Guide to Matching Wine and Cheese
Wine and cheese, cheese and wine; seems like a match made in heaven, but this can be one of the most complex matches between food and wine. Let's try to explain and make this as easy as possible.
Every wine and every cheese made from different producers around the world can taste quite different. Since we are dealing with living products that undergo constant change, we will need to generalize some of the matching principles of wine and cheese. Not all wines will harmonize with cheese but by experimenting with the vast array of wines and cheese available today you can create your own flavour combinations.
Let's look at a few basic principles. The three main components of cheese are fat, salt and acid. Fat provides a heavy, rich mouth-feel and therefore matches best with wines of equal weight. Soft, creamy, cheeses generally need wines with acidity to refresh your palate. Salt enhances the flavour of food and therefore will increase the perception of a wine's basic components. Salty cheese goes well with sweeter wines as the salt will enhance the sweetness which is more pleasing. In red wine the salt will soften the astringency of young reds but often enhance its bitterness therefore a mature red or a light-bodied red with little to no tannin is best with salty cheese. Young tannic reds are best with low salt hard cheese; since hard cheese has a higher fat content the fat helps to soften the tannins of the red wine. Acid compliments acid, therefore a cheese with a higher level of acidity should match well with a wine with higher levels of acidity. Generally, white wines and light-bodied red wines are the best matches with most cheeses.
Young Creamy Brie
Serve fruity wines with refreshing acidity such as Riesling, Pinot Gris or dry sparkling wine. These wines are similar weight or body and the acidity will refresh the creaminess of the cheese.
Serve medium-body reds with refreshing acidity such as Pinot Noir or full-flavoured whites with refreshing acidity such as aged Riesling. These wines are similar weight or body and the acidity will refresh the creaminess of the cheese.
Serve wines with refreshing (tangy) acidity such as Sauvignon Blanc or light to medium-bodied Cabernet Franc. Tangy goat cheese and tangy wines complement and therefore emphasize the other subtle notes of the cheese and wine. Since many goat cheeses are often coated with herbs and spices these two wine styles will also complement and show their own elements of herbs and spices typical to these wines. The older and firmer the cheese, the fuller body the wine should be.
Parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano)
A full flavoured cheese with a salty background, therefore requiring a rich full-bodied mature red with soft silky tannins. Mature Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc are best.
Fruit Cream Cheeses
Slightly sweet and fruity with a soft, creamy mouth-feel matching best with medium-dry fruity white wines with refreshing acidity.
Emmental and Swiss
These firm medium-flavoured cheeses require a wine of similar weight with a lightly refreshing style such as Pinot Blanc or Chardonnay with little to no oak.
Montasio, Gouda and Gruyere
Depending on ripeness, these firm medium-flavoured cheeses often have a nutty character, therefore working well with toasty, traditional method sparkling wines, lightly oaked Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
A mild-flavoured slightly salty cheese best served with a light-bodied white wine with a touch of sweetness such as a medium-dry Riesling or Chenin Blanc.
2 or 3 year old Cheddar
A medium-flavoured slightly salty cheese best served with a medium-bodied fruity red such as Pinot Noir or soft Merlot. Also interesting with late harvest wines as the salty cheese accentuates the sweetness of the wine.
4 to 6 year old Cheddar
A full-flavoured slightly salty cheese best served with a full-bodied mature red with soft tannins such as older vintage Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Also interesting with Icewine as the salty cheese accentuates the sweetness of the wine.
Mild Blue-Veined Cheeses
Medium-flavoured salty cheese best served with full-flavoured Pinot Noir or mature Merlot.
Full-flavoured salty cheeses best served with full-bodied mature reds with soft silky tannins and rich fruit flavours. Try mature Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Also interesting with Icewines.
Using these principles, try your own different combinations and see what works best for you.