• Matt Day

Chalk and cheese: the myth of red wine with cheese!

People assume that all wine and cheeses work together, but actually some wine/cheese combinations are awful. Red wine is to blame for most unsuccessful pairings as cream, soft, goat and blue cheese simply don’t work with red wine and may work better with white, sweet or fortified wines or beers and ciders. For starters red wines don't have enough acidity to cut through the richness of these styles. Secondly red wines have astringent tannins (that mouth drying sensation) which clash particularly badly with bloomy rinded cheeses (like Brie) giving a 'metallic' aftertaste in the mouth.

Red wine and cheese - by Michael Stern

Also wine provenance is key to successful pairing. Hot climate (usually New World ) wines with riper fruit, softer tannins, higher alcohol and lower acidity are perfect ‘drinking’ wines, but not great with cheese. Cool climate (usually Old World) wines have more restraint, less overt flavours, lower alcohol and higher acidity tend to be too austere without food, but somehow come alive in the presence of cheese.

When you get the pairing right the cheese is improved by the drink and the drink is improved by the cheese giving a wonderful harmony.

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Goat's Cheese

Goat's cheese is both extremely dense in texture (needing high acidity to cut through the cream) and strongly flavoured. Sauvignon Blanc, with its searing acidity and pungent gooseberry and citrus flavours, in an unexpectedly good match. Unoaked Chardonnay like Chablis and Riesling can also work well. As a general rule of thumb Old World wines, which are higher in acidity and lower in alcohol, are generally better with cheese than their New World equivalents. Loire Sauvignons (Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé) which are higher in acidity and less overtly fruity than their New World equivalents are particularly successful.

Cream Cheese

Cream cheeses are usually very delicate in flavour (so easy to overpower) and have an unctuousness that causes the cheese to stick to the roof of your mouth. A great match for Castello Pineapple Halo is a sweet sparkling wine such as a Moscato d'Asti from Piedmont or a Demi-Sec Champagne.

Soft Cheese

Soft cheeses like Brie de Meaux work well with creamy wines. Aging in barrels gives Chardonnay a rich, creamy texture that works amazingly with these styles. Try a Macon or a Meursault or Puligny-Montrachet if your budget allows! Also mature (3-6 year old) Chardonnay takes on a nutty, cheesy character which can complement this style of cheese perfectly. An unoaked Chardonnay from Chablis is an equally good choice as the racier acidity cuts rapier-like through the double cream.

Washed Rind Cheese

Washed rind cheeses are washed with alcohol giving them a distinctive orange bloomy rind. They include Munster and Epoisses and are amongst the gooiest and most pungent cheeses known to man. They definitely don’t work with red wines and overpower most whites. Pungent Gewurztraminer works and also certain rose wines can cope. A fruit beer however is best!

Hard Cheese

Hard cheeses are great with red wine as the protein in the cheese softens the tannins of the red making it seem richer and softer. For mountain cheeses like Gruyere a young vibrant Pinot Noir from Burgundy, a Loire Cabernet Franc or even a pale ale will work well. With mature cheeses try serving a mature wine (5-10 years old): an aged Rioja, Bordeaux or Barolo with a mature Parmesan or Cheddar is a great match which brings out the complexity of the wine.

Blue Cheese

Blue cheese is the strongest in flavour terms and will overpower most white and red wines. Sweet wines have more concentration and the sweetness works with the distinctive blue mould character. Lightly moulded cheeses such as Dolcelatte work amazingly well with Belgian Cherry Beer. Medium weight blues like St. Agur will work well with red or white passito styles made by drying grapes in the sun which intensifies the sweetness such as Recioto di Valpolicella. For stronger blues like Roquefort try a botrytised wine like Sauternes or a Hungarian Tokaji or Port and Stilton is an absolute classic. This is perhaps the ultimate wine and cheese combination - the intense sweet wine balanced by the tangy, salty cheese. On its own the cheese is too intense and salty. On its own the wine is too sweet. But together the combination is breathtaking. This pairing will convert even the most ardent blue cheese-phobes!

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