastes.
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