Wine and cheese pairing for beginners
Wine and cheese can form a perfect union when adequately combined.
If you’re new to cheese and wine, there are some basic things to remember.
Everyone’s tastes differ, so what someone likes might vary for you. But some rules are to follow to ensure the cheese and wine flavours work well together.
This guide will help you learn the basics and feel less stressed when pairing cheese and wine.
Learning about wine tasting together can be loads of fun.
Don’t pretend to be a wine expert if you’re not one. It’s better to let your guests experiment and authentically share flavours.
When buying wine, ask the store’s wine expert for advice and tell them what kind of cheese you will serve.
Should I start with the wine or the cheese?
You decide! Decide if you want the wine or the cheese to be the hero. Pick your wines or cheeses first, so they work well together.
- If you want the cheese to be the main focus, choose a wine that has less flavour to match it.
- If you want the wine to be the star, pair it with a less forceful cheese.
Remember, the goal is to create harmony and balance between the wine and cheese, not overpower one another.
Choose at least two types of wine but at most six for bigger parties. It’s always best to provide your guests with red and white or blush wine options.
Everyone has their taste preferences, so offer at least one white and one red wine, as long as they’re versatile, and let your guests decide.
But which wine?
It’s hard to go wrong when you’ve got a glass of wine in one hand and cheese in the other.
One marriage no one can object to is the mouth-watering combination of wine and cheese.
The cheese will make any wine taste better.
How to pair wines?
Wine and cheese taste amazing separately. But when you put them together, it can taste even better.
Wines have different tastes, like citrus, fruity, or dark. Cheese also has different flavours and textures. Finding the right wine for a particular cheese can be challenging. Some wines pair well with cow’s milk cheese but not goat cheese; some are better with aged cheese than young cheese. But if you find the right match, the wine and cheese will taste superb together.
The Artisanal Cheese clock®
Artisanal Cheese, a cheese company from New York City, has created “The Artisanal Cheese clock®,” an ingeniously simple way of approaching cheese selection to guide you through selecting the cheeses.
You start in the 6 to 9 o’clock quadrant with simple, mild cheeses like Fresh goat or bloomy rind (e.g., Brie, Camembert) cheeses.
As you progress clockwise around the circle, introduce bolder and bolder varieties until you reach the final quadrant (3 to 6 o’clock), where you serve a blue or stinky-washed rind cheese.
The clock also includes some guidance for pairing wine and beer as well. Very handy.
According to Artisanal Cheese
“Start your cheese plate with 6-9 Mild quadrants of young, mild goats, double or triple creamy, or bloomy rind cheeses.”
“Velvety, refreshing and aromatic, these cheeses listed in this Mild quadrant pair well with light white wines and champagnes. They also pair well with Pilsner beer, vodka, and gin.”
“Once you’ve finished selecting from this Mild quadrant, move on to a soft or semi-firm cheese from the 9-12 Medium quadrant.”
“After you’ve tried a young, creamy, or bloomy rind cheese from the previous Mild quadrant, the next cheese on your plate should be from the 9-12 Medium quadrant. These cheeses are soft to semi-firm, like a mild cow, an aged goat or a sheep milk cheese.”
“Be sure to alternate milk and textures to contrast cheeses around your plate.”
“Wonderfully textured, nutty and sweet, these cheeses pair well with Light Red Wine, Rosè Wine, Lagers, Pilsner Beers, and rum.”
“Once you’ve finished selecting from this quadrant, move onto a stronger, bolder, or stinkier cheese from the 12-3 Bold quadrant.”
“After tasting a soft to semi-firm cheese, it’s best to move on to a stronger, bolder and nuttier flavour. Cheeses listed in the 12-3 Bold quadrant are hard mountain cheeses, long-aged cheddars, and mild washed rind (“Stinky”) cheeses.”
“More distinctive, with earth aromas, these cheeses are great with Red Wine, Ales, Lambic Beers, whiskey, and bourbon.”
“Once you’ve finished selecting from this quadrant, move onto a cheese with a bigger presence like a classic blue cheese or an assertive wash rind from the 3-6 quadrant.”
“The 3-6 Strong quadrant will finish your cheese tasting. Choose cheeses with a bigger presence, such as more assertive washed rind cheese or a classic blue cheese like Roquefort.”
“Pungent, assertive, and memorable, these cheeses stand up to Dessert Wines, Ports, Stout Beers, cognac, and scotch.”
Pairing by Age and Intensity
Using a similar idea, we can also pair by flavour intensity—which often correlates with age.
Like cheeses, wines also run the gamut from delicate to bold, and their depth and complexity can correlate with their age, too.
Fresh and young cheeses have lots of water and a soft texture. This makes them light and mild. As they age, they lose water, and the taste gets stronger. This is called affinage. The flavour becomes more concentrated, and new flavours develop. Hard-aged cheeses have less water and are very strong and rich in taste.
