Pairing Wines With Cheeses

Aug 1, 2008
2008 / August 2008

Wine and cheese are an incomparable pair. Each preserves and perpetuates its source — grapes in wine, milk in cheese. Each comes in countless varieties. And each helps the other to show its best. Cheese smoothes wine and highlights its best character, while wine enhances cheese and accents its flavors. But as in all matches, there’s still the matter of compatibility.

Brie, Camembert and other satiny, soft-ripened cheeses, for example, call for regal reds – Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux, velvety Merlot, a Syrahbased Rhône. Or consider a nutty Oloroso Sherry.

Semi-soft cheeses, which include Port Salut, Pont l’Eveque and Canadian Oka, match well to both red and white. Chianti Classico and Oregon Pinot Noir are good red choices. For whites, I’d suggest a not overly oaked California Chardonnay.

Goat cheese is tart and zesty, a natural with dry, light, fruity wines. The Loire Valley’s Cabernet Franc-based reds, Beaujolais Villages and Italy’s Bardolino are companionable choices.

The mild-flavored buttery cheeses — Edam and Gouda of Holland, Taleggio and Bel Paese of Italy, Monterey Jack from California — do nicely with medium-bodied wines: Pinot Noir, Cru Beaujolais, even a dry rosé from Spain’s Navarra region.

With their distinctive marbling and tangy flavor, Blue cheeses call for assertive red wines: Zinfandel from California, Shiraz from Australia, Barolo from Italy, Ribera del Duero from Spain, Chateauneuf-du-Pape from France.

Cheddars — the great cheese of Great Britain and its American cousin — taste best with a fine Cabernet Sauvignon-based wine, a Côte Rotie or, if they are aged and truly sharp, Port or Amontillado Sherry.

Swiss is the best known of the lightly nutty-flavored semi-hard cheeses. Enjoy it with Spain’s Rioja, Italy’s Valtellina or one of Switzerland’s own — Pinot Noir-based Dôle, for instance.

The king of hard cheeses is the sharp, richly flavored Parmigiano. And it calls for one of Italy’s glorious reds — Brunello, Barolo, Gattinara, Amarone, or Vino Nobile de Montelpulciano.

Then there are cheeses — Limburger and Livarot come to mind — whose strong aromas announce their presence. These powerful cheeses demand powerful wines. Look to Portugal’s Dão and Douro reds, Spain’s Toro, France’s Cahors, South Africa’s Pinotage.

Enjoy — to the last bite of cheese, the last delicious drop of wine.

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