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BB Summer Food + Wine Pairing: Our Wine and Cheese...

BB Summer Food + Wine Pairing: Our Wine and Cheese Primer!

It’s National Wine and Cheese Day (honestly)! And our sommelier expert, Beth Merrill-Belval, takes a look and why this combo works so well and what combos work best!

I have to say, wine and cheese are two of my absolute favorite things in this world. And when you put them together? There’s nothing like this hedonistic pairing. After all, they’re as classic a combination as peas and carrots, peanut butter and jelly, and JLo and Ben Affleck, apparently. But while it can feel a bit intimidating to pair wine with cheese, as there are so many different flavor profiles, textures, etc. on both sides, it doesn’t have to be. Before we go into the “meat” of it (maybe charcuterie will be another post?), let’s go over a few things about wine.

The tasting components of wine to be aware of are acid, sugar, alcohol, and tannin (red wine only). What are these? Simply put, acid gets the salivary glands going, sugar is sweetness, alcohol (I think we all know what this is), and tannin, which is what makes your mouth feel dried out. Remember, a dry wine means that there is very little sugar (sweetness) in the wine, not how it makes your mouth feel. It’s important to understand how to pair these components in wine with the components of the cheese.

When it comes to acid, you’ll want to pair an acidic cheese with an acidic wine in a like-with-like rule. With sweet wine, try a saltier style of cheese – kind of like an “opposites attract” rule. If you’re going for a red, you’ll have to give tannin a consideration, as a wine with a good amount of tannin works great with a fatty cheese because the tannin cuts through the fat of the cheese. This is why Cabernet Sauvignon and Nebbiolo are great with steak. As for alcohol, that doesn’t play much of a role in pairing. The only thing you want to remember is if you’re eating something that’s super spicy, don’t go for a high alcohol wine. If you’ve ever had a ghost pepper chicken wing followed by a shot of bad tequila, you know what I mean. However, spicy foods are great with a lower-alcohol, sweet-ish wine.

Another good rule to follow – it goes with what grows. The wine and food of an area evolved together. For instance, if your theme is Tuscan Sangiovese, find a cheese that’s from Tuscany. Also, remember to pair a wine with a cheese that has a similar intensity. You don’t want to pit a mild cheese against a super strong wine. If you do that, flavors will get muddled or the stronger flavors will completely drown out the others.

Now, while these are general principles, they are in no way hard and fast rules. Your unique palate may respond differently to different pairings and love or hate them! There is no completely right or wrong way to do it. Try different cheeses with different wines; many different cheeses go with many types of wine.

Now go out there and enjoy all the fromage and vino you can get your hands on!

Here are some of my favorite combos.

Dry Champagne/Triple Cream Brie. Champagne has high acidity. This is because the grapes used to craft Champagne are picked earlier, thus shortening the ripening time. Remember, Champagne is only from the Champagne region of France and is made a specific way. These work well together because the Champagne’s acidity cuts through the fat of the brie. Certain styles of Champagne can also have a yeasty, bread doughy quality to them, which is a nice complement to the brie.

Fino Sherry/Manchego. We don’t drink a lot of sherry in the US, so when we hear the word “sherry,” we might think of something super sweet, thick, and reserved for after dinner only. (Or, if you’re a literature nerd like me, you think of Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado.”) While that’s true for some sherry – there are so many styles – Fino Sherry is dry, with notes of nuttiness and salinity. Manchego tends to also have some of these similar qualities, so here we have like-with-like.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Fino’s suitability to pair with sardines or anchovies. It hails from Spain, so imagine any number of your favorite tapas dishes with a glass of Fino Sherry!

If you’re interested in trying Fino, Trader Joe’s has a nice one at a very reasonable price.

 Chardonnay/Aged Cheddar (or aged Gouda)/Brie. When selecting a Chardonnay, there are many variations. A California Chardonnay will taste different from a Chablis because they are made differently. However, either one will taste good with an aged cheddar. There’s a bit of creaminess and sweetness to it. If you want to get one that’s been aged a bit longer, the nuttiness and texture will also go nicely with your Chardonnay.

Brie is also a nice accompaniment to both a buttery Chardonnay and a non-buttery Chardonnay. The butter notes in the wine go nicely with the creaminess of the brie, and the fat of the brie is cut with the sharp acidity of the non-buttery Chardonnay.

Sauvignon Blanc/Goat Cheese. Sauvignon Blanc is high in acidity and a family of compounds called esters. It has a grassy, green-pepper, hay-ish quality that is highly quaffable on hot days. Especially because of high acid, high acid goat cheese is a quintessential pairing (like-with-like).

Moscato d’Asti/Gorgonzola. This is a low alcohol, slightly fizzy (frizzante), medium sweet wine and is from the Piedmont region in northern Italy. Don’t let the “Asti” in the name deter you. For many, this may conjure up images of the cheap, sweet, and not great Asti Spumante of the 80s. (However, Asti DOCG is an excellent appellation if you’re interested in sparkling wine.) For me, Moscato d’Asti is quite refreshing after dinner. Honestly, I love it on its own, but with some gorgonzola it’s also delicious. In this instance, the experience is sweet with salty.

Cabernet Sauvignon/Sharp Wisconsin Cheddar. Cabernet Sauvignon tends to have a fair amount of tannin and fruit, especially from California. The creaminess on the young cheddar will temper the tannin on the Cabernet, while the sharpness will stand up to it. The fruits of the Cab will also complement the cheese.

Pinot Noir/Gruyere. Honestly, Pinot can pair with a lot of different foods, so you won’t truly go askew if you choose to pair Pinot with almost any cheese, given that it’s not too pungent. Pinot can lean on the earthier side of the scale… think freshly-tilled earth or potting soil. Some can have “barnyard”-like qualities from a fungus called Brettanomyces. But this isn’t always considered a bad thing, in small quantities. Pinot can also tend towards delicious fruitiness. Gruyere is savory, with just enough creaminess and can stand on its own two feet with Pinot Noir.

Syrah/Camembert. I’ll admit it: I’m not a big fan of Syrah. However, when paired with the right food, it can transform the wine. French Syrahs tends to be big and bold, with hints of game, cured meat, and blood; it leans to the savory side of wine. But, pair it with a salty, soft Camembert, you’ve got yourself a winner. It’s good to remember that a non-French Syrah will probably taste a bit different and be fruitier, probably with less gamey qualities. That being said, the fruit on an American Syrah will complement the Camembert.

Tawny Port/Anything in the Blue Cheese Family. This is a classic sweet and salty combo and a great after-dinner course. Port is a fortified wine and is very sweet, with nutty, figgy characteristics, making it a great pairing with the saltiness and funk of blue cheese.

Enjoy!


Beth Merrill-Belval loves eating and drinking as much as she loves running and Pilates. She is a Certified Sommelier and has achieved certifications of French Wine Scholar, Italian Wine Professional, and Level 3 of the Wine Spirit Education Trust, through which she is currently pursing the fourth level of Diploma. Beth has also been a Pilates instructor for over ten years. Her favorite exercise is Teaser on the box... her least favorite is Stomach Massage. She also spends as much time cuddling her dogs as they'll let her. You can find her sharing her foodie adventures on Instagram at @sactownwinoandfoodie.

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