Young white, rosé, and red wines released within a year of being picked have lively and fresh aromas and flavours of fruits, herbs, flowers, citrus, or spices. On the other hand, wines that have been aged for a while in casks or bottles can develop additional flavours that are different from the primary fruit flavours, such as oak, toast, umami, earth, minerals, and oxidation. These older wines have a more complex and savoury taste than younger ones.
Putting this all together, the first rule of wine and cheese pairing is:
Pair by flavour intensity and consider intensity’s correlation with age.
Different cheeses go well with other wines.
Young cheeses match well with fresh and fruity drinks like sparkling wines, white wines, rosés, or red wines that taste fruity and acidic.
Older cheeses need more complex wines with a fuller bodies.
The most aged and savoury cheeses fit better with wines with a good structure and sometimes taste a little oxidative.
It’s essential to consider the cheese’s texture, saltiness, and pungency and the wine’s sweetness and structure while pairing them. These principles apply to all types of wines, from fruity to sweet, nutty, and tannic.
When in doubt, imagine which food would pair best with the cheese, and let that guide you toward a wine.
Notably, the two products have similar characteristics, including age, texture, and many flavour and taste features. Considering them helps to find the best wine and cheese pairings that will become any party’s gourmet highlights.
Pairing general guidelines
To match your favourite wine with the right cheese, consider tannins, fat, acidity, and texture. There’s no exact way to pair cheese and wine, but some simple rules can help you. Although there is a lot of disagreement between experts, understanding these factors can help you find a combination that works well.
What is the best wine to pair with cheese?
Choose your cheese first, and then choose a wine that goes well with it. There are many different combinations, so there’s sure to be one you’ll like. Pick a wine that compliments the flavours of your favourite cheese. To make things easier, we organized cheeses into categories and compiled a chart to help you find classic pairings of wine and cheese.
When choosing a cheese to go with a wine or vice versa, start with these six elements:
- Texture: Compare & contrast the textures of the wine or cheese you wish to pair in terms of creaminess, body, dryness & crispness.
- Intensity: Young or aged cheeses pair well with young or aged wines, respectively.
- Acidity: This is perhaps the most essential and tricky component with pairings, as both cheese & wine have levels of acidity that need to be considered.
- Sweetness: Cheeses with sweet overtones, like an aged Gouda or fruited Stilton, should be balanced with off-dry dessert wines.
- Mould: Blue cheese moulds negate the fruitiness of any wine but work wonderfully with ports, rich dessert wines & sparkling wines.
- Region: When in doubt, pair cheese & wine from the same region (though there are, of course, exceptions to this fallback plan).
Here are some basic guidelines that everyone agrees on:
- Pair wines and cheeses with equal intensity.
- Wines over 14.5% ABV are more intense and taste better with more intensely flavoured cheeses.
- Wines under 12% ABV are less intense and match nicely with more delicately flavoured cheeses.
- Pair Strong Cheese with Robust Wine and Delicate Cheese with a Delicate Wine. Try not to pair a strong wine with mild cheese. If one of the flavour profiles dominates the other, the taste experience will not be favourable. The secret here is to avoid having either overpowered by the other. Your cheeses and wines should complement each other:
- Mild cheeses pair well with lighter wines. In other words, pair younger cheeses with bright, fresh, young wines.
- You can break the rules for Goat’s and sheep’s milk cheeses; as long as you stick with a fresh wine with lively acidity, it is best to avoid very mature sheep or goat cheeses as they can be very strong.
- Semi-aged and medium-hard cheeses have a firmer texture and stronger flavours. They need medium-bodied whites, fruity reds, vintage sparkling wine, and aperitif wines that balance acidity, fruit, and tannin. In other words, a wide range of wines, from youthful to vibrant.
- Bold red wines pair best with aged cheeses. In other words, pair older cheeses with bigger, aged wines. As cheese ages and loses water content, it becomes richer in flavour with its high-fat content. These two attributes are ideal for matching bold red wines because the fat content in the cheese counteracts the high tannins in the wine. For the best results, select cheeses aged for at least a year.
- More pungent cheeses pair well with more robust wines; generally, the richer the cheese, the richer the wine.
o Match super funky cheeses with sweeter wines.
- Serve after-dinner cheese plates with full-bodied or sweeter wines.
- The classic match for Blue cheeses is a sweet wine. It works particularly well if the cheese is creamy. You get the complement from the creamy texture of the cheese, the structure of the wine, and the contrast between the salty and sweet.
