The universe is built upon balance, or so we’re told. Occasionally, two things - seemingly completely different in their character and features - come together, and that’s when the fireworks happen. The yin finds its yang, the Lennon finds its McCartney, Uluru meets the rising sun...
OK, we’re maybe getting slightly philosophical here. But this is a blog about pairing cheese with wine, and frankly, that’s a combo that deserves a bit of hyperbole. A great piece of artisanal cheese and a well-paired bottle of decent wine is something which, on the palate, becomes far more than the sum of its parts.
It’s a taste sensation, a real piece of flavour-based bliss, and the perfect expression of how food and wine can produce something truly amazing once they’ve both passed your lips.
For us, cheese and wine is often the absolute highlight of a meal, and our favourite way to demonstrate we really mean business when it comes to hosting guests. However, as with food and wine pairing, getting it right can take a little bit of insider know-how.
Good cheese and good wine are often both powerfully-flavoured things, and the perfect pairing is all about hitting those harmonious notes, stepping outside your comfort zone, and ensuring that one doesn’t overpower the other when mixed together.
Luckily for all of you, we’ve done the (oh so very) hard work of checking out all the classic and less-expected pairings out there, and deciding upon the very best of them all. So, without further ado, let’s get stuck into The Wine Gallery’s ultimate cheese and wine pairing guide, and explore the greatest gift your tastebuds can receive!
A couple of points to bear in mind
Be open to experimentation
While we’re happy to give you advice based on the classic pairings of the world, as well as what works for us, you shouldn’t think of this as the be-all-and-end-all of wine and cheese matching.
Everyone’s palate is different and unique, and that’s part of what makes the world of wine such an exciting one. As such, it’s important that you keep an open mind when pairing any food and wine together - check out different combinations, follow your instincts, be comfortable in saying you don’t like something when you honestly find it less than pleasant… this is the key to unlocking some combinations which work perfectly for you. Who knows? You might discover a new perfect pairing that others would love, too.
Think about regionality
This is especially true when checking out combinations of Old World European cheeses and wines. Every country has its own individual identity, but when it comes to food and drink, regionality is often more important than nationality. Cheese and wine will often have evolved side by side in particular parts of the world, and if you’re looking for authentic and truly heavenly combinations, it’s sometimes just worth pairing up a wine with a cheese from the same region (or town, or village…) and enjoying them as the locals have done for centuries.
Coming back to our previous point, however, if you think that your favourite bottle of contemporary-style unfined Aussie Shiraz works damn well with a piece of Cheddar cheese made in the ancient caves of Somerset, England, using methods which date back to the dark ages (etc etc etc), then fill your boots. We won’t judge you.
Now, onto the main course… our favourite wine and cheese combos to blow your socks off!
Wine Pairings for Cheddar Cheese
Cheddar cheese comes from the west of England, where they don’t drink a whole lot of wine. This is cider country, and the crisp appley-ness of a top traditional cider is a cheese pairing which is pretty hard to beat. However, using this as a cue, you can make some logical wine matches which really hit the spot.
Get yourself a good bottle of dry Riesling (which often has all the delicious sharpness of a good green apple), or even a nice Sauvignon Blanc, and you’re onto a winner. If you fancy a bold and counter-intuitive food pairing, reach for a Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux blend; the rich, boisterous nature of these wine holds up well against the strength of a traditionally-made Cheddar.
These pairings tend to work well for a wide range of classic hard cheeses. Gruyere, Comté, Lancashire, Wensleydale and others can easily fit into the same category, with fantastic results.
Soft French Cheeses
England, Spain, The Netherlands and Italy all make plenty of noise when it comes to their cheeses, but even the most jingoistic among their cheese fans would probably grudgingly admit that the French have the edge over them. Every region of France has a plethora of cheeses which they take a ferocious pride in, but the best of all are the soft, runny cheeses that seem to melt slightly at room temperature, and burst with which creamy, funky flavours.
While there are literally hundreds of these cheeses out there in France (as well as those imitators from elsewhere around the world), the king and queen of them all are Brie and Camembert. But which wine should you drink with these incredible products?
