Lose Your Rind With Cheese and Wine

February 20, 2018 - By 

Wine and Cheese — a match made in heaven. This duo has been enjoyed for centuries, and for delicious reasons. But, figuring out how to make the “angels sing” can take a little thought and preparation. Discover how to create the perfect wine and cheese combinations with knowledge of why it works, seamless pairing guidelines, and tried-and-true winning combinations.

Why it works

Animal fats love tannin. And by animal fats I mean fatty meats like beef, pork, lamb, and yes, our favourite, cheese. Cheese actually reduces the palate’s perception of tannin, which softens the way it tastes and heightens the perception of its fruit character. Moreover, the acidity in wine cuts through the richness of cheese, which creates a balanced palatal experience that won’t make the palate feel heavy. The marriage of the two working together creates an experience that neither could create on its own.

Wine & Cheese Pairing 101

There are a few basic approaches to consider when choosing wine and cheese so that they work cohesively together.

  • Compliment: This strategy emphasizes traits that the wine and cheese both share. Consider the structure, flavours, and intensity of each to create a synergetic duo. (ie. Earthy wine with earthy cheese.)
  • Contrast: A Yin and Yang strategy that heightens your senses by featuring the opposing traits of the wine and cheeses. (ie. Sweet wine with salty cheese)
  • What grows together, goes together: A reliable win, which confirms that mother nature planned the perfect wine and cheese pairings long before we arrived. Often when cheese and wine are sourced from the same place they work cohesively together. (ie. Upper Bench U&Brie with a fresh and supple Naramata Chardonnay.)

Cheese Styles and their Perfect Partners

The world of cheese is vast, but with cheeses narrowed into a few main groups, successful pairing opportunities are easier to recognize.

Bloomy: Creamy, decadent cheeses, with a soft rind.
Choose a wine that is high in acidity and rich and supple, or soft and fruity. Sparkling wines also perform very well with these cheeses because their natural high acidity cuts through the richness of the cheese.

Hard: Stiff cheeses, which are often sharp and/or salty. They can also be aged.
Choose a wine that is structured and robust but won’t try to steal the cheese’s spotlight.

Blue: Pungent, often salty cheeses, with a blue tinge.
Choose a wine that is just as confident as the blue but emphasizes sweetness to contrast the cheese’s saltiness.

Fresh: Soft cheeses that can be mild or tangy. Typically, unaged.
Choose a wine that is bright and fresh to cheerfully compliment the youthfulness of the cheese.

Making a Cheese Board?

There are two angles you must consider before you can make a trip to the fromagerie (or local save-on-foods) and wine shop; Are you pairing one wine with an assortment of cheese? Or are you pairing one wine with one cheese? These two pairing scenarios call for differing approaches. As long as you understand the basics of pairing and take note of tried-and true combinations (see below), you will be destined for hedonistic success.

Tried and True Pairings (and why they work)

Brut Traditional Method Sparkling Wine & Camembert

Think Bloomy: A traditional method sparkling wine often has toasty citrus and crisp apple flavours. With a bubbly effervescence, this wine works well with BOTH mild and spicy cheeses but is a show-stopper with Camembert.

Pinot Grigio & Ricotta

Think Fresh: Light and bright Pinot Grigio wine has bright acidity that will keep your palate fresh for mild cheeses that would otherwise be dominated by a wine that is too structured or bold.

Riesling (Off-dry – Medium Sweet) & Blue Cheese

Think Blue: Riesling in an off-dry to sweet style is the perfect contrasting partner to strong and pungent blue cheeses. The fresh acidity and sweetness of the wine works well with the cheese’s powerful characteristics.

Chardonnay & Mild Cheddar, Colby Jack, or Triple Cream Cheeses

Think Bloomy and creamy: Chardonnay is a very diverse grape, but working with a dry, medium-bodied style that has gained richness from malolactic fermentation and some time in barrel, will enhance the characteristics of mild cheeses and elevate richness.

Pinot Noir & Vermont Sharp Cheddar or Gruyere
Think BLOOMY and earthy: Pinot Noir’s earthy character shows beautifully when paired with a cheese that has seen some age to gain earthy tones to suit, like Vermont Sharp Cheddar. The ripe red fruit flavours in this light to medium-bodied wine also work well with a nutty cheese with medium firmness, such as Gruyere.

Cabernet Sauvignon & Extra Sharp Cheddar
Think Stiff and intense: Full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon has an abundance of herbal tones and dark fruit flavours that will enhance the bold cheddar flavours in this cheese.

Fortified Wine & Stilton

Think Blue: The older the port is, the more it can handle a stronger and stinkier blue cheese. The sweetness and strength of a fortified wine can easily stand up to the pungency and muscle of a salty and stinky blue.

Winning With a Solo Wine

Pairing a spectrum of cheeses with one single wine requires a little more thought and an open mind.  For seamless success, you can consider building a cheese plate that lines up an array of cheeses within the same family, like Bloomy. But if a spectrum of cheese is in order, there are a few wines and styles that will stand up to the challenge.

Riesling (Off-dry – Sweet)
The electric acidity, fruity flavours, and perception of residual sugar will both cut through richness, and add a touch of harmonic balance because of its sweetness.

Tawny Port
The nutty and caramel components suits well to the rich and nutty character of cheese. The body provided by the higher alcohol content can stand up to stronger cheeses, and the sweetness allows for balanced palatal dimensions. There’s a reason that nuts and dried fruits are often served on the side of a cheeseboard, and Tawny ports often emulate the same flavours these bring to the board, but in liquid form.

Gamay or Pinot Noir
The two varietals can be quite flexible because of their fresh acidity, modest tannin level, and vibrant red fruit character. They perform best with cheeses like gruyere, but also compliment soft decadent brie, and (especially if there have more tannin structure) won’t back down when paired up with firmer cheeses.

Alex Anderson

Alex Anderson

Blogger at Wine with Alex
Alex Anderson is a wine writer, graphic designer, and holds a WSET Advanced certificate with distinction. Alex is a Vancouverite with a passion for wine, communication and design. A sommelier by night, and an international freelance graphic artist and writer by day. You can connect and follow her vibrant and insightful wine endeavours on Instagram @wine.with.alexx
Alex Anderson

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