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It is common knowledge that cheese goes well with wine. However, the choice of which sort of cheese to pair with which wine seems an arcane discipline.

Are there some easy, logical rules to follow? Something on the lines of "never serve fresh cheeses with dry red wines" or similar?

If not, how can I go about making a good choice? Or does it all boil down to knowing a list of "acceptable combinations"?

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3 Answers 3

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Well, picking the best wine to complement a given cheese -- or vice-versa -- is a bit complex to fix into a stackexchange answer. I recommend Janet Fletcher's book Cheese & Wine if you're really serious about this.

However, picking a wine which goes OK with the cheese is a lot easier. Here's a few tips based on my personal experience throwing wine & cheese parties:

  • Robust red wines ( Cabernet, Zinfandel, Syrah ) complement no cheeses I know of; they swamp the taste of the cheese.
  • Fresh, lower-fat cheeses (chevre, ricotta, Nicasio's Foggy Morning) go well with light & sweet white wines, like a riesling or gewurtztraminer.
  • Brie goes well with fortified wines, like manzanilla or muscat.
  • Most hard aged cheeses ( manchego, cheddar, asiago ) go well with light, acidic reds like a lighter grenache, pinot noir, or tempranillo.
  • Blue cheese generally wants a very sweet fortified wine, like a ruby port or late harvest zinfandel.
  • Swiss-type cheeses ( emmenthaler, jarlesberg, St. George, etc. ) work well with medium white wines, like sauvignon blanc or unoaked chardonnay.

Really, what you're trying to do is to have some complementary and some contrasting flavors in the wine as in the cheese. And generally you want to err on the side of milder wines unless the flavor of the cheese is very strong, since it's too easy for the wine to wash out most of the cheese flavor.

The other fun thing to do is pair cheeses up with wines from the same culture. Manchego with sherry and almonds, Roquefort with sancerre and French bread, pecorino sardo with barbera, cheddar with brown ale.

Hope that helps some.

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Sherry isn't from the same culture as manchego. It's from the same country, but it's pretty much an export-only product. –  Peter Taylor Jan 25 '12 at 11:24

We asked this very question at a reputable gourmet food/wine shop in Boston, and were very surprised when the wine expert answered: rather than serving fine wine, try a fine Belgian beer such as the Duchess de Bourgogne or St. Bernardus Abt 12. My wife, who never drinks beer, thought this was ridiculous (not to mention blasphemy), but the expert had never steered us wrong before, so we tried it. The tastes complemented each other extremely well and we've continued serving fine Belgian beers at all our "wine & cheese" parties. It has worked well with numerous cheeses of different styles.

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The great thing about pairing beer with cheese is that the carbonation helps to strip the milk fat from your palate. –  baka Jan 25 '12 at 3:44
    
Wow, I'm surprised they knew Duchess! It's not a famous beer. GO Boston! –  Mien Jan 25 '12 at 9:35
    
I don't consider this a direct answer. Still, the idea is good. Many people I know pair beer with cheese-containing snacks (and with high-fat snacks in general), I don't see why people would consider it ridiculous to pair it with pure cheese. –  rumtscho Jan 25 '12 at 14:54

Look for wines that are produced in the cheese region...or cheeses produced in the wine region (not culture, since there is wide regional variation). A good general rule is if it produced in very close proximity, it will probably work well together. Once you recognize flavor profiles of wines and cheeses, you can branch out and experiment. Personally, I prefer white wines with many cheeses, though there are many exceptions.

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