The fatty, creamy, dense nature of these cheeses is going to call out for a wine with a decent acidity, which will be required to cut through their heavy and rounded character. A good Chenin Blanc is never a bad option when it comes to Brie and Camembert, but you could equally opt for a modern-style sharp Chardonnay for a similar effect.
For a less obvious pairing, try a Spanish Albarino - the slight salinity of this wine works really well with the salt rind of the cheese - or if you want to focus on the earthy, mushroom flavours of a strong Camembert, a Pinot Noir does the job very well indeed.
Hard Italian Cheese
Where would Italian cuisine be without the hard, flaky, sharp Parmesan and Gran Padano cheeses we all love so much? Whether stirred into a sauce, shaved over a salad, or grated on top of your pasta, these cheeses are one of the quintessential flavours of Italy, recognised all over the world.
With its intensity and depth of flavour, these really are cheeses which need to be paired with red wines. The classicists among us would insist on sticking with the traditional options (a Sangiovese or Tuscan red blend), but we’d argue you can be pretty bold with your pairings, and use whatever works well with the rest of your dish. Aussie Shiraz is great with Parmesan, as is Malbec and Merlot.
If you’re enjoying your freshly shaved Parmesan or Gran Padano as part of a Caesar Salad, however, go for a (very) lightly oaked Chardonnay instead. It’s a tried and tested pairing which is really quite difficult to top!
Man, we love goat’s cheese. The hard chevre cheeses, the soft, creamy ones… they all possess that deep, grassy, intense flavour that goes perfectly with tomatoes, spread on toast, or savoured with a glass of wine.
The obvious choice of wine for pairing with goat’s cheese is Sauvignon Blanc (either Sancerre or a New Zealand one) - it’s got that green, vegetal flavour that works so well. However, it’s not the only option out there. Pair your goat’s cheese with Chablis, Pinot Grigio or even a fruity red like Gamay, and you’re sure to find excellent results!
These cheeses can be something of an acquired taste, but if you’re the kind of person who swoons over strong, intense and unusual flavours, there’s no doubt that this category of cheese very much deserves its place on your platter.
These are cheeses which call for a little thinking outside the box. Sometimes, the unconventional pairings are the best - try your Stilton, Roquefort or Danish Blue with a glass of sweet botrytised wine like Sauternes or Tokaji (or other sweet wines like late harvest Riesling or Icewine) and you’ll face a taste sensation that trumps all others. These are also great wines to drink with Sherry and Port; a truly sophisticated and decadent choice with which to wow your guests!
In the height of summer, fresh, young cheeses like mozzarella, ricotta and similar examples are a real joy to eat. However, if you’re going to pair these examples with wine, a delicate touch is required, as they don’t have the boldness of flavour that comes with maturation.
Pinot Grigio (especially the ones from northern Italy) is the tried-and-tested classic pairing for these kinds of cheeses, especially when they feature as part of a salad or picnic selection. Sauvignon Blanc is another great pairing, but equally great results can come from Mosel Riesling, which has just enough balance of sweetness and dryness to work wonders.
Other Popular Pairings
OK, so that’s covered most of the basics. Let’s quickly run through some of the other cheeses you’re likely to come across, and pick a perfect pairing for each one.
Feta: This cheese needs a wine to cut through all that salt and tang. Go for a Beaujolais or Zinfandel - they really do work!
Manchego: Eat this cheese with Rioja - a great example of the regional point we made at the start of the article.
Edam and Gouda: The Netherlands isn’t known for its wine production, so you’ll have to look elsewhere for perfect matches with these cheeses. Try Champagne or Chardonnay.
Swiss Cheese: Germanic wines are best here - either an off-dry Riesling or Gewurztraminer.
Stinky Cheeses (Taleggio, Morbier, Stinking Bishop etc): Not cheeses for the faint-hearted or a first date, but perfect for pairing with Red Burgundy, Pinot Noir or Sauternes.
By now, you know what you're after cheese wise, so allow us to guide you on your wine journey and recommend some bottles just for your tastes. Take our fun seven question palate profile quiz here and we'll recommend three bottles for your personal tastes.