Tips on Pairing Wine and Cheese
While it is difficult to make generalizations about matching cheese and wine, over the years we have seen successful pairings between a cheese type and a wine type often enough to give some recommendations you may find helpful.
With most types of goat’s milk cheese we find light-bodied white wines to be most complementary. Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, as well as some of the lighter expressions of Chardonnays seem to be the best matches for the goats. There are some medium-bodied reds that seem to work well but we recommend that you exercise caution in pairing the goats with the reds. Those goats can be especially capricious!
The sheep’s milk cheeses have paired better with a broader range of wine types. Crisp whites have worked fairly well with some sheep. But in most cases the reds, from light to full-bodied have worked better with the sheep milk cheeses. Many sweet wine types work well with the sheep. There are fewer good matches with the bigger whites and most of the time they just don’t get along that well.
In the recommendations given above, keep in mind that a lot depends upon what type of goat or sheep milk cheese you’re working with. Considering the broad range of goat and sheep milk cheese types that exist, the rules given above hold true in most cases.
With the cow’s milk cheeses the variety of cheese types that exist is even broader so we will break them down into a few categories.
With the triple-cremes we enjoy sparkling wines; light to medium reds made with Gamay or Pinot Noir; and whites made with Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, or Riesling.
With the coated-rind types like Camembert and Brie we recommend that you try light to medium reds. Many possibilities are there but we recommend that you avoid the rinds of those cheese types as they can deliver a strong clash with your juice.
With the wash-rind types like Epoisses, Livarots, and Munsters you will find some successful pairings with medium-bodied to sweeter expressions of these whites: Rieslings, Muscats, Viogniers, Tokays and Gewürztraminers. And you will find some reds that can work well such as Amarones, Nebbiolos, and Grenache blends.
With the firmer pressed cow milk cheeses such as Tomme de Savoie, Caerphilly, Cheddar and Wildmannli we recommend medium to full-bodied white wines made with either Tokay, Chardonnay, Riesling, or Viognier; or you might try light to medium reds made with either Gamay, Pinot Noir, Tannat, or Syrah. Sweeter wines can work beautifully with these too.
With the harder cooked and pressed cow milk cheeses such as Gruyère and Parmigiano-Reggiano we enjoy sparkling wines and various reds of light to full-bodied types. We also find successful matches with some of the lighter whites.
With the Dutch styles of hard cow milk cheeses like Gouda we prefer beers or red wines, and Amarones in particular.
With the Blues we find sweeter wines tend to work best. Ports, Madeiras, Sauternes and sherries made with Moscatel or Ximenez generally work very well. If your date doesn’t do any kind of “sweet” wine you can ask for a Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, or a Gamay wine if a red wine is preferred. Or if it’s got to be a white try a fat California Chardonnay. These wines actually do have some sweet anyway and the chances of finding some successful matches aren’t bad.
Which brings us to this point: cheeses and wines (or beers or ciders) are basically good partners based upon the balance of salt and sweet they provide. This is the first consideration. But there are other factors at play, such as acidities, aroma and textures, among others. Once you find a wine and cheese combination you like, remember it and next time try a little bit better expression of a Pinot Noir, Riesling, or whatever it is you liked and see if you discover one of those elusive marriages made in heaven!
Some of the classic pairings between cheeses and wines include:
Roquefort and Sauternes
Stilton and Tawny Port
Munster and Alsatian Gewürztraminer
I’d add a tip about pairing a wine and cheese for a party… whenever possible, try them first before thrusting it on your guests. Nothing turns somebody off like an awful first experience.