Five rules for pairing wines with cheese
June 4th, 2012
09:15 AM ET
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Ray Isle (@islewine on Twitter) is Food & Wine's executive wine editor. We trust his every cork pop and decant – and the man can sniff out a bargain to boot. Take it away, Ray.

Once again, it is upon us - National Cheese Day, June 4. Admittedly, this is one of those tricky holidays. One wouldn’t want to confuse it with, say, National Cheese Lovers’ Day (January 20), National Cheese Doodle Day (March 5), National Cheese Ball Day (April 17), National Cheese Pizza Day (September 5) or, particularly, International Respect for Chickens Day (May 4), because if there’s anything a chicken hates, it’s being mistaken for a large wheel of Gouda.

Be that as it may, there’s a lot of cheese in the world - hundreds of different kinds, made from the milk of everything from buffalos to yaks - and every last bit of it, to my mind, tastes even better with wine. Well, except for casu marzu, a Sardinian cheese with live cheese-fly larvae in it. I have no idea why anyone in their right mind would eat that, as it could not possibly taste anything other than revolting, no matter how powerful the alcohol was that you poured with it.

Anyway, generally speaking, here are a few thoughts about pairing cheese with wine. Of course, as always with pairing, these are suggestions - there are no rules, other than to eat food you like and drink wine (or whatever else) you like with it.

1. Go White
It’s counterintuitive, since most people think of pairing cheese with red wine, but white wines tend to go better with cheese. The lack of tannins, which are particularly tough on creamy cheeses, helps, as does the lively acidity many whites have. The best possibilities are unoaked whites, for instance Rieslings, (most) Sauvignon Blancs, or Albariños from Spain.

2. If Red, Go Light or Old
Again, tannins are tough, so if you simply think it’s lunacy drinking white wine with cheese, then look either for light, low-tannin reds like Beaujolais or ones that have had enough time to age (tannins mellow over time). For affordable reds that already have some age, Rioja is the best place to head. The current vintage on the market for reservas is 2005, and even wines from good producers like Valdemar and Riscal are usually under $15.

3. Cheese Is Food
In other words, just as lighter wines tend to go better with lighter foods and heavier wines with heavier foods, lighter cheeses are better with lighter wines - fresh goat cheese with a crisp Sancerre, for instance. Richer cheeses, like Camembert or Tête de Moine, need a more full-bodied wine, such as white Burgundy or a Pinot Gris from Alsace.

4. OK, Fine, Drink Cabernet
If you’re dead-set on a big, tannic red, your best bet is one of the harder, saltier cow’s milk cheeses—cheddar or dry Jack, for instance - or a similar sheep’s cheese, like pecorino. Or pair an Amarone from Italy with some Parmagiano drizzled with honey—Sandro Boscaini, the owner of the renowned Amarone producer Masi, swears by that match.

5. Blue Cheese and Sweet Wine Love Each Other
If there’s one cheese-wine marriage that’s made in heaven, it’s blue cheese and sweet wine. This could be a classic like Roquefort and Sauternes or Stilton with port, or you could head farther afield and try a Moscato with something like Gorgonzola. But feel free to wing it - there’s rarely an instance where this pairing won’t work.

More from Food & Wine

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America's Best Bars

Summer Grilling Ideas

Previously - Eat the rind, don't sweat the sweat – an artisan cheese primer and Cheeses that pair well with beer and How to assemble a cheese plate

© 2011 American Express Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.

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soundoff (43 Responses)
  1. Me

    Man oh my.....some of these NEGATIVE people had too much Strawberry's Boone's Farm in the Eighties!!! Negative, Negative, Negative!!! Probably Overweight, too! I tend to see they go hand in hand! Shame, Shame people!!! Start eating'll be a nicer person! Great Post!!!! Off to eat some FINE wine AND fine cheese!!!! Happy New Year!

    December 29, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
  2. MarkGlicker

    Sparkling water with Cheese is also excellant.

    June 6, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

      Sparkling water is turrible.

      May 11, 2013 at 11:22 am |
  3. Dewey

    Sake is even easier to pair win a broad range of cheese. No tannin, low acids, very diverse flavor and sweet/dry levels.

    June 5, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
  4. lindaluttrell

    Remember the big flap about reds with red meats and whites with chicken and fish??? You are what you eat. There ARE no rules if you eat and drink what you truly enjoy! Oh, and I serve all my wines in one style glass...

    June 5, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • GTB

      I love you. Exactly how I think.

