Suggestions on How to Pair Wine and Cheeses
– by HGC’s sommelier-member
First rule of thumb with pairings that I live by is “what grows together, goes together.”
For wine and cheese pairing, the best thing is that for the most part, the pairing are pretty clear cut and obvious. you will know what works and what doesnt just because a good pairing will sing together, where an opposing pairing will cause strange facial expressions.
As far as wines go, depending on your participation, I would probably start with wines that speak of their typicity of grape varietal. However, I am about a bottle in with a really nice Cornas right now so please pardon the sporadic nature of this email. So here it is:
Sauvignon Blanc (Loire Valley is best- Sancerre, Pouilly Fume/ New Zealand can be interesting/ Bordeaux white) paired wiith goat cheese, or any drier, chalkier style cheese. Why? The minerality of the cheese and the chalky, crumbly texture are mimicked by the wine. In the French Loire examples, you see this the best. The New Zealand example might actually bring out more of the fruitiness and grassiness in the wine. the acid will also help make the flavors of the cheese “pop” and seem more vibrant.
Moscato d’asti– The sweetness of this wine and the effervescence make it the catch all with a variety of cheeses. Moscato is usually fairly cheap, so try and get a better quality one- i.e splurge a little.
Gewurtztraminer– Similar to Moscato in that it is the “go-to” wine that pairs nicely with a range of flavors. Again, we are playing on the inherent sweetness of the grape variety more than anything. Even when the sugar has been totally fermented and the wine is dry, the tropical fruit notes and tell-tale lychee characteristics lend itself to really nice cheese pairings.
Sauternes- and Roquefort, Fourme d’Ambert or Blue cheese. Personally, I think this is one of my favorite combinations with Sauternes- even better than with Foie gras. The basic pairing itself is heaven because you have the sweetness from the Sauternes to foil the saltiness of the cheese. Also, the beautiful part of the wine is that even though it is sweet, it has ample acidity which not only helps to cut through the richness of the cheese, but keeps the wine fresh and lively, rather than cloying and heavy. If you can find it, i think Fujiokas has Chateau Riussec. this is a really savory sauternes and thus lends itself better to the savory pairings.
Champagne– especially blanc de blancs, or Champagne made exclusively from Chardonnay grapes. remember, Champagne is not Champagne unless it is from the eponymous region in France. Sparkling wine just doesnt seem to have the fine-ness or elegance of its French predecessor. The Blanc de blanc with Parmesean or Reggiano just sing together. I dont know why, but i really love this combination because when its done right, I also get a hit of chocolate that is somehow so inviting. If you go red with this Parmesean, go Italian Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera, or Brunello. California- go with a pinot noir, but make sure it isnt a fruit bomb. Look for Santa Rita Hills with lower alchohol, Santa Lucia Highlands, or Sonoma Coast.
Speaking of Pinot and red…
Bordeaux and Burgundy- more aged the better. the tannins in red wine tend to fight with a lot of cheeses mainly due to the texture they impart on the tongue. creamy cows milk cheeses just dont seem to jive with young Napa Cab. at the same time though, aged versions can be beautiful. Also worth a look with brie, camembert, and other bloomy rind cows milk cheeses, is cru Beaujolais. the fruitiness and earthiness of the wine go well with the inherently earthy nature of the cheese and the low tannins dont get in the way of letting the cheese’s texture come through.
Also good with Bordeaux or Cabernet not necessarily old, is mimolette, a hard, cheddar style cheese. however, I am a sucker for mimolette,especially 12+ yr mimollete, but ive seen this work well with the bigger and fruitier “new world” wines.