Matching wine and cheese: easier said than done?

Matching wine and cheese: easier said than done?

Wine and cheese is a match made in heaven, right?

Actually, it doesn’t always work out that way. While some combinations of wine and cheese work beautifully others just don’t sing.

When Team Colmar gathers for dinner, some nice red wines, often pinots, end up on the table during the main course. Then, as the conversation rolls on, out comes some cheese, but not just any cheese. The favourites in this scenario are Comté, Manchego and Gruyère. These nutty, medium-firm cheeses complement red wine; they don’t compete with it or distort its flavour.

If a wine change is called for, it’s usually a Sauternes or a similar, rich, sweet white. These wines are sometimes referred to as dessert wines, but matching wines with dessert is a tough challenge. Cheese is easier, the protein + fat combination nicely complements the sweetness in the wine. The French habit of drinking Sauternes with pâté works for the same reason.

Some sommeliers recommend off-dry (semi-sweet) white wines with lighter style cheeses. As you would expect, lighter wines work with lighter cheeses, yet the sweetness aspect may come as a surprise to many.

But what about a really pungent stinky cheese? What style of wine is going to go with that? Is there anything? Perhaps some cheeses are best enjoyed by themselves.

Even soft, runny cheeses, like Brie or Camembert, can be difficult to match with wine. There is something about the skin of a Camembert that can make some wines taste strange. If a cheese is altering the taste of a wine that’s not really a good combination. Some people suggest that light, fruity, low tannin red wines, such as gamays or lighter pinots, work well with this kind of cheese. So that may be worth a go.

What about blue cheese? Such rich and complex flavours, but what wines can hope to match that? The usual recommendation with a strong blue cheese like Stilton is a mature vintage port, yet how many of us have the luxury or the opportunity to drink mature vintage port these days?

With lighter, creamier blue cheeses some sommeliers recommend young tawnies or sweetish sherries and madeiras. Old-fashioned wine styles, or just misunderstood? Sweetness is a feature of these fortified wines, a recurring theme when it comes to matching wine with cheese.

So many delicious cheeses and so many wonderful wines. And so many opinions about what goes