8/11/2022 12:00:00 PM

We’ve written a lot about the different types of cheeses and the questions we get from visitors to our cheese chalet. For example, in our post on choosing cheeses for a cheese board (say that three times fast), we explained the different textures and flavors of cheese and what cheeses make for a great cheese board. But, we have not yet talked about how to pair wine with the cheese, which is also a frequent question we get asked in our shop. So, in this article, we will provide a simple guide for selecting wine to pair with cheese.


Pairing Rule #1: Consider the Structure of the Wine

Light-bodied wines have a lower alcohol content, generally under 12% ABV. For this reason, they are drier (less sweet) and more acidic. They tend to be described as fresh, bright with a citrus or stone fruit taste.

Conversely, full-bodied wines have a higher alcohol content, around 13.5%. This makes them a little sweeter. They also have higher tannin levels and lower acidic levels. They are often described as bold or big with more complex taste descriptions from berry to licorice.

Then there are dessert wines or late-harvest sweet wines which typically have an ABV of 14% or higher. Their taste profile is often described in terms of level of sweetness, but can also lean into things like toffee and hazelnut.

Here are some examples of wines by body structure:

Light body wines:

  • Sauvignon Blanc

  • Beaujolais

Medium body wines:

  • Chardonnay

  • Pinot Noir

Full body wines:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon

  • Syrah

Dessert or Late Harvest:

  • Port

  • Mascoti

However, the world of wine is highly nuanced and complex and the structure of a wine can very greatly depending on the winery. For example, you’re likely to find that Riesling can run from dry to sweet. What we’re providing here are general rules of thumb.

Pairing Rule #2: Match the Wine With the Intensity of the Cheese

As we have discussed in other posts, cheese can be laid out on a continuum from mild flavor to strong flavor. The soft, fresh and unaged cheeses like mozzarella being mild and aged cheeses like gouda and Swiss being stronger. Then there are the blues and washed-rind (stinky) cheeses that can push the intensity meter even further.

As we noted above, wine follows a similar continuum. On the one end you have light bodied, dry wines with low tannins and high acidity. On the other end you have full bodied, fruitier wines with lots of tannins and robust flavor.

Now here’s the trick. The key to pairing wine and cheese is to match up these two continuums with the softer, milder cheeses pairing nicely with the lighter bodied, drier, more acidic wines and the firmer, stronger cheeses pairing nicely with the heavier bodied, tannin heavy, fruit-forward (i.e. sweeter) wines.

The rationale is that a heavy body red wine will overpower a soft, fresh and mild tasting cheese. On the other hand, the flavor of a light bodied, crisp white wine would never stand up to the sharp taste of an aged cheddar or the tangy taste of a more adventurous blue. Here are some examples pairings to help you along:

Mild Cheese + Light, Dry Wine

The citrus notes of a dry Pinot Grigio will bring out the earthy flavors of a goat cheese while the high acidity will help cut through the heaviness of the cheese. If you prefer red, a Beaujolais is a good choice.

Medium intensity Cheese + Medium Bodied Wine

The bright red berry fruit flavors of a Pinot Noir along with its lower tannin levels is a great match for the nutty flavors found in a semi-hard Emmentaler. Or, try a versatile “off-dry” Chardonnay with a triple cream brie to break through the fat.


Strong Cheese + Full, Fruity Wine

A bold Cabernet Sauvignon pairs well with an aged cheddar because the higher fat content in aged cheeses balances nicely with the higher tannins in red wine wine. For a white option, try a sparkling wine or a sweeter version of a Gewürztraminer.

Funky Cheeses + Dessert Wines

As the saying goes, salt loves sweet. That’s why dessert wines like port or moscato go well with salty blues and funky washed-rind cheeses. The sweetness in the wine helps balance the funk in the cheese.

Triple Cream Cheese + Sparkling Wine

Sparkling wines from dry to sweet, always work well across a wide range of cheeses because the carbonation helps to cleanse the palate between bites. This is especially true with rich and creamy semi-soft cheeses like Camembert as well as the more adventurous washed rinds like pungent blue cheeses, nutty aged alpine styles.


Pairing Rule #3: Don’t Overthink It!

We’ve had a lot of fun with friends and family turning wine and cheese pairing into full on tasting events. In these cases we’ve had no problem pouring a wide range of wines to match the various cheeses that we’ve selected.

But, for a typical dinner party, you may not want to pour that much wine. In this case, we suggest you go right down the middle and select a medium bodied, semi-dry red, and a white. That should work pretty well with everything on your cheese board. If you want to get extra fancy, you could serve a bit of sparkling wine for the creamy brie or a port for the funky blue.


A Final Thought:

Remember the rule that sits above all other rules; make sure to slow down, enjoy the moment, and cherish the people you’re with. That’s the only “pairing” that really matters.