- Sparkling wine or Champagne is always welcome. Consider a sparkling wine if you have a single wine to match an array of cheeses. Their ample acidity and toasty, nutty flavours complement cheeses from fresh through aged, and the bubbles will physically lift cheese off your palate and offer a palate-cleansing effect. They are incredible with soft, creamy, sticky cheeses. But seek out sparklers with moderate intensity. Champagne and other traditional method sparkling wines work well, especially aged versions whose savoury notes are also supremely food- (and cheese-) friendly. A mixed plate of cheeses is a great excuse to open another bottle of Champagne—as if you needed one.
- Off-dry wines can also pair broadly because they serve as a foil for salt: Riesling or Gewürztraminer, Lambrusco, and lighter dessert wines.
- What grows together goes together – Pairing wines and cheeses from the same region is a good, “safe” place to start wine and cheese combinations. More often than not, you’ll do well to trust the local traditions and match wines and cheeses from the same region together. Just as the growing conditions impart particular characteristics (called “terroir”) to a region’s wines, these characteristics may be imparted to the cheeses through the vegetation on which the animals graze.
- Watch those tannins – Tannic red wines are terrific with rich, aged and harder types of cheese because their tannins bind to protein and fat, cleaning your palate after each bite. But the same process makes tannic wines feel far too astringent with young cheeses; they tie up what little fat’s available, leaving you with a chalky sensation and a metallic aftertaste. To serve red wine with young cheeses, reach for one low in tannin, like Beaujolais or sparkling red Lambrusco.
- Salt loves sweet – Sweet wines beautifully balance the saltiest cheeses like hard Grana, blue cheese, aged Gouda, or Feta. The salt in the cheese heightens the wine’s sweetness perception, so a wine already headed in that direction makes for a breezy pairing.
- Cheese loves fruit and nuts – We adorn cheese plates with fresh fruits, dried fruits, and nuts. The juicy, tangy fruits go well with young cheeses like Brie. Sweet dried fruits are lovely with salty cheeses like Stilton. Buttery, bitter nuts are tasty with rich Cheddar.
- Texture: complement or contrast – Rich, creamy cheeses blend seamlessly with buttery, oaky white wines, creating a pleasant palate sensation. But contrast can be welcome, too. The bubbles in sparkling wines pose a nice counterpoint to a rich cheese, scrubbing your tongue clean and making you want another bite. That’s why Camembert and Champagne are a classic combination.
These are just guidelines; sometimes, despite these generalities, you can find some good pairings that break the rules.
The flavours in the cheese and wine will complement each other to enhance their taste.
Play with the combinations within these guidelines to find the pairing that you like best.
Wrong combinations to avoid
Not all wines match all cheeses. If you pair cheese with the wrong wine, it can enhance unwanted flavours.
- For example, suppose you pair a semi-soft cheese with a Cabernet Sauvignon. In that case, the cheese taste will be lost to the robust flavour of the Cabernet Sauvignon. A tannic red will feel too astringent and drying after a bite of fresh cheese because it ties up whatever butterfat is available, leaving you with a chalky, unpleasant sensation.
- For instance, blue cheese with a youthful, tannic red wine can make the wine taste metallic.
- Fatter cheeses, like Parmesan, are hard to digest. The effect can be disastrous if mixed with very sweet and high alcohol-content wine, such as Porto.
- Pungent washed-rind cow’s cheeses will lose their stinky characteristics when paired with Chardonnay. Still, you can also opt for milder, traditional triple cream cheese to avoid the smell.
- The full, buttery taste of Saint André can make a white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc or even a crisp Chablis, taste sour and metallic, so it is best suggested with a light beer, dessert wine or a glass of light and fruity rosé.
The most important tip is to choose cheeses and wines you like; your taste buds will usually guide you.
Wine and Cheese Pairing: A Personal Preference
When it comes to pairing cheese with wine, trust your taste buds. Don’t worry if it seems complicated; what works for one person may not work for someone else. To find the best pairing for you, try this simple method:
- Taste the cheese by itself,
- take a bite and then sip the wine at the same time, and
- decide if you like how they taste together.
- Enjoy exploring your personal preferences!
Pairings are subjective: if it tastes good together to you, then it’s a good pairing.
You can enjoy numerous combinations and experiment with this guide as a starting reference point.
Respect tried and tested matches but don’t be afraid to take them a step further.
Hosting a wine and cheese party may be fancy or intimidating, but following the Fast2eat guide, you’ll be a DIY pro in no time.
These tips are from my own experience;
I’m neither a party organizer, a sommelier, nor a turophile (a cheese connoisseur).
I just love cheese, wine and spending time with family and friends.
I hope my easy tips will give you the confidence to host a wine and cheese party with a handful of close friends.
If you use my tips for your next Wine & Cheese party, please comment below and remember to take a picture, tag @Fast2eat.com and use #Fast2eat so that we can both marvel at how easy it was!
I hope my easy tips will give you the confidence to step into the kitchen and prepare delicious meals to eat with a handful of close friends.
Have you made a Fast2eat Recipe? I love seeing your take on my recipe!