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To assess how the complexity of a wine and the nuance of a cheese comes together — to seek a tasting experience that is greater than the sum of its parts — is a daunting challenge. This guide outlines some basic concepts and provides six ready-made wine and cheese pairings to get you started.
There is no single right way to pair wine with cheese. Wine & cheese can go together like peanut butter and jelly, or they can go together like oil and water. It's a matter of choosing the right white wines for the right cheeses and the right red wines for the right cheeses. Below you'll find concepts widely-accepted as tried-and-true wine and cheese pairing tips, but of course there are exceptions to every rule. If you’re new to the adventure, this will help get you started.
When it comes to buying cheese, you can stop by your local grocer or order online. If you live somewhere with a limited cheese selection, or would like to explore pre-selected cheese assortments, I recommend iGourmet.
They have a rather impressive roundup of cheese collections grouped under the heading “Cheese for Wine” and include different grape varieties for pairing such as: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Champagne, Rosé, Merlot, Syrah (Shiraz), Zinfandel, and Port.
iGourmet also offers regional cheese assortments for England, Ireland, Belgium, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Greece, Netherlands, Scandinavia, Mexico, California, and the United States.
To make this guide more useful, I contacted two of my most trusted wine club partners — The California Wine Club and SomMailier — to see if they’d be interested in helping me pair their wines with the Cheese for Wine assortments from iGourmet. They said yes! Lucky you!
The California Wine Club has several wine club options and an online store. This woman-led small business works with family wineries, seeking out great wines you’d be hard-pressed to find outside the winery tasting rooms.
As their name suggests, they offer wine from California, but they also have a Pacific Northwest Series and an International Series which brings in unique, artisanal wines not readily available in the US. Every wine I’ve tried from The California Wine Club has expressed the terroir of its origin, typicity of the grapes, and has been a delight to drink.
SomMailier is a wine club focusing exclusively on boutique French wine. Laurent Yung is the founder and CEO of this tiny operation. He is a 5th generation member of the Yung wine family from Bordeaux. Working with his family partners in France, he imports unique and (mostly) exclusive French wines to the United States. He sells these wines on his website and through his delightful wine club. My own experience with the wines from SomMailier is that they are little treasures, distinct from widely available French wines I’ve tried.
I worked with The California Wine Club to pair wines with the Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon cheese assortments. I worked with SomMailier to pair the iGourmet French Cheese Assortment and a specially-selected Blue cheese.
Please note: The cheeses and wines in this guide may occasionally go out of stock. It is entirely possible I will have not updated the guide to reflect those changes, though I will do my best to keep up. If a wine happens to have gone out of stock, when you reach the shopping cart at The California Wine Club, a suitable alternative will have been selected.
Which cheeses go better with white wine?
White wines are the most flexible for pairing with the greatest number of cheeses — young and aged selections alike. A recent magical experience of my own came with a Central Coast Chenin Blanc and Trader Joe’s Unexpected Cheddar. That said, Sauvignon Blanc goes great with fresh cheeses like Goat cheese and Brie, and Chardonnay goes great with medium-intensity cheeses like Provolone and some cheddars. Here are curated cheese and white wine adventures for you to try at home.
The Sauvignon Blanc Cheese Assortment from iGourmet includes: Bûche de Chévre, Pecorino Toscano, and Montasio. The California Wine Club has selected two excellent Sauvignon Blancs to pair with this cheese assortment: Willowbrook Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc (Sonoma County, California) and Palencia Wine Company Columbia Valley Sauvignon Blanc (Washington).Buy it for $39.99
Each of these wines will bring out unique characteristics in each of the cheeses. The additional grassy and herbal notes in the Willowbrook will bring a different pairing experience than the richer palate in the Palencia Wine Company selection. Learn more about this Sauvignon Blanc & Cheese pairing.
The Chardonnay Cheese Assortment from iGourmet includes: Provolone Piccante, Tarentaise, and Kerrygold Dubliner. The California Wine Club has selected two artisanal Chardonnays to pair with this cheese assortment: Meeker Vineyard North Coast Gamboge Chardonnay (California) and Thornhill Napa Valley Chardonnay.Buy it for $39.99
Each of these wines will bring out unique characteristics in each of the cheeses. The stone fruit profile in the Meeker will complement the Tarentaise beautifully and the intensity of the Thornhill will stand up to the Dubliner. Learn more about this Chardonnay & Cheese pairing.
Which cheeses go better with red wine?
The intensity and tannins of red wine often leave a lot of room for cheese flavors to clash with the wine. When it comes to red wine, lighter-bodied and fruity options with lower alcohol will do better with younger cheeses. Older wines go well with aged cheeses, heavy reds go better with stronger cheeses like aged cheddar or Grana Padano. Here are curated cheese and red wine adventures for you to try at home.
