I overheard a woman at the store saying…”I’m having wine and cheese night, but I have no idea where to start.”  Turns out she did have an idea, because she had a Cabernet that she really liked and a pile of cheese already in her cart, but that’s beside the point. The cheesemonger helped her pick out three cheeses that worked. The goat cheese she had in her cart was NOT one of them.

If I were her, (and I wasn’t, considering her fashion sense…) I’d start with an idea of the wine. Wines can drastically change the taste of cheeses, for the good and for the bad. So I’m not saying you have to have the vintage, vineyard and name of the wine picked out, but even narrowing down to a red/white, dry/sweet/acidic is a good place to start.

Once you’ve picked your wine, select 3 cheeses that vary in texture and milk type. It’s always nice to have a little variety. How to select those cheeses? Remember we talked about terroir? Try it out here. Usually sticking with the region works well. Spanish wine? Try some Manchega sheep’s milk cheeses. French white wines from the Loire valley go well with goat cheeses from the very same place.

I don’t want you to think there are rules to pairing cheeses and wines, because it is always about your own palette. And to be honest, no one is going to stop drinking wine at a dinner party because it conflicts with the cheese. People at dinner parties usually drink more of their fair share of wine at parties, actually…But as a host, you want to make the eating experience so amazing that they think you did something special. So no rules, but there are some things you can keep in mind to help make your experience better.

1. Acidic Wine + Acidic Cheese = Good. The acids counteract each other and produce a less acidic flavor in the end. Try a fresh goat cheese with an acidic white wine like Chardonnay. It’s not nearly as acidic as it might seem. Funny that, depending on the pairing, it can almost come off as sweet.

2. Bubbles in Wine + Double/Triple Crème = Yum. The bubbles in the wine cut the fat in the cheese and feels refreshing. These super fatty and rich cheeses need something to clean the palette. Champagne and sparkling wines work perfectly with a double or triple crème cheese. (We’ll be featuring a table setup on bubbles + triple crème cheeses shortly)

3. Oak Barrel Aged Wine + Earthy Flavored Cheese = Great. The earthiness of both components comes out in a flavor that is interesting. This combined flavor is hard to explain in words, but it reminds you of being outside at a cookout. Try a Tomme Crayeuse with an oaky red wine.

4. Dessert Wine + Blue Cheese = Genius. The sweetness in the wine cuts the spicy blue cheese flavor of the mold. Be careful not to choose a blue that’s too peppery or spicy. A Gorgonzola Dolce and a Muscat wine are great together.

5. Tannic Red Wine + Goat Cheese = Nasty. The tannins leave a lingering sensation on the tongue – a long finish – and the tang of the goat cheese conflicts with that. Now keep in mind that I hate tannins. But either way this pairing doesn’t work for me.

Here are some great pairings, courtesy of Cheese & Wine by Janet Fletcher:

Pairing 1:

Wine: Lean, fruity, high-acid white wines and dry Roses (Albariño, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc)

-plus-

Cheese: Fresh or slightly aged cow’s milk cheeses (Asiago), Fresh or slightly aged goat’s milk cheeses (Piave)

Pairing 2:

Wine: Grüner Veltliner, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Viognier

-plus-

Cheese: Camembert, Washed Rind Cheeses (Époisses, Fontina, Moriber, Munster-Gerome), Hard Aged Cheeses (Fontina, Taleggio), Bloomy Rind Cheeses (Brie, Camembert)

Pairing 3:

Wine: Full-bodied red wines (Barbera, Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chianti, Merlot, Rioja, Syrah)

-plus-

Cheese: Aged cow’s milk cheeses (Asiago, Cantal, Cheddar, Parmigiano-Reggiano, St. George), Aged Sheep’s Milk Cheeses (Manchego, Pecorino Toscano), Washed Rind Cheeses (Taleggio)

~ Dana

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