Wine and Cheese

One of my favorite television chefs, Tyler Florence, admits, “My wife and I love to host wine and cheese parties. They are simple and elegant, and you don’t have to put a lot of effort and time into it.”  I am all about that, especially in summer! Forty years ago, we had to belong to a Cheese of the Month Club to find the cheeses we can now get any day of the week in our local Fresh Market. At the same time, more and more of the world’s amazing variety of wines are there for the choosing and pairing.

Tips for a wine and cheese party:

  1. Choose 3-5 different style cheeses.
  2. Pair to the season. Serve lighter cheeses and wines for summer and save the rich port and stilton pairing for the dead of the winter. Avoid the stinky or heavy cheeses and big, fat red wines in summer. Opt for those refreshing white wines, dry rosés and chillable reds with young goat cheeses and fresh mozzarella or ricotta mixed with fresh herbs from your garden or produce department.
  3. Add a selection of so called “bridge ingredients” that will help your pairings work well: dried and fresh seasonal fruits, fruit pastes, nuts, sweet jams and savory jellies, chutney, small pickles, pickled onions, olives, crackers, toasts, crisps or breads. Use the cheese and bridge ingredients to make a glorious cheese board. One of my favorite serving platters is a large rectangular piece of slate that I can lay the full array of cheese and accompaniments on.

Basic guidelines for pairing wine and cheese:

  1. For tasting wine in general, plain Swiss style cheese is the best, like Emmenthal or Jarlsberg.
  2. Pairing cheese and wine from the same region is a good starting point, for example, Italian wine with Parmigiano Reggiano or Spanish wine with Manchego.
  3. Believe it or not white wine generally goes better with cheese than hearty red wines whose robust flavors and tannins tend to overpower all but the strongest cheeses. Hard cheeses like aged Gouda are more likely to stand up to red wines.
  4. Choose a dry rosé to go with cheeses flavored with herbs and spices and a medium dry Riesling to go with cheeses flavored with dried fruits.
  5. Salty cheeses are balanced by sweeter wines, like medium to late harvest Rieslings.

Pairings for a cheese and wine party:

  • Goat Cheese and a bright Sauvignon Blanc are best buddies. Take a log of fresh, soft goat cheese and coat it with beautiful pink pepper corns and serve it with Jaja de Jau (zhah-zhahduh-zhoh) Sauvignon Blanc from southwest France.
  • Brie and Chardonnay: An oozy, creamy Brie—or Camembert--on a slice of French baguette loves a buttery Chardonnay. Get to know Chards from all over the world, especially from cool climates where the acidity will cut the rich creaminess. Or try a medium dry sparkling wine, Champagne or Prosecco. Here is a Wine 101 pairing with cheeses: Compare oaky Notable California Chardonnay to unoaked Notable Australian Chardonnay with Brie. 
  • Mozzarella and Italian Pinot Grigio: Serve a bowl of small, fresh mozzarella balls, fresh cherry tomatoes and black olives dressed with a coating of olive oil and a few drops of aged balsamic. Serve with Sartori’s Love Story Pinot Grigio. 
  • Mild, Semi Soft Cheese and Fruit Forward White: Cheeses like Havarti and Port Salut pair well with an aromatic semi dry white like Chenin Blanc, Viognier, or Riesling. Pair Port Salut with Dr. Loosen “Dr. L” Riesling from Germany.
  • Blue Cheese and Italian Moscato: A tangy, salty blue cheese on crackers with a slice of fresh pear or a dab of fig jam cries out for fruity Riesling, Viognier, Chenin Blanc, or a light, spritzy, sweet Moscato d’Asti.  Pair Statesboro Blue Cheese or Gorgonzola with Cupcake Moscato d’Asti.
  • Ricotta or Feta and Dry Rosé: Fresh, tangy cheese dips and spreads made with fresh herbs are great summery treats to spread on toasted baguette rounds and served with a gorgeous bottle of chilled Idiart Provenance Rosé from the Mediterranean.
  • Soft, Funky Cheese and a Floral White: Stinky cheeses typically smell stronger than they taste. Limburger is a good example. The strong fruity, spicy, floral aromas of Gewurztraminer mitigate the characteristic funky aromas of this family of cheeses. Pair Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley Gewurztraminer from Washington with Limburger cheese.
  • Parmigiano Reggiano and Light Italian Red: Break off bite sized chicks of Parmigiano Reggiano and serve with a cooled—not chilled—bottle of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo or Sangiovese. Pair with Castello d’Albola Chianti.
  • Alpine Style Cheese and Light Red Wines: Those nutty flavored cheeses with holes, like Gruyère, Emmenthaler, and Jarlsberg are cheeses that make almost any wine taste delicious, which is what you want out of a fine pairing. Light reds like Pinot Noir or Beajolais are just the thing for Emmenthal. Pair it with Georges Duboeuf St. Amour Beaujolais.
  • Manchego with Tempranillo or Garnacha:  Cut thin slices of Manchego sheep’s milk cheese and serve on a water cracker topped with a thin slice of quince paste. Pair with 90 Point Evodia Garnacha.
  • Medium Cheddar and Medium Red complement each other.  Malbec, Shiraz, or fruit forward California red blends all pair well with Asiago, medium cheddar, or young Gouda. Serve Altos Las Hormigas Mendoza Malbec with Dairyvale Cheddar.
  • Smoked Cheese and Syrah complement each other. Syrah/Shiraz has a smoky flavor that matches the flavors of smoke cheeses. Serve smoked provolone with Australian d’Arenberg McLaren Vale Stump Jump Shiraz.
  • Aged Cheeses and Big Reds:Big, jammy red wines like Cab, Zin and the popular red blends from California can take on the most intense cheeses. Try Karst Cheese or Aged Gouda with Michael David 7 Deadly Zins Lodi Zinfandel. 
  • Fortified or Dessert Wine and Stilton is a winter wine and cheese pairing. Spread English Blue Stilton on a wheat cracker and dollop with pear or fig jam and serve it with port, Sauternes or Rivesaltes as an after dinner treat in front of the fire. Pair the luscious, classic Maison Nicolas Sauternes.
  • Remember, as with all things wine, it’s what you like.  Experiment! Have fun! Enjoy!

Roz Mayberry

About Roz: During her distinguished career, Roz has served a term as the Retail Representative on the MDA's Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council and Continues to serve on their Promotion & Education and Competition Committees. In addition, she has served as a judge in various national and international wine competitions.

Working with D&W's wine stewards and SpartanNash's vendor partners, Roz tirelessly explores the vast world of wine, discovering the finest wines for every budget and every taste. And she loves to discuss food and wine with customers and colleagues. As a lifelong foodie, there is nothing else she'd rather be doing.