The Pinot Noir Cheese Assortment from iGourmet includes: Manchego, 6-month Aged Comté, and a Chocolate Capri Log. The California Wine Club has selected two special Pinot Noirs to pair with this cheese assortment: Stolo Vineyards 2018 Cambria San Luis Obispo County Estate Pinot Noir (Central Coast, California) and Keller Estate Winery 2016 La Cruz Vineyard Petaluma Gap Pinot Noir (Sonoma County, California).Buy it for $34.99
Each of these wines will bring out unique characteristics in each of the cheeses. Sheep’s milk cheeses go really well with Pinot Noir and so does the sweet, nutty character of Comté even though it's made with cow’s milk. The Stolo Vineyards Pinot will knock it out of the park with all three cheeses, and the cranberry and juicy mid-palate of the Keller Estate will be a great complement to the Chocolate Capri. Learn more about this Pinot Noir & Cheese pairing.
The Cabernet Sauvignon Cheese Assortment from iGourmet includes: Extra Aged Dutch Gouda, Piave Vecchio, and Smokey Blue. The California Wine Club has selected two pairs of Cabernet Sauvignon to pair with these cheeses.
The first pair of wines is more budget-friendly and includes: Porterhouse Winery 2018 Lodi Cabernet Sauvignon (California) and Terra Valentine 2018 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. The second pair of wines is an ultra-premium selection (both with a little age on them): Silvia Cellars 2016 Limited Production Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and Kelly Family Vineyards 2014 Oak Knoll District Napa Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.Buy it for $39.99
Parmigiano-Reggiano, frequently compared to Piave Vecchio, can overpower a Cabernet both in intensity and texture, whereas the Piave Vecchio will smoothly accompany these fruitier, less tannic Cabs. The Aged Gouda will harmonize with the Porterhouse bottle and the Smokey Blue will complement the Terra Valentine.
These two aged Napa Cabernet Sauvignon offer a different perspective from the former pair. Aged wine pairs well with aged cheese because they are both fermented. The “tertiary flavors” that develop as a fermented product ages bring a different experience when paired with the selected cheeses.
Learn more about this Cabernet Sauvignon & Cheese pairing.
There are four classic French cheeses in the iGourmet assortment: Bûche de Chévre, Camembert, Ossau-Iraty, and Comté aged 6-months. If you want to get familiar with French cheese, this is a great place to start. Even if you already know a bit about French cheese, these selections will help solidify your basic knowledge, especially for wine pairing purposes.
I asked Laurent and his team to curate a selection of wines specifically for this cheese assortment. There are a total of five recommended wines for you to choose from. Since SomMailier has a minimum order of three bottles (it’s more efficient to ship this way), they have also curated three-bottle sets to make things easier.Buy it for $49.99
Learn more about this French Wine & Cheese pairing.
While many people quickly think of pairing blue cheeses with red wine, they’re overlooking the magic of a dessert wine with a blue. I asked Laurent to choose a blue cheese that would pair well with his delightful Sauternes L'Îlot de Haut Bergeron. He chose this Roquefort at iGourmet. (He also liked this blue cheese assortment, if want to try more than one.)Buy it for $12.99
What makes Sauternes and Roquefort a magical pairing is how the sweetness of the wine contrasts the sharp and salty tang of the cheese without being overwhelmed by it. Simultaneously, the acid in the wine contrasts with the creaminess of the ewe cheese. Each has a long finish which allows for a continued exploration of the flavors together. Learn more about this Dessert Wine & Blue Cheese pairing.
I hope this introduction to iGourmet, The California Wine Club, and SomMailier have encouraged you to think more deeply about wine and cheese pairings. Writing it has inspired me to start experimenting more myself! Now when we sit down for a “nibbly dinner” of cheese, prosciutto, and crudité I won’t just reach for the rosé and whatever cheese is in the fridge, I’ll start thinking about the combinations of cheese and wine ahead of time!
Janet Fletcher. I’ve received Janet Fletcher’s Planet Cheese emails for some time. In addition to a weekly dose of cheese knowledge to your inbox, Planet cheese also has a “Cheese o’Clock” series at iGourmet (virtual cheese and wine pairing events), or you can buy Janet Fletcher’s book Cheese & Wine, A Guide to Selecting, Pairing, and Enjoying (which was hiding on my bookshelf in plain sight). While she’s not the only well-known cheese expert, I trust everything Janet Fletcher says (about cheese).
Additional Wine-centric Reading. Terroir Review offers a great guide to wine and cheese pairing in addition to several posts about specific cheeses. Wine Folly covers cheese pairing (like Goat Cheese) in a more wine-centric manner than most cheese websites.
Cook’s Illustrated offers an incredible compendium of cheese knowledge. I found fantastic articles covering Pecorino Romano, Goat Cheese, Gruyere, Blue Cheese, Fontina, and even Vegan Cheeses.
Pairing Cheese with Other Adult Beverages. If you want to dig in deeper, try your hand at Beer & Cheese pairings, or even Spirits & Cheese pairings, check out this guide at Murray’s Cheese to get you started. Not to leave anyone out of the cheese pairing fun, iGourmet has packaged a number of cheese assortments for pairing with beer.
Pairing Wine with Food That’s Not Cheese. While researching this guide, I came across an excellent website for food and wine pairings called VinYang (a play on the Chinese concept of Yin and Yang). You can pair ingredients or whole meals. It recommends the best kind of wine to pair and three alternatives. They talk about cheese pairings, too.