Pairing Wine and Cheese

I know I am not the only one who feels some sense of intimidation when discussing wines with aspiring sommeliers. However, take note that if you know the flavors of the food you are pairing, you can use your own culinary knowledge and the tasting notes you’ll find in most wine stores to find some bottles that are worth exploring. It’s a good way for a novice to begin to pair wines.

In the same way we pair flavors of food, there are some basic characteristics  we look for when pairing cheese and wine. In cheese, take into account the aromas and flavors, saltiness, sweetness, bitterness, and fat content. In wine, take into account fruit flavors, sweetness, bitterness/tannins, acidity, and body/alcohol content.

Keep in mind that wines that are highly rated on their own are not necessarily sure bets when it comes to pairing with food. The trick of pairing anything is to find the right mix of elements. You might be surprised to find an unlikely pairing of flavors may work because of the other characteristics, and vice versa.

Here are just a few pairing of wine and cheese characteristics that generally work, some of which you are probably already familiar with if you have cooked up a thing or two in your kitchen.

Saltiness and Sweetness:

Salty cheese generally pair well with low-acidity and sweet wines.

Cheese Flavors and Fruits:

The fruit flavors present in a wine are critical to examine when pairing with a cheese. Cherries, blackberries, and plums can sometimes conflict with flavors of surface-ripened cheeses producing a bitter flavor. When trying to find a good match, think about the fruits that work well with the cheese, and seek out similar fruit flavors in a wine.

Acidity and Fat:

Double- and triple-crème cheeses tend to coat the mouth, so a wine with some acidity will cut through the fat and allow the flavors of the cheese and wine to mingle.

Bitterness and Sweetness:

Bitterness in a cheese or a wine tends to be a difficult pairing, but a little sweetness can soften even the bitterest bite.

Body and Fat:

Alcohol, like acidity, can cut through the fat, and fat can usually mellow out a strong element of alcohol.

Note that alcohol and bitterness/tannin are the characteristics to be most aware of when exploring your wine pairing options. These elements have a strong influence on the resulting taste and can be picky dance partners.

Also, while it may seem like a food and wine with similar characteristics would not make good pairings, this is not always the case. Sweet foods can work with sweet wines and acidic foods can work with acidic wines (though bitter and bitter are bitter enemies). One of the two (food or wine) tends to balance out the high notes of the other. If a food is highly acidic, for example, countering it with an acidic wine, can diminish (in a positive way) any acidic characteristics of the food.

Remember that creating successful wine and cheese pairings should be a pleasurable experience, like pairing flavors in a new recipe.

Experiment, explore, and above all enjoy.