It’s come to my attention that May 25th was National Wine Day, and June 4 will be National Cheese Day. So this week, right in between, let’s talk about wine and cheese pairing.
(But really, is there a bad time for wine and cheese?)
Long story short, pairing wine with cheese is no different than pairing wine with any other food. So for that, let’s review my super-basic food and wine pairing tips:
1. Wine experts might talk about fruit flavors, grassy aromas, and other nuances in a wine, but most important in food and wine pairing are a wine’s broad characteristics—its sweetness (or lack thereof), crispness or acidity, tannins, weight, and intensity. Sauvignon Blanc, for example, could be characterized as dry (not sweet), high in acid, no or very low tannins, light to medium weight, and medium intensity. In comparison, Zinfandel could be characterized as dry (not sweet), medium to high in acid, medium to high in tannins, medium to heavy weight, and medium to strong intensity.
Two very different sets of broad characteristics, two very different wines.
2. Once you’ve established a wine’s broad characteristics, you’ll almost never go wrong pairing like with like. In other words, mirror the qualities of your wine in the food you pair with it, and vice versa. For example, acidic Sauvignon Blanc is considered a perfect pair for salad with acidic vinaigrette dressing. Heavy Zinfandel is perfect for a rich char-grilled steak. And lightly sweet, or off-dry, Riesling is ideal for a savory dish with a little sweetness, such as mahi mahi with mango salsa.
Now extrapolate that to the world of cheese.
And you’ll understand why Sauvignon Blanc is considered classic with fresh goat cheese—although it’s a little strange to think of a cheese as acidic, goat cheese is quite tangy and so it works with the high-in-acid wine.
Similarly, Chardonnay and brie makes perfect sense, right? The creamiest and butteriest of the cheeses with the creamiest and butteriest of the wines. Even a crisp, non-buttery style of Chardonnay will work with brie because both are similar in terms of weight and intensity.
Zinfandel and Parmesan—also a great combination, especially an aged Parmesan. Heavy, intense wine with heavy, intense cheese. The saltiness of the cheese also helps it stand up to the wine’s tannins.
Also classic, Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon with blue cheese. In cheese, you can’t get much more intense than blue, and the same can be said for wine and Cabernet Sauvignon. And again, you have a super-salty cheese being the perfect foil for the sometimes-intense tannins of the wine.
There are plenty of other great wine and cheese combinations, these are just examples. But now you have a sense of what to think about when creating one.
Once you have a pairing that’s working on the level of broad characteristics—and only then—you can go for matching nuances as well. A mushroomy teleme, for example, with an earthy Pinot Noir.
All that being said, let us remember the most important food and wine pairing tip of all:
3. Eat and drink what makes you happy.
What’s the worst that can happen? Food, wine, it’s all good.
A perfect pairing is your call.
Speaking of wine and cheese, I’ll be doing a cheese-centric food and wine pairing event in the Seattle area on June 8 and a cooking class at Cheese Central in Lodi, CA, on July 24. See Classes & Events for details.