The possibilities of pairing cheese and wine are endless. There are so many wines and so many cheeses. Here are some ideas:
Young, mild, and milky cheeses such as fresh goat cheese pair well with light, fruity delicate wines such as Sauvignon Blanc and Beaujolais
Assertive, strong-flavored cheeses such as Provolone pair well with young, robust red wines such as Chianti and Syrah
Aged mellow cheeses such as Parmigiano and Gouda pair well with older, robust wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel
Strong, pungent cheeses such as Pont l'Eveque or Taleggio pair well with young, full-bodied wine such as Merlot or sweet dessert wines such as late-harvest Reislings and Sauternes
Soft-ripened cheeses like Brie and Camembert pair well with full-flavored Chardonnays or Champagne
Tangy strong goat cheeses such as Crottin di Chavignol pair well with Burgundies
Blue cheeses such as Roquefort and Stilton pair well with sweet dessert wines like Port or Sauternes
Soft, rich cheeses without overpowering flavors are best with fine, older wines.
When what you're drinking melds with what you're eating, something magical takes place in your mouth, in terms of a sheer sensory experience.
A cheese’s texture is the most important characteristic when looking for a compatible wine partner because the texture of a cheese gives you a clear idea of its flavor. Is the cheese velvety and creamy or firm and dry? By matching the texture in a wine you can rule out some obvious clashes. For example, a triple crème brie like Brillat-Savarin, with its fluffy, whipped cream texture, pairs well with a light Champagne or other sparkling wine. The bubbles also provide a nice palate-cleansing contrast to the creaminess of the cheese. On the other hand, a dense, lip-smacking cheese like a Vintage Gouda requires backbone in a partner. A thin, light wine would be crushed by the complexity of this aged cheese. Rather, choose a full-bodied “heavy” wine like Zinfandel or Syrah that has some age to it as well. A “meaty” cheese, such as a wash-rind Morbier, is full, plump, flavorful and creamy. You can instantly recognize it by the line of ash running through the middle of the cheese. Choose a soft, round red wine such as a French Pinot Noir or Côtes du Rhône and experience bliss.
When it comes to harmony in the cheese-wine relationship either component should taste as good, if not better, with the pairing as it does on its own. Trust me you’ll know instantly when you have a bad marriage; the wine can become bitter and the cheese can become sour. A simple guideline is to pair light wines with light cheeses and heavy wines with heavy cheeses. A light cheese is typically classified as a fresh or semi-soft cheese and is aged less than a month. Younger cheeses lack the complexity that older cheeses have acquired over time and would be better suited with a younger wine. Young wines are usually defined as crisp, higher in acidity, lower in alcohol (10%-12%) and exposed to very little oak. The higher the acidity, the more crispness you will taste in a wine making this pairing ideal. The amount of alcohol in a wine gives you an indication of the body of the wine. The higher the alcohol percentage, the more body and less likely it will go with lighter cheeses. Younger wines are not typically aged in oak barrels for very long so they lack that heavy, buttery, toasty notes of aged wines. An example of a good pairing based on intensity is chèvre, or fresh goat cheese, with Sauvignon Blanc or Mozzarella with a light Sangiovese. Likewise, Pecorino Vecchio, (a.k.a. Pecorino Grand Old Man), aged 16 months is packed with mouthwatering flavor and should be paired with a vintage Brunello di Montalcino. The only exception to this rule is pairing a big red wine with a bold blue cheese. One sip and you will know that this was a bad idea.
Fruity Wines Shine
Fruitiness in wines, either red or white, makes it easier to pair with most cheeses. For the cheese-wine relationship to stand a chance stay away from bone-dry, tannic or over-oaked wines. These finicky partners can wreak havoc on your experience. Either the cheese or the wine will suffer. The salty and lactic flavors of the cheese can ruin a dry wine, but can provide the right balance to a fruity wine. Cypress Grove’s Midnight Moon, a semi-hard, aged goat’s milk cheese, walks the line between earthiness and fruitiness. The wine for this cheese should do the same. On the white side, a Gewürztraminer pairs very well because it has similar characteristics. On the red side, a Pinot Noir or medium bodied Merlot shines.
What’s important in all of this is to keep it simple. You’ll know you have a perfect pairing when you can't find where the wine ends and where the cheese begins. To bring these two ethereal pleasures together only requires you to have fun and be open to experimenting. Read more about cheese and wine pairings in The Cheese Course.