Where matching cheese with wine is concerned, it’s like religion and politics – no one agrees!
And this is hardly surprising bearing in mind that there are hundreds of different cheeses in the world – France alone boasts over 300. Pairing cheese with wine then, is not as easy as you might first imagine.
The following are therefore some suggestions to help make the task a little easier.
It is often a good idea to serve the cheese course Continental style before the dessert, so that your palate doesn’t have to travel from savoury to sweet and back again.
Depending on the cheese you choose, it’s often better to have a white wine to accompany it, as research demonstrates that the tannins present in red wine can react with the acids in cheese, making the wine taste bitter and metallic.
Rich, full bodied chardonnays are therefore an excellent choice as their creamy, buttery character has a natural affinity with cheese, especially soft cheeses like Brie and Brillat-Savarin. Try a reasonably priced white Burgundy, perhaps from the Mâconnais, like a Pouilly-Fuissé or Saint Véran, the Côte Chalonnaise such as a Montagny, or a new world Chardonnay. Milder semi hard cheeses such as Jarlsberg and Comté also work well here.
Crisp Chablis also complements soft cheeses, especially Chaource, as does a glass of Champagne. In fact, Champagne goes very well with cheese, because the acidity levels correspond. If you think about the cheesy nibbles often on offer with sparkling wine aperitifs, you will see what we mean.
Matching local cheeses with the wines of that area is also good idea – try an Alsace Gewürztraminer or Pinot Gris with Munster. Or a Rioja with Manchego.
That said, for many people nothing seems to go as well with strong hard mature cheeses like Parmesan and Cheddar than a well chosen, full bodied red. You don’t want anything too tannic or aggressively oaky here to avoid that metallic clash. So try soft and mature wines that have been gently oaked like a Rioja Reserva or Gran Reserva, or a well-rounded spicy Shiraz from Australia. Also try a full bodied Spanish Grenache and savoury reds like a Chianti Classico and other Sangiovese wines can also work well.
If you prefer red wine with cheese, then red Burgundy and Pinot Noir in general seems to be among the most cheese friendly wine of all.
The classic partner for goats cheese is sauvignon blanc. The crisp, aromatic and herbaceous qualities of this wine suite the chalky texture of the cheese. However, goats cheese ranges from very mild and fresh, to full on powerful and goaty. If the cheese is pungent, try a full flavoured Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand or Chile, but if it’s milder and less piquant, choose a French Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire - like a Sancerre or a Pouilly-Fumé.
Sweet wines are fabulous with blue cheeses. These rich, salty cheeses are marriages made in heaven with the sweetness of dessert wines because sweet compliments salt. Sauternes is a well-established match for Roquefort, but you don’t have to spend a fortune and can try a wine from one of Sauternes’ neighbours instead, like a Barsac, Cadillac, Loupiac or Ste-Croix-du-Mont. Or from one of the satellite regions of Bordeaux, like Mombazilliac. Try also Muscat Beaume-de-Venis, a Juraçon , or a sweet wine from the Loire.
And of course, Port is also a classic match with Stilton, as is cheddar - especially Tawny Port. But if you enjoy Sherry, try an Amontillado or a rich Oloroso too. And don’t forget the sweeter styles of Madeira.
Single Malt Whisky can be a revelation to accompany cheese. There are different styles of Whisky, ranging from the light and floral to the heavily peaty.
Try a light, delicate Whisky with hard cheeses and a smoky one with blue.
So have fun in trying out your own wine and spirit matches with cheese – experiment and be adventurous and you may well hit on a real masterpiece!