For the most part, most beverages can be enjoyed with any meal or snack. But there’s no denying the unmistakable bond between a good wine and a quality cheese. Whether you’re enjoying your favorite cheese covered pizza or a traditional creamy cheesy pasta dish, adding a glass of wine is always a good choice.
While cheese and wine have a few things in common, their contrasting tastes might not seem like a good match at all. However, the contradictory tastes are actually what makes a wine and cheese combination work so well. The trick though is finding the right pairing.
Just because wine and cheese make such a good pairing doesn’t mean you can combine any wine with any cheese type. There are still a few guidelines to consider to ensure you get the best taste experience from your dining experience. Read on to see a few of these basic guidelines to get your wine and cheese pairing journey started!
Why are Wine and Cheese Such a Good Pairing?
For centuries wine and cheese have made a great pairing. For starters, it’s a well-known fact that cheese improves the taste perception of a whole variety of fruity aromas. Cheese also reduces the astringency of most red wines and adds to the crisp flavor of white wines.
Essentially, cheese is ordinarily high in fat, and coats your mouth and blocks the taste receptors affected by most beverages. Since most wines have varying levels of tannin, this acidity cuts through the cheesy barrier. When this happens, a fuller, richer flavor of cheesiness is released.
This process is often referred to as “palate cleansing.” Astringent foods paired with creamier, cheesier dishes create this type of enriched taste combination.
Expert Tips to Always Keep in Mind
There are probably as many types of cheeses as there are wines. If you’ve never paired wine and cheese, it’s important to keep a few guidelines in mind. Don’t assume that any cheese will pair well with any wine. With tannin levels in the wine, fat levels in the cheese and the way the cheese is prepared, some wines could create a bland, bitter experience.
One of the most important considerations of pairing wine with anything is the level of tannins. Simply put, tannins are natural compounds in plants that create a bitter taste on your tongue. Red wines have the highest levels of tannins and clash with the fat content in cheese. You could end up with a bitter, unpleasant flavor. Approach red wines and cheese pairings with some caution.
Opposites can Attract
In the culinary world, opposites often make the most exquisite pairings. Examples include lime and black pepper or even chili and chocolate. Some wine and cheeses are no different. Wine and cheese pairings that work well include Sauvignon Blanc which pairs well with buttery cheeses. Salty Stilton and Italian Parmesan work best with sweet wines like Moscato.
Like with Like
While some opposites do attract in particular instances, the general rule of thumb is to pair like with like. Generally, pair heavy cheese with heavy wines and light wines with light cheeses. For instance, full-bodied white wines such as Chardonnay pair well with aged cheddar cheeses. Fresher, more delicate cheeses pair well with fruiter wines.
The general concept of terroir suggests that items that grow together should go together. That refers to the environment, including climate and soil. Therefore, matching cheese and wine produced in the same area is often a good pairing. A popular example of this is the Brunello wine with Pecorino cheese which hail from Tuscany.
Types of Cheeses vs Types of Wines
It’s almost impossible to find a single wine that pairs well with all cheeses. When you’re preparing a meal that you’d like to pair with wine, it’s advisable to focus on one particular type of cheese. This will make it easier to find a matching wine. Some general wine and cheese basic ideas are listed below.
Hard Mature Cheeses
The sharp taste of mature cheese pairs well with fuller white wines as well light reds.
- Cheese: Sharp Cheddar, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Aged Gouda
- Wine: Chardonnay, Pinot noir, Prosecco, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon
Hard Mild Cheeses
Milder cheeses blend well with light reds and most white wines.
- Cheese: Gruyere, Cheddar
- Wine: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling, sparkling wines
Blue cheese generally pairs well with full-bodied reds, sweet white wines and even fortified wines.
Soft Bloomy Rind Cheese
The best paring options for softer cheeses are light and medium reds, fortified wines and full whites.
- Cheese: Camembert, Brie
- Wine: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon
The unique taste of goat cheese pairs well with sparkling wines, medium reds and fuller whites. As a rule of thumb with goat’s cheese, avoid any oaked wines.
- Cheese: Chevre
- Wine: Chenin Blanc, Pinot Gris, Rose, Spumante
Common Cheesy Foods with their Wine Pairings
An added breakdown of the types of cheesy dishes and their most effective wine pairings will give you an idea of how to complement your next meal.
Essentially, artisanal cheese refers to types of cheeses that are made using more traditional methods. These “home-made” cheeses are made using milk from the makers’ own herd animals. These include cows, ewes or goats.
Artisan cheese is more complex in flavor. Varying from a buttery, mild cheddar flavor to an intense aged cheddar means the taste is somewhat different to an average cheese. How will that affect a glass of wine? Fortunately, there’s a wine option perfect for artisanal cheese.
- Cabernet Sauvignon: It works as a successful pairing because Artisan cheddar has a fattiness that balances the mouth-drying tannins found in a quality Cabernet Sauvignon. Since both flavors are bold and robust, they complement each other without being bland or bitterly sharp!
People have paired wine and pizza for many years. In fact, it’s an old Italian favorite. Like pasta, the choice of wine depends on the sauce. Pizzas made with a tomato sauce base, or a meat base, will require a wine with a higher tannin level. In most cases, you’re looking for a medium to full-bodied red.
But, given the symbiotic relationship of cheese and wine, a slice of cheesy pizza covered in mouth-watering mozzarella cheese pairs well with the following:
- Grenache: A red wine with a high tannin like Grenache is the perfect pizza pairing. The high acidity in the wine cuts through the sweetness of the mozzarella. It also balances out any tomato or spicy additions to the pizza.
- Pinot Noir: If you prefer a pizza with minimal meat and maximum olives, green peppers and cheese, Pinot Noir is the perfect combination. The sweetness of the wine easily counters the sharp tastes of extra cheese and olive combinations.
If you’re serving a cheese platter, it might be complicated to find the right wine to balance out all the different cheese flavors. Avoid dry white wines as they seldom pair with the creaminess of cheeses.
If you only want to serve one wine consider one of these options:
- German Riesling: Sweet and acidic wines are a brilliant match for most cheese combinations.
- Sauternes: Any type of dessert wine goes well with many types of cheeses since it’s not too sweet.
When it comes to pasta, wine pairing generally depends on whether or not you’ll be using a tomato sauce as a base and also the type of meat used. Due to the acidity in tomatoes, those types of dishes are always best served with a red wine with a higher tannin.
However, when it comes to pasta dishes like the traditional mac and cheese or other mushroom and cheese-based pasta dishes, wine choices open up. Some of the more popular include the following:
- Lambrusco: Commonly known as a red sparkling wine, Italy’s Lambrusco is an unusual but perfect choice for any type of cheesy pasta or noodles. Lambrusco’s sharp tannins are ideally balanced with the cheese, making it immensely popular.
- Dry Riesling: While a dry Riesling is sometimes considered to be a bit sweet, the salt in a cheese dish does a remarkable job of balancing the sweetness in the wine.
- Grenache: Grenache is made in the hot dry temperatures of Spain, making its grape extra ripe. This tangy ripe flavor makes it a unique and tasty pairing to most cheesy pasta dishes.
Another popular cheesy dish is fondue. Essentially, fondue is a dish where you dip bread into a cheese sauce that’s heated on the table. Fondue is great easy-to-make comfort food to share with a small group of friends on a cool winter evening.
Traditionally, Gruyere, Emmental and Raclette cheeses were mixed together with Kirsch. Bread in the form of chunks or sticks is then dipped into this creamy sauce. These days, Gouda, Cheddar and Swiss cheese are also used. With all these varying cheese flavors, the wines that pair best with fondue include the following:
- Dry Riesling: A quality Riesling cuts through the richness of the Gruyere cheese, allowing you to experience the full flavor of the cheese.
- Pinot Gris: This classic white wine has a sweet, rich flavor and its spicy notes pair well with the combinations of the various cheeses.
- Chenin Blanc: The fruity notes of this wine not only cut through the cheese but, pair well with fruits that are also often dipped in the cheese.
Of course, a list of cheese pairings would be incomplete without a reference to the most suitable pairing with everyone’s favorite dessert – cheesecake! When it comes to cheesecake, aside from considering the type of cheesecake you’re dealing with, consider the toppings on the cake. Cheesecakes are traditionally made with soft cream cheese which often pairs well with sweeter, fruitier white wines.
Some of the different types of cheesecake and wine pairings could include:
- Plain cheesecake: Late harvest Sauvignon Blanc and a sweet Riesling are probably the best options for a traditional plain cheesecake.
- Lemon cheesecake: When it comes to lemon flavors, it’s important to consider your choice of wine carefully. If the wine has undertones of lemon, the cheesecake could end up tasting bitter. If your cheesecake has a mild lemon flavor and is made of Italian-style Ricotta cheese, then a Moscato wine is a good choice. An extra-dry Prosecco’s medium sweetness will balance the lemon. A lemon cheesecake with a very strong lemon taste will do well with a chilled Limoncello.
- Chocolate cheesecake: Sweet red wines form the perfect combination with chocolate and cheese!
- Cherry/berry topped cheesecakes: A late harvest Riesling balances the sweetness of the fruit and complements the type of cheese base.
If cheese and wine are both on your list of favorite flavors, the good news is, there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy them together. With our expert tips and wine suggestions, your next dinner can easily include a winning combination of both.
An added tip from our experts is to plan when doing your meal preparations. Test a piece of cheese with a few different wines to make sure you find the perfect combination. The right wine and cheese combination will enhance any culinary experience!