Pairing wine with cheese isn’t always as straightforward as it might seem. Successful combinations like Port with Stilton make it appear foolproof, but I have found some basic rules are worth sticking to. Heavily oaked white wines tend to clash with most cheeses, as do reds with noticeable tannins (those bitter-tasting, mouth-drying flavours). Fruit-driven wines tend to fare better overall.
Let’s consider wines to partner 4 basic styles of cheese:
Creamy cheeses like Brie or Camembert have a mouth-coating effect that’s a lot for wine to cope with. As they mature, such cheeses get stronger and more pungent. A full, dry, white wine like a Chardonnay or white Rioja is lovely with young cheese, but go for a powerful, fruity red if the cheese is mature: a smoky Rioja Reserva, a big-scaled, peppery Shiraz, or a South African Pinotage perhaps.
Strongly flavoured blue cheeses like Stilton need a wine with some sweetness. Port is such a good match because it is the perfect counter-point to the saltiness and strength of the cheese. Look for wood-aged, 10 or 20 year old tawny Ports – far removed from basic tawny that is nothing more than a blend of cheap ruby and white wines. Also worth considering are Liqueur Muscats from Australia. With their caramelised, orangey flavours these are headily perfumed, luscious and intensely sweet.
Goat’s cheese and Sauvignon Blanc is a match made in Heaven. The grassy quality of classic Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé complements the cheese perfectly. New World Sauvignons will also work, as long as they are not too tropically fruity and have good acidity.
For hard cheeses, like Cheddar or Parmesan, a red would be my choice. The better the cheese, the better the wine. Fine, mature Claret wouldn’t be wasted on top-notch Cheddar. Alternatively, try a Châteauneuf-du-Pape or a rich Californian Merlot. These cheeses can take a certain amount of tannin, but not too much.
This month’s recommendations are delicious in their own right, but proved particularly good when tasted with cheese:
Ironstone Vineyards, Merlot, California
This Californian beauty is packed with ripe, plummy flavours, a dark chocolate richness and a long, peppery finish. The dense fruit suited the Cheddar and didn’t over-power the Brie.
Viñas del Vero, Pinot Noir, Spain
This is a gorgeous wine from Spain with a huge depth of earthy, forest-fruits and mixed-spice aromas. Lush and velvety on the palate, it too was terrific with the Brie and was a surprising success with the Stilton, emphasising a sweetness in the cheese.
Château Le Raz, Sauvignon Blanc, France
This is a lovely Sauvignon Blanc blend from Southwest France. It has some of the grassy, nettley, gooseberry character of Sancerre, but also fresh, peachy fruit and a gentle acidity that was lovely with goat’s cheese.
Penfolds. Magill Tawny NV, Australia
This is a Port lookalike from Australia. Made from a blend of mellow, wood-aged wines, it is nutty, complex, sweet and rich: a perfect partner to Stilton.