Wine and Cheese: Perfect Pairings
Doing a little bit of homework ahead of time makes hosting a fall gathering easy.
Any time is a great time for a wine and cheese party, but I think it is an especially fun way to salute fall’s annual grape “crush” harvest.
Start by choosing the right wines to go with your selected cheeses. Choose wines that you are familiar with and really like—whites, reds, rosé, sparkling or dessert wines—and pair them with complementary cheeses.
How to decide what cheeses are best? Why not go for an assortment of hard to soft table cheeses with different textures and taste intensities that represent an international mix. For instance, you might offer an American goat or cheddar cheese, an Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano, a French Camembert, an English Stilton and a Spanish Manchego. There are hundreds of cheeses to choose from— be adventurous!
Cheeses are expensive, so buy them from a reputable source; get to know the cheese monger where you shop and ask questions about the provenance of the cheese if you are unfamiliar with it. As a rule, plan on a 3-ounce serving of each cheese per person.
After purchase, keep the cheese well wrapped in its original paper and store it in the warmest part of the refrigerator. Cheese papers are waxed to keep the cheese fresh.
For serving, have all cheeses at room temperature; there is nothing worse than cold cheese. Be sure to label the cheeses.
While it is nice to serve cheeses with the ubiquitous crackers or bread, try offering them with jams, marmalades, warm honey and dried fruits.
As for the wines, I always consult my husband Guy (who is a certified wine educator) for his pairing recommendations for soft, fresh, hard and pungent-tasting cheese. Once I identify the cheeses, I leave it to him to match the wines. (See his suggestions with the recipes that follow.)
Not everyone has the advantage of a wine expert, so just experiment and trust your judgment. Taste the cheese to get a sense of its character—is it pungent, mild or gooey? Then taste the cheese again with wine to see how compatible it is. Many cheese and wine aficionados say that white wine pairs better with mild-tasting young cheese, while reds are great partners for aged cheese.
Of course, the complexity of the wine and what you like to drink are factors in what to choose. Whites that are fruity and crisp would be lovely with young cheeses because they have less tannins, are higher in acidity and are light bodied. Aged cheeses may benefit more from both light- and full-bodied red wines.
Hosting a wine-and-cheese party should be all about experimenting and enjoying the process.
Try these delectable cheese-filled recipes:
Choosing Cheese-Friendly Wines
When it comes to getting expert advice about which wine to serve with which cheese, Mary Ann Esposito doesn’t have to look far. Her husband, Guy Esposito, is a level-two wine educator who was certified by the US Sommelier Association Wine School in 2015 after an intensive immersion course on wines of the world. Guy says he’s always been interested in wine, especially Italian wines, and gives seminars for Mary Ann’s culinary tours of Italy as well as for her Boston University cooking classes.
Guy Esposito talks about wine with Robin Lurie-Meyerkopf, who owns South Street & Vine in Portsmouth (603) 430-2984; www.southstreetandvine.com with her husband, Rick Meyerkopf (behind the counter).
“Gewurztraminer is one of the most cheesefriendly wines,” Guy says. “Other wines that are near perfect matches are high-quality Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir. Big full-bodied red wines, like Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti Riserva and Barolo are good partners for cow and sheep milk cheeses.
“The key elements in pairing wine with cheese is the latter’s acidity, texture and how strong it smells. For a high-acid cheese like goat, a high-acid white wine is recommended. Gewurztraminer or Sancerre are good matches. With fat, buttery cheeses like Camembert or Robiola, a textural pairing is best. Try syrupy dessert wines like Sauternes, Moscato d’Asti, Tokay or Port.
“I suggest pairing robust red wines with tannins, fruit and high acid with hard skinned cheese—Parmigiano-Reggiano, aged Pecorino or Manchego. These cheeses with their high butter-fat content soften the abundant harsh tannins in the red wines. With Parmigiano- Reggiano cheese, try Barolo or a Chianti Riserva wine. With Manchego cheese, serve Rioja wine.
“Finally, I recommend serving a high-acid and fruity Gewurztraminer wine with a strong smelling cheese. This wine will help mask the cheese’s smell.”