Pairing Wine and Cheese

June 25, 2012 Published by Dina

My interest in wine developed along with my interest in food but it was not until the last few years that I started devoting some time to the formal study of wine. Wine is an intellectual pursuit and a fascinating field of study. It is not an isolated discipline as it encompasses history, culture, religion, economics, geography, science, medicine, languages and finally, travel and cuisine. I have taken pre-requisite courses in the International Sommelier Guild program, the UC Davis online program as well as other local courses and have acquired a significant wine books collection.

This adventure in the “vineyard” led me to write a book about wine (and cheese) that I gave to my children as part of my contribution to their education. Whether you drink wine or not, I feel that some basic knowledge of wine is necessary for a cultured person today, much like knowledge of food. We are social creatures and often our social gatherings revolve around food and wine. Even if you yourself do not drink, your guests may appreciate a good bottle of wine and you have an obligation as a host or a hostess to at least know what to offer or distinguish between wine options offered at dining establishments.

In the book I review the history and development of viticulture and vinification and describe the various grapes, wines and main wine producing regions of the old and new worlds. The book is not intended as a comprehensive nor technical study but rather as a summery of what I find interesting about wine, meant to appeal to the my children’s mind and palate and entice them to learn more on their own. As I was finishing the wine book I included recipes of foods that go with wine (almost all do) and decided to include a chapter about cheese since wine and cheese have a wonderful affinity. I begun buying and tasting many different cheeses and accumulated a library of books about cheese that I read with interest. This is the extent of my knowledge in these two areas. Since I would like this blog to be a good resource for things relating to food I thought it would be fun to offer my personal insights into the subject. I hope you find some of it useful.

Wine and cheese are natural partners and the two have been consumed together for thousands of years. Pairing cheese with wine is much like selecting any other food on a menu. You aim to complement or contrast flavours, colours and textures without confusing the palate with too broad a selection. A palate is a personal experience and there are no absolute “rules” as far as I am concerned, so let your sense of balance guide you in creating the pairing that pleases you. I am however offering a few guidelines to consider in creating your pairing selection.

What is being featured? Are you trying to showcase the wine or the cheese? Allow the main star to take the lead role and match the other to it.

Balance: This is the overall aim. Choose pairs that do not compete for attention and do not overpower one another.

Texture: Pair softness with structure. Richer, velvety cheeses are complimented by effervescent texture wines

Similarities: Look for similarities in style, texture and flavours. Rustic wine with rustic cheese, delicate wine with delicate cheese.

(or) Contrast: Opposites attract principle. Acidic wine to tone down fatty cheeses, buttery wine to smooth dry cheese, sweet wine to compliment pungent, salty cheeses.

Examples of traditional pairing

By cheese category:

Fresh, soft cheeses: cream cheese, cottage cheese, quark, ricotta. If you must pair these, use Champagne.

Soft, ripened cheeses: Brie, Camembert, are soft, fatty and moist. They tend to go well with Burgundy varieties (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Beaujolais), Alsace varieties (Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer), Sauvignon Blanc or Merlot, Barolo or Zinfandel.

Semi soft, ripened cheeses: Boursault, Brie, Camembert, Feta, Ricotta Salata, Saint André, Fontina, Havarti, Muenster, Monterey Jack, Taleggio  These are paired with Gewürztraminer, Pinot Grigio,, Chardonnay, Beaujolais, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Noir.

Semi Hard / firm, ripened cheeses: Cheddar, Guyere, Edam, Gouda, Emmentaler, Swiss and Provolone are firmer, stronger and saltier cheese that tend to pair well with full bodies red wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah or Shiraz. For a white wine try Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc or a Sauternes.

Hard / Firm, salty  cheeses: Parmigiano Reggiano, Grana Padano, Aged Asiago, Romano and Pecorino are hard salty cheeses with pungent flavours that are complimented by strong, bold wines such as Amarone, Barbaresco, Barolo, Barbaresco, Chianti, Valpolicella, Lambrusco, Rioja, Cabernet Sauvignon or Red Zin.  In white wines try Pinot Grigio. Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay.

Blue Vein cheeses: Roquefort, Gorgonzola, Stilton and Cambozola are blue vein strong and salty cheeses traditionally matched with sweet wines, either sweetened naturally through botrytis, or ice wines, or fortified, such as Ports. Port, Sauternes, Tokaji, Ice Wines, Vin Santo and the various dessert wines would be a good combination. Sauternes with Roquefort or Tawny Port with Stilton are classic pairings. A Pinot Gris is also an option that goes well with these cheeses. Other wines would be Amarone, Moscato or the likes.

Goat cheese:  Chèvre and Goat Feta go well with Sauvignon Blanc, Champagne, Chenin Blanc .

By wine type:

Dry white wines pair well with soft textured cheeses that have strong flavour: Pinto Gris, Dry Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chablis, Pinot Grigio, Dry German Riesling.

Sweet white wines pair well with strong cheeses: Sauternes, Ice wines, dessert wines, port, Vino Santo, Pinot Blanc, Gewürztraminer.

Dry  and semi Dry Rosés go well with mild cheeses: Tavel, Cote de Provence, White Zinfandel, Anjou rosé.

Light to medium red wines go well with mild cheeses: Merlot, Beaujolais, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Chianti.

Medium to full bodies reds  go well with strong cheese: Syrah, Shiraz, Barolo, Barbaresco.


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