It's a given that wine and cheese go well together. But that doesn't mean that every wine pairs well with every cheese - or vice versa.
How do you 'try before you buy'? Well, if you can't, use one (or more) of these 3 methods!
1. PAIR TO COMPARE.
INTENSITY of flavor is a wonderful starting point. Wine takes-on more memorable nuance with age, just as cheese does. Young fresh wines tend to be bright and quaffable. Wines become nuttier (oxidized), or perhaps you’ve noticed dried fruit flavors or aromas when tasting a truly aged wine. Just as a cheese “dries out” with aging, in a wine the fresh-fruit-factor starts to play second fiddle to dried fruits (e.g. figs, apricots, even raisins) or other traits specific to the wine (grape’s) particular kind. Pair two young things or two time-tested cheeses and wines together and you have a match!
PROTEIN loves protein. Remember from your own larger life experience that fat is a wonderful flavor vehicle. And as cheese dries out, fat and protein become more concentrated (dare we say… intense?). In wine, tannin – or the uber-dry feeling left on your tongue after you swallow – is a form of protein. So a very dry (or tannic) wine is a good match for heartier cheeses.
TEXTURE is a fun one. It’s not hard to imagine that fatty or creamy cheeses can sing with buttery, oaky, curvy wines. How does a wine come to give that impression? The grape’s natural characteristics are partly in play, and winemakers can dial up the impact when they use American oak (in particular, as opposed to French or Hungarian, stainless steel or the like) to age their wines (yes, the duration of time in oak matters, too – like a marinade).
2. PAIR TO CONTRAST.
SALTY vs. SWEET Another familiar piece of advice, right? Sweet and salty are opposites that attract, and so yes, there is a very good reason why fruit (fresh or dried) and nuts often adorn a cheese plate.
TEXTURE vs. TEXTURE Wait, didn’t we already cover this one? Yep! Just as you can complement textures, you can also contrast them. Boisterous, palate-refreshing sparkling wines are a wonderful counter to richer, lingering cheeses.
3. PAIR BY PLACE.
This is one of our favorites. As the adage says, “If it grows together, it goes together.” There’s a reason why foods and wines from a certain place are grown there, styles evolve, etc. Tradition stems from local success. So don’t fight it!
Certainly knowing what a particular wine tastes like (both the grape’s own characteristics and as these are massaged per local traditions) is a great advantage - and just as important as knowing what a particular cheese tastes like. That’s where things begin.
So, start with what you know, whether it is a particular wine favorite, or a particular cheese. Pair focused on just that one element, referencing our guiding principles to find matches that sing (there are often more than one). Soon you’ll be connecting the dots about why a pairing works – or doesn’t! – on instinct and gaining confidence to take the ball and run with it.