cheese and wine

What wine to pair with cheese

By BBC Maestro

For thousands of years wine and cheese have been a favourite pairing gracing the mouths of many. But whether you’re team red or team white, or team stilton or team Gouda, is there an accompanying counterpart for every wine or cheese out there? Apparently not, according to esteemed wine critic Jancis Robinson. But there are a few pairings that work particularly well.

If you want to impress your guests at your next dinner party, keep reading to find out what wine goes with cheese, and discover some tried-and-tested combinations to explore.

What wines go with blue cheese?

Love it or hate it, blue cheese is usually a staple on many cheese boards. We’re talking about those big, bold-flavoured cheeses with rich blue or green veins running through them. Thanks to the cultures they’re made with, these cheeses tend to be a little smelly. The same cultures are also the heroes behind the scenes, giving blue cheeses their distinctive flavour – so don’t be put off by their aromas.

Classic blue cheeses you might find on a cheese board include Gorgonzola, Stilton and Roquefort – all strong cheeses with a bit of a bite to them.

When you’re looking for a wine to drink with blue cheese, you want to look for something that will balance out their strong and pungent flavours. The veins in blue cheese often come with a touch of bitterness, so sweet wines can work really well.

In fact, port and Stilton is one of the most common wine and cheese pairings out there. Port is full-bodied in flavour, so it can hold its own against the strong tastes in Stilton. It also has a sweetness which can really mellow a Stilton out.

Similarly, the sweetness of sherry works well with blue cheese. But there’s no need to restrict yourself to pair them only with fortified wines.

Here are some other combinations to try:

  • Dessert wines work well with blue cheese as the sweetness of the wine offsets the saltiness of the cheese. Try a dessert wine like Sauternes with Roquefort.
  • The rich, full-bodied flavour of Malbec is also a good match for blue cheese. The wine has plenty of complex flavours meaning it can stand against a pungent cheese.
  • An oaked Chardonnay is a good choice if you want a white wine that works just as well with Stilton, as with other cheeses on your cheeseboard.
  • Prosecco is too delicate to work well with stronger blue cheeses, but it’s a good option for more delicate ones like Gorgonzola – helping to bring out its subtler flavours.
blue cheese

What wines pair well with hard cheese?

Hard cheeses are firm with a robust flavour profile. They tend to have a tangy edge, nutty flavours and a subtle touch of sweetness. Popular hard cheeses include cheddar, pecorino and Parmesan or Parmigiano-Reggiano. Hard cheese is one of the easiest wine pairings to get right. As Jancis Robinson explains in her BBC Maestro course, An Understanding of Wine, “hard cheeses such as cheddar and pecorino are good matches for red wine.”

That’s because these cheeses tend to have a fairly strong flavour, and a full-body red wine has the right complexity to complement the cheese’s flavour. Hard cheeses can handle red wines with high tannins, while semi-hard cheeses like Emmental don’t have as strong a flavour so work better with medium-bodied whites and fruity red wines.

Neither the wine nor the cheese should overpower the other, so look for flavour profiles that are well-matched.

Some combinations to try include:

  • Sharp cheddar works well with a big, bold Cabernet Sauvignon.
  • Fruity Rioja contrasts perfectly with the nutty flavours of Manchego.
  • Pair a slightly spicy Comte with a sweet white Riesling that cuts through the fattiness of the cheese.
  • Orange wines are usually full-bodied with big flavours, so they pair well with equally bold cheeses.

What wines go with soft cheese?

Soft cheeses usually have a mild flavour and a creamy texture. Think of Brie, goat’s cheese, ricotta and Camembert – perfect for smearing over a warm, crusty baguette or on top of a cracker topped with a tangy chutney.

Because soft cheese tends to have a high-fat content, they pair well with highly acidic wines. This is because acidic wines complement fatty, oily and rich foods as they can pull out more flavours.

If you’re a Champagne drinker, this is a great choice as the dryness of the wine cuts through the creaminess of the cheese – and that buttery, cheesy flavour pairs perfectly with Champagne’s bready and toasty notes.

Some soft cheeses are considered to be soft-washed rind or bloom rind cheeses, which means that they’re covered in a soft rind that’s usually white in colour. Jancis Robinson suggests that “softer washed-rind or bloom-rind cheeses suit white wine.”

That’s because they have a delicate flavour, so you want to opt for a wine with fewer tannins so as not to overpower the taste of the cheese.

Here are some other wine pairings you might want to try with soft cheese:

  • Sparkling rosé works nicely with soft cheese, as the acidity helps to cleanse your palate between those rich bites.
  • Chardonnay is a wine with high acidity, and it pairs beautifully with the soft texture and rich flavour of Camembert.
  • Brie has a delicate flavour so it’s best paired with a white wine like Chenin Blanc – although you could also try a lighter red that isn’t overpowering like Pinot Noir.
  • Jancis Robinson suggests that “goat’s cheese and Sauvignon Blanc is a great pairing,” thanks to the wine’s acidic and citrussy notes.
cheese selection

What wine goes with washed rind cheese?

If you think of any smelly cheese, it’s more than likely it’s a washed rind cheese. That means that it’s been treated with brine or mould-bearing agents to encourage the growth of good bacteria on the surface. This gives the cheese a hard covering, a strong flavour, and a distinctive smell.

Think of Gruyère, Taleggio, Munster and even Stinking Bishop – they all have an intense smell and a rich taste.

A good dry white wine is a great choice for a washed rind cheese, as it can help to cut through the intense flavour. Sweet wines also work well to take the edge off particularly pungent cheeses, and bubbles can be a good option too – try Champagne or Cava with a strong, aged Taleggio.

Some other options to try include:

  • A lighter red like Pinot Noir with the slightly sweet, slightly salty flavours of a milder Gruyère.
  • A fresh, fruity Beaujolais works well with younger Taleggio with a nutty flavour.
  • Gewürztraminer is an excellent choice for Munster as its high acidity and hint of sweetness helps to cut through the cheese’s high-fat content.

Rules for choosing cheese and wine pairings

If you’re struggling to pick out your perfect cheese and wine pairings, just think about these simple rules and you should get it right, every time.

What grows together goes together

Wine and cheeses from the same region tend to make a perfect match. If you’re unsure what to pick, check out the different wine regions to find out some key wines from the same place your cheese comes from. You can’t go wrong with location-based pairings.

For example, wine and cheese from Burgundy will always work well together, such as Chardonnay and Époisses de Bourgogne, as will Spanish wine and Spanish cheese, such as Rioja and Manchego.

Match the intensity

If you paired a delicate cheese like Brie with a full-bodied red wine, the flavour of the cheese would be completely overwhelmed by the wine.

To ensure the two complement each other, it’s best to match intense wines with strongly flavoured cheeses and more delicate cheese with less intense wines.

Throw away the rule book

Perhaps the most important rule of all is to feel free to pair whatever wine you like with any cheese. As Jancis Robinson says:

“There are various rules that we’ve all grown up with, like with meaty dishes you drink red wine and with fish, you drink white wine. But rules are there to be broken, aren’t they?”

Feel free to experiment and see what flavour combinations work for you – after all, who cares what the rules say if you think your wine and cheese pairing is delicious?

Want to know more about choosing the perfect wine? Learn how to taste wine like a professional, develop your palate and write up detailed wine-tasting notes with our wine tasting template, or take Jancis Robinson’s course, An Understanding of Wine, for even more expert insights.

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