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Making Happy Matches with Wine and Cheese

Fine Cooking Issue 25
Photos: Mark Thomas
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Pairing wine and cheese sounds as obvious as pairing bacon and eggs. It isn’t quite that easy, however, because of the vast range of flavors in both cheeses and wines. Not every cheese tastes great with every wine—in fact, some combinations can be downright unpleasant, like a ripe, dense Cabernet Sauvignon with a pungent, young goat cheese. But here’s the good news: armed with a few pointers, it’s easy to make smart decisions about what to serve with what. And if you keep the following hints in mind, you’ll find yourself coming up with spot-on, delicious matches. The specific ex­amples from the chart on p.-24 will guide you, too.

Pair high-acid wines with high-acid cheeses. Goat’s and sheep’s milk cheeses are higher in acid than cow’s milk cheeses, and they need highacid wines, which are usually white wines. Also, the younger the cheese, the more acid it has: as a cheese ages, butterfat increases and acidity drops. A fresh goat’s milk cheese will be highest in acidity, while an aged cow’s milk cheese, like aged Parmigiano-Reggiano, will be lowest. Red wine can work with young cheese, but only if the wine is high in acid, such as Chinon from France’s Loire Valley and lighter Pinot Noirs from California.

Mate acidic white wines wi th crumbly textured cheese; mate lusher wines with creamier cheeses. The crisp white wines of the Loire Valley go especially well with crumbly goat cheeses (many of which come from the same area). And rich white wines such as Condrieu, Gewürtz­traminer, or Viognier need creamy cheeses higher in butterfat, such as Pont l’Evêque or Munster.

Light, fruity wines go well with a wide array of cheeses. Moderately intense cow’s milk cheese, aged sheep’s milk cheese, and less assertive washed-rind cheese all work well with a light, fruity wine. Here, the wine’s simple fruitiness acts as a good foil for the creamy, nutty, and salty components of the cheese, and the high acidity helps curb some of the barnyard-like flavors of the cheese that can become apparent with a poor wine match.

Serve tannic red wines with rich, creamy cheeses. Intense, tannic reds are good for drinking with soft, rich cheeses because the cheese’s high butterfat content will mellow out the wine’s astringent tannins. Don’t mate a rich, tannic wine with a pungent, young cheese, such as goat—the tannins will make the cheese taste chalky, and the animal flavors of the cheese will leap out as an unpleasant surprise. A lush, full-bodied Cabernet or Côtes du Rhône red wants a triplecream cheese like St. André or Explorateur.

Mate intensely flavored wines with intensely flavored cheese. A mature Taleggio, with its full flavor and washed rind, needs an intense companion, such as a fruity, rich Amarone or a heady Zinfandel. As you’d expect, mild wines need mild cheeses.

Match complex wines with milder cheeses. Wines with age and subtlety need a mild, soft cheese that won’t overpower their nuances. Mature Bordeaux or Cabernets have a range of compatible cheeses, but you should go with a less mature cheese, or choose cheeses in the group that are naturally milder, such as Vella Sonoma Jack or a Morbier.

Young, mild, semihard and hard cow’s milk cheeses are flexible wine partners. And the wines they go with—softer, fuller-bodied whites and light, fruity reds—are flexible cheese partners. As you’ll see from the chart below, many of the cheeses that go with full-bodied white wines also go with light reds.

Goat’s and sheep’s milk cheeses are higher in acid than cow’s milk cheeses. They need high-acid wine.


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