Cheese and wine have a lot in common; I am not going too far by saying that they are kindred spirits and there is no other food and wine pairing that is as perfect as that between these two. Finding the right wine and cheese pairings can give life to a unique gustatory marriage that goes beyond pure scientific matching technique.
This affinity is without any doubt connected to their inner characteristics: both wine and cheese have a strong link to their territory, the cultural identity and local traditions of the place where they are from and they are both produced from a natural element (grapes and milk) which subsequently undergoes a transformation (alcoholic fermentation and curdling); they both mature, grow old and die, each in a different way depending on the type.
Unfortunately that doesn’t mean that we can match them randomly.
Cheese, as much as wine, can be quite variegated and eclectic; it can be made from different types of milk and with different methods resulting in very different aromas and flavors so it is important to take this into consideration before proceeding to a correct wine and cheese pairing.
What To Look at When Pairing Cheese and Wine
Among the most important factors to evaluate when matching wine and cheese, are the type of milk (cow, goat, sheep, buffalo or mixed), the consistency of the cheese (fresh, soft, semi hard or hard), the appearance (with or without crust, with a dry crust, washed rind, smear ripened, blue cheese) and the fat content (double-fat (65% minimum), fat (45%), three-quarters (35%), semi-fat (25%), semi-skimmed (15%) and lean, with less than 15% fat).
Here I am going to look at the major cheese categories and will give you my suggestions for a tasty wine matching.
Goat cheeses were the first to be produced in history. Their production dates back to 800 BC, and they arrived in France in 730 AD with the invasion of the Moors in the area of Poitiers.
This kind of cheese is normally creamy and fresh tasting, slightly salty, and with an interesting acidity. It goes very well with dry whites and rosés. In general, however, fresh white wines with delicate acidity and a soft palate are the best choice, Sauvignon Blanc, Malvasia and Muller Thurgau above all others.
About the wine: This Sancerre, produced by Baron Patrick de Ladoucette from 25 to 35 years old vines, shows a remarkable and aromatic intensity on the nose with notes of white flowers such as hawthorn, acacia, eglantine, and elderflower. In the mouth it is lively with very pleasant acidulous characteristics prolonged by light fruity notes. It’s full with a refreshing finish dominated by flinty stones typical of the finest Sancerre wines.
In soft ripened cheese like Brie, the white moldy rind is the most intense component from the organoleptic point of view. Hence, this kind of cheese requires a wine that is able to harmonize well with the particular taste which is almost similar to mushrooms. The ideal is therefore a pairing with well-refined white wines, characterized by a fruity acidity but not too young. Possibly light wines with low alcohol content, while wines aged in oak barrels are less suitable because the mold contains slightly bitter substances that may give an excessive emphasis to the tannins in the wine. Great, instead, the match with a dry, light and crisp sparkling wine.
Try them with: Cava Avinyó Brut Reserva NV, Spain
About the wine: A classical blend of Macabeu, Parellada, Xarel-lo produced in the Penedes region of Spain, the wine is made with méthode champénoise and stays 18 to 22 months on lees. It has bright white fruits combined with gentle toasty notes. On the palate the wine is fresh and vibrant.
Water Rind and Smear Ripened Cheese
This is a quite wide category that includes all those soft cheese whose rind is periodically treated with brine solutions or alternatively with beer or brandy to avoid the formation of mold and promote the creation of a particular type of bacteria that give the rind the typical pungent and firm flavors. Camembert, Munster and Taleggio are all part of this group.
In this case, the best partner is a soft and fruity Pinot Noir with a rich bouquet, low tannins and possibly some earthy notes.
Try them with: Kris Pinot Noir 2011, Italy
About the wine: Dark ruby in color with purple hues, this wine shows enticing aromas of ripe blackberries and red forest fruits. Flavors are dominated by red and black fruits, followed by subtle earthiness and firm, yet very smooth tannins.
Semi Hard and Hard Cheese
Semi Hard and Hard cheese such as Cheddar, Comte’, Parmesan or a Pecorino are often characterized by a longer ageing and a saltier taste. The Pecorino family, for example, made from sheep’s milk, include a wide array of products each one characterized by a different style and aged in a different way, so it may be difficult to indicate just one wine to match. But, in generic terms, the preferred combination is with white or red (especially for Pecorino) wines that have been aged. A good rule is also to respect a territorial link and take into account the consistency of the cheese. The drier, firmer and harder the cheese, the more alcoholic and tannic the wine.
Hard cheeses that are fatter and velvety can also be paired with white wines aged in oak barrels.
Try Pecorino with: Pala i Fiori Cannonau di Sardegna 2012, Italy
About the wine: This wine, produced on the island of Sardinia from the indigenous Cannonau grape, is the perfect match for a relatively young Pecorino. It shows beautiful ruby red color not too intense, with fresh and immediate nuances of ripe red fruit and vegetal notes. The taste is dry and soft but characterized by a good structure and olfactory persistence.
Try Comté with: William Fevre Bougros Cote Bouguerots Chablis Grand Cru 2009
About the wine: This Grand Cru Chablis is certainly a big wine, robust and dense with a complex bouquet, a round mouth feel and a firm minerality. The perfect partner to a nutty and velvety aged Comté.
Blue cheeses, including Gorgonzola, Stilton and Roquefort possess an intrinsic intense sweetness because, during production, the fat is broken down into glycerol and fatty acids. The mold is the result of the formation of colored mycelia produced from cultures of fungi (especially the genus Penicillium) which are inoculated in the cheese. So, just like in the case of desserts, it is important to seek a balance between the sweet cheese and the wine and the best match is without any doubts a dessert wine such as a German Trockenbeerenauslese or Beerenauslese, an EisWein, a Sauternes or a Tokaji.
Try them with: Royal Tokaji 5 Puttonyos 2008
About the wine: this noble wine, produced by one of the most acclaimed Hungarian producer, is a real treat characterized by an intense amber color and an astonishing complexity. It shows a nose of tropical fruit, figs and cinnamon. In the mouth its sweetness is perfectly balanced by a lively acidity. Long, luscious and velvety, it also has a huge ageing potential.
All you have to do now…
…is to try. Invite your friends over for dinner, choose a good selection of cheese and wines, bring them home, take them out of the fridge approximately an hour before eating them (to get the most from their flavors), open your bottles and….ENJOY the most exquisite gastronomic couple!!