There are several national days that involve cheese in some form or another. There’s National Grilled Cheese Day, National Cheesecake Day, and National Macaroni and Cheese Day; however, there is only one day devoted just to cheese itself: National Cheese Day! On June 4th, cheese lovers will celebrate the coagulation of milk proteins, which we call cheese. As a neighborhood wine shop that sells premium cheese from around the globe, we can’t help but address the somewhat polarizing, sometimes confusing, and somehow amazing topic of wine and cheese pairing. Below we will include links for mild, medium, and bold cheeses with wine pairings, so grab our collections and snack and sip along with us!
A great general rule of thumb for pairing wine and cheese is intensity. How mild, medium, or bold is the cheese, and matching that with a mild, medium, or bold wine can often be a great starting point. It may be helpful to think of this like a duet. If one singer is too loud or expressive it will overshadow the other, thus losing the original intent of the duet.
For mild cheeses such as the Delin Brillat-Savarin Triple Cream out of Burgundy, France, wines that are not overpowering are great choices. This cheese is a brie that is extremely soft, buttery, and delicious with mild flavors. With this texture, we may not want to select a wine that is full-bodied and sweet because your mouth may feel full of syrupy cheese. Also, acid in wine makes your mouth water, so with a low-acid wine, the creaminess of the cheese may be overpowering, leaving you feeling like you have dry mouth while trying to eat peanut butter. This is also why tannic wines (which dry out your mouth) tend to not be paired with creamier cheeses. With regard to flavor, this might be a bit more subjective, but when pairing wines and cheese sommeliers and cheese mongers try to make selections that bring out flavor without overshadowing the other component of the pairing. For example, in the Brillat-Savarin brie, there is a hint of sweeter honey that could work extremely well with wines that express mild fruit flavors. Here, think red apples and honey or slightly sugar-coated strawberries. The components on their own are great, but together they can bring out something new and exciting. For these reasons, we hope you can try some crisp Rosé such as Renegade’s Columbia Valley Rosé. This wine has notes of citrus and fresh strawberries that match the intensity of the cheese, add another subtle dimension to the pairing, and the acid of the wine will leave your mouth feeling similar to what it was like before you even ate the cheese. Another great option is a bright sparkling wine like Cava! The apples, pears, and brioche quality of the wine may make the pairing feel a bit like an apple tart with some honey drizzle on top. Like the acid in the Rosé, Cava is relatively high and its bubbles will allow some of the more creamy/chewy nature of the cheese to be more easily broken up and swallowed without that peanut butter effect. As is the case with any of these pairings, experimentation is always encouraged, and you may find something unexpected that arises out of creative combinations!
As the intensity of the cheese flavor increases, we recommend that the intensity of the wine increases as well, and Louis Guffanti’s Maremma Pecorino is a great example of cheese with a bit bolder flavors that can be matched by a bit of a bolder wine. Have you heard the phrase ‘what grows together goes together?’ Many sommeliers will approach this idea from the perspective of climate, soil types, topographical features, etc., but an additional way to view this is from a more cultural lens. In certain areas of the wine world, such as parts of Italy, grapes are tied to a specific location or region. For example, if you take a trip to the more rural areas of Piedmont, you will not be drinking Cabernet Sauvignon or even other Italian varieties like Corvina or Aglianico. Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Dolcetto (among a few other red varieties) have established themselves as rooted in the Piedmont countryside. These are expressive and rich grapes that are then matched by expressive and rich foods and cheeses. So, in a sense, they do grow with each other as the wine and food plays off of each other. This is absolutely the case in Tuscany where Sangiovese (the main grape in Chianti) is king. Guffanti’s Maremma is more silky in texture allowing a more tannic wine (like Chianti) to match the structure of the cheese without drying out your mouth. There is also a freshness and tangy component to the cheese that meshes excellently with the crisp red cherry notes of Chiantis such as those produced by Dievole or Darno. Additionally, if you want to accentuate this dynamic between the tangy and the tart, Nebbiolo is another great pairing option for this cheese. Massimo Rivetti and Rocche Costamagna produce Nebbiolos from Piedmont that are not overly structured (meaning very high levels of tannin and acid) and those cherry notes become a bit more sour and even more cranberry-like. We recommend trying both combinations and seeing which your palate prefers!
Moving to France for another cheese with medium intensity, we have Jean Faup’s Bethmale Chevre. This cheese has some mellow nutty flavor that works well with its other tangy and particularly citric components of the cheese. The cheese is from Southwestern France and one could certainly pair this with red wines like Madiran or white wines from Juracon, but, here, we want to capitalize on some of those citric qualities of the cheese and amplify those. The Loire Valley is home to Sauvignon Blanc that has these lemon and lime characteristics along with being some of the most mouthwateringly pleasant high acid white wines in the world. While not as creamy as the Brillat-Savarin, the texture of the cheese lends itself to a high acid companion like Sancerres from André Neveu or Jean-Christophe Mandard’s Sauvignon Blanc from Touraine, to the west of the Sancerre region. These wines will add that lemon zest, gooseberries, and passion fruit that carry citric notes and will expand the tasting sensations of Jean Faup’s Bethmale Chevre in a way that almost demands another bite.
Finally, we come to bold cheese, and what better bold cheese to focus on than Blue! Defendi Baffalo Blue from Lombardy, Italy uses the same milk as Buffalo Mozzarella, (which refers to water buffalo, not the American bison), and it’s soft, rich, and creamy with a distinctive bite from its blue veins. This cheese carries relatively intense flavor, so a wine like a Valpolicella Ripasso from Northeast Italy will have the concentrated fruit flavors and rustic appeal that can bring out almost a sweetness to a cheese that is considered to be on the more funky side. The wine is relatively acidic and not too tannic, so it will not cause your mouth to dry out, allowing you to move onto the next bite with ease. Another category of wine that is often paired with more aggressively flavored cheeses is sweet wine. Think of this as a bit like putting honey on a piece of stinky cheese. It softens the funk, while not overpowering the original flavor of the cheese. Wine such as Lodali’s Moscato d’Asti have lower alcohol content but higher sugar content. The wine is highly aromatic, floral, fruit-forward, and its flavors add another dimension to the cheese in a way that does not amplify the cheese’s funk. Another fantastic option for a wine that stands up to this Baffalo Blue is Port! Like Moscato d’Asti, Port has a high sugar content, but its flavors can be more red fruit focused with raspberries and cherries. There can also be a nutty component to Port (particularly Tawney Port), and one can think of the combination of this Baffalo Blue and Port to be similar to having a bite of salad with blue cheese and candied walnuts. The sweetness and nutty component balances out the funk of the blue cheese while adding an added layer of complexity to the whole bite. This combination will be bursting with flavor, and we hope you can give it a try and let us know what you think!
There is so much more to say on wine and cheese pairing, and that is what we are going to do! Be on the lookout for more posts, wine and cheese recommendations, and other great combinations that can take your snack, appetizer, or even entire meal to another level. As noted above our pairing recommendations are linked below, and let us know what you think!