Wine + Cheese Pairings
Wine and cheese go together like…peanut butter and jelly? Horse and carriage? Why is this the case? Whether you’re putting together a small appetizer assortment for a nice evening at home, hosting a more formal cocktail hour wine and cheese pairing or putting together a nice picnic outing, there are easy ways to please everyone! With the spring season upon us, there are so many fresh cheese options at your local market that will surely please your palate.
Why do wine and cheese go so well together? There are reasons this classic pairing has withstood the test of time. No matter the varietal of the grapes, wine is made regionally. Affected by the environment, wine flavors and scents carry floral components, earthiness and spice of the areas where they are grown. Cheese benefits from the same influences that spring from the richness of soils along with grasses consumed by goats, sheep and cows throughout the regions of the world. When the flavor profiles of both wine and cheese come together, it’s a magical combination. If you consider the busy work of bees, honey contains a regional signature from where they obtain pollen; therefore every local honey tastes unique. Fermented food products such as wines, cheeses and honey contain histamines as well. Whether your favorite cheese varieties are hard or soft, local or imported, they contain a specific flavor profile just like your favorite wines!
Enjoying wine and cheese together is good for us, as they can provide a balance of good bacteria that aid in digestion, fight infection and keep good balance for our health. As cheeses come from a variety of regions of the world, so does our wine! Spain, Italy, France, England and Switzerland are providing great cheesy inspirations for our wine love.
Let’s share three ways ways we tend to approach wine and cheese enjoyment. As an appetizer, a pre-dinner plate with one to two cheeses is put together as an evening warm up. In the late evening or after an evening out, a selection enjoyed with fruit can be a healthy alternative to dessert. And when you’re entertaining, whether you’re hosting a dinner party of eight to twelve or if you were asked to contribute to one, this pairing opportunity can become the highlight of any gathering. The pairings that garner my largest affections are the ones during which my guests are the main attraction, the recipients of good wine, flavor-rich cheeses and lively conversation.
After all these years as an oenophile, I still utilize a few key points that I’ve learned from restaurants and sommeliers to guide me in the purchase of charcuterie, cheeses and wines:
Fat = Oak: The creamy, nutty goodness of brie and camembert are beautiful with the toasted oak of Chardonnay; aged pungent blue cheeses partner with Cabernet Sauvignons very well.
Spicy = Sweet: Peppered white cheddars perfectly embrace the sweetness of Muscats and Sauternes.
Smoky = Robust: Smoked gouda cheese becomes creamy with Zinfandels and Malbecs.
Fruit = Acid: Apricots, melons and nuts mesh nicely with the acidic Sauvignon Blancs and Chenin Blancs.
Notably, these wines also easily pair with nuts of all varieties, as well as savory dishes that contain bacon, onion and garlic, including breads, pastas and legumes. If you prefer white wines, they generally maintain the delicate balances of softer cheeses. Red wines will typically have a bolder, distinctive profile and stand up to cheeses that are strong in texture. Softer red wines such as Pinot Noir or Beaujolais pair easily with nearly all cheeses and palates.
And sometimes it’s the simple things such as a glass of wine and wedge of cheese that make the perfect meal. Remember that wine pairings don’t stop at cheese! Fruits, savory meats, soups, salads and vegetables can be inspired by the delicious flavors and textures of cheese and wine. Believe it or not, a grilled peanut butter and jelly sandwich on sourdough bread is savory and delicious with a glass of Chenin Blanc. Try it!
Pairings are fun, and it’s most important to enjoy the wines you like with the cheeses you’ll enjoy. After all, you want to savor the moment and not get too caught up with the details!
Quick Four Survival List
In wine circles, it’s often said, “Something old, something new, something goat and something blue.” Any way you slice it, cheese is most usually considered a wonderful companion for wine any time of year and can be prepared quickly.
Here’s my Quick Four Survival List, an easy group of items you can keep on hand for any occasion, including picnics, so you are ready to impress anyone, including yourself!
4 Cheeses: Double cream brie, smoked gouda, herbed goat or blue cheese, manchego
4 Fruits/Nuts: Dried apricots, dates, almonds, walnuts or pecans
4 Condiments: Cranberry sauce, hummus, lemon curd, olive tapenade
4 Wines: Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, Malbec