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Why you should (almost) always pair cheese with white wine, not red


When we talk about a wine and cheese party it is automatic to think of red wine, but actually white wine is a better paring for many types of cheese. Read on to find out more about perfect cheese and wine pairings.

Admittedly, for most people red wine is the go-to partner for cheese. However, the issue with red wine, especially a full-bodied red, is that it can overpower all but the most robust of cheeses. White wine, fortified wines and lighter red wines are often a much better match.

What about Port and Stilton?

You might rightly point out that Port is a red wine and has long been considered the ideal wine with Stilton, an English blue veined cheese. The reason that Port pairs so well with blue cheese is because it is sweet and fortified. It is not because it is red. The sweetness provides a perfect foil for the tangy saltiness of blue cheese.

As an alternative to Port, try blue veined cheeses with other sweet wines such as Sauternes, Tokaji, Icewine as well as any German or Austrian late harvest wine.

Chardonnay with Creamy Camembert and Brie Style Cheeses

Creamy Camembert, Brie or other soft, surface ripened cheeses pair so much better with white wine.  Chardonnay shines with these types of cheeses. Anything from a steely Burgundian Chablis to a unoaked or moderately oaked style works. And, preferably one from a cooler climate with bright acidity usually works. Think New Zealand, Sonoma Coast, Russian River Valley or Carneros. The more subtle flavors of Chardonnay allow the flavors of the cheese to shine and the acidity in the wine cuts through the creamy richness.

Champagne, Prosecco or any good quality New World sparkling wine are other great options with Creamy cheese.

Sauvignon Blanc and Goat Cheese

To me goat cheese and Sauvignon Blanc is a match made in heaven. It is no coincidence that the Loire Valley, home to Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé is also home to some of the most delicious goat cheeses you can find. Here the acidity and upfront fruity and grassy flavors of the Sauvignon Blanc are the perfect foil for the sourness and dryness of goat cheese.

Chenin Blanc, dry Riesling or Semillon are other good alternatives to Sauvignon Blanc with goat cheese.

Gewürztraminer with Stinky Cheese

The strong floral and spicy aromas and flavors of Gewürztraminer are just the foil for strong smelling cheeses such as Munster, Livarot or Stinking Bishop. The strong floral, spice and fruitiness of the wine balances the strong flavors of the cheese. Viognier and off-dry Riesling also work well here.

Red Wines with Strong, Firm Cheese

The best cheeses to pair with red wine are hearty ones – semi-firm, firm and aged hard cheese. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Zinfandel, Tempranillo and Sangiovese are but a few of the red wines that pair well with aged Gouda and Cheddar, aged Manchego or Pecorino and other similar cow, goat or sheep milk cheeses.

For younger, lighter and more fruity firm or semi-firm cheese I would either go back to serving a white wine or a very light red such as an old world Pinot Noir, Schiava from Alto Adige, or Beaujolais.

Madeira and Sheep Cheese

Madeira, a fortified wine from the Portuguese island of Madeira is delicious with sheep milk – brebis cheese, particularly full-fat firm styles such as Cabrales, Etorki. The smoky, toffee, tangy nuttiness and fruit-cake aromas and flavors of Madeira as well as its high acidity both cut through the richness of these cheeses and enhances the tangy sheep milk flavors.

Wine and Cheese: Perfection vs. Practicality

For most of us it is not practical to have an array of wines on offer, one to match each cheese type served, but at most dinner gatherings, there is usually still some white wine left over, which can be brought back to the table to offer as well as any remaining red wine. This could also be the time to bring out the bottle of Port or Madeira that you’ve had for some time, but never had the occasion to open.

Finally, most cheese courses are served with a selection of dried fruit, nuts, bread or crackers that can help bridge any imperfections in the wine and cheese pairing.

Like I say all the time – experiment and work out which pairings you prefer and work best for you.



By: Mary Gorman-McAdams