      June 6, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
  5. Shante's mom

    Pouliet Fuisse seems to go with all those cheeses, but then again that is my taste. A good Pinot Noir with beef, pork, lamb, etc. I only have wine when I eat, I do not like it for cocktails. (I must say, I get a kick out of all the wine drinkers I know that do not feel as though they are imbibing if they are only drinking wine. I think they are just fooling themselves!

    June 5, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  6. Mac33

    It's funny the lengths people go to delude themselves. Reality is, all wine tastes horrid – like all alcohol – and you aren't drinking it for the taste. That people make a sort of high-class ritual out of pairing it with specific cheese varieties is absurdly laughable.

    June 5, 2012 at 8:33 am |
    • felix el gato

      Cheeze Doodles and Mad Dog. That's all ya gotta know.

      June 5, 2012 at 8:52 am |
    • The Truth

      Absolutely freaking this.

      June 5, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • JD

      What an absurd comment. I love the taste of good wine - where are the commitment papers? Sorry but articles like this are helpful for getting the MOSt enjoyment out of food amd wine. But anyone who has followed food and wine writing in rcent years knows most of the old rules are out the window, as is the notion that people who enjoy wine are snobs. If you like something, go for it. Doesn't say a thing about your social standing. Sorry, Mac, you feel so...lower class.

      June 5, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • Ned Flanders

      I hope you're leveling, but if not then F you.

      June 5, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • jlv

      Funny how you project your views on others, because nobody could possibly be different then you. I'm guessing that you are a teatotaler who wants to prohibit and control others. Let me guess you think we should all smoke weed instead? Whether people will choose what they prefer for themselves despite people like you having fits.

      June 5, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

      Completely agree. Next, it will be about who's diaper is the most fragrant. The most foul one will sell for the highest price. People just trying to church up something that tastes like crap. The winery thanks you as they laugh all the way to the bank with all the money you douse on fermented grape juice.

      May 11, 2013 at 11:25 am |
  7. Rick Springfield

    Ok, so I see all my favorite cheese pairings. So what about caned aerosol cheese wiz? Should I use my 1978 Montrachet or Chteau Mouton Rothschild Pauillac 1986? I'll probably just stick to my box of 2012 Corbet Canyon Pinot Noir.

    June 5, 2012 at 12:58 am |
    • Little Timmy

      Why would you beat your cheese Whiz?

      June 5, 2012 at 6:43 am |
    • jlv

      I was thinking the 2012 Charles Shaw or a nice Thunderchevitz.

      June 5, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
  8. plenty

    Ah! The wine and cheese set.

    June 4, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
    • KellyinBoston

      But for bread, you don't really need anything else to eat, do you? Okay, greens. Fine. But that's just medicine, really.

      June 5, 2012 at 12:12 am |
    • jlv

      I'm sorry we can't live up to your ripple standards.

      June 5, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
  9. Solo

    There really are no rules. What should be honored is quality – in both food and wine. If you start with that, you cannot go wrong. (Although most of the country thinks canned cheese and Ritz crackers are a "pairing" combo.)

    June 4, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • Alan S

      Solo, you are exactly correct. There are no rules about wine and cheese. I'll go even further and say it's irritating for a wine and food writer to try to impose "rules" on us. One wonders why Mr. Isle couldn't write of five suggestions, rather than five rules.

      June 4, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
    • plenty

      Oh? Ya think so?

      June 4, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
    • Daws

      Eh, then again some palettes tend to clash, it'd be good to know some principles about that. After all I remember as a kid loving milk and apple juice...but combined they're horrible, I don't care how good of quality they are.

      June 5, 2012 at 5:46 am |
      • jlv


        June 5, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

      Wrong. It's cracked pepper triscuits & pepperjack cheese

      May 11, 2013 at 11:28 am |
  10. Laura

    I was given casu marzu without being told what it was... at a candle-lit dinner. And it was delicious, perfectly paired with a rustic Sardinian rosé and we were all in exctasies until someone turned the light on and it was clear that the surface of the cheese was moving.

    June 4, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
    • Alan S

      Some pleasures are best enjoyed in the dark.

      June 4, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • KellyinBoston

      Yeah, someone was trying to make you uncomfortable. Most people remove the fly larvae before they serve the cheese. Ecch. Its great cheese, though, absent the larvae thing.

      June 5, 2012 at 12:11 am |
    • jlv

      Ahhh, nothing beats an evening amongst frenemies.

      June 5, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • Kat Kinsman

      I'm an incredibly adventurous eater, but AAAGGGGHHHHHH! Warn a person before they ingest maggots!

      June 5, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

      I just learned something new today.


      May 11, 2013 at 11:30 am |
  11. Mark Glicker

    Nothing look a cool, crisp German white on a hot New York day.

    June 4, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫


      May 11, 2013 at 11:30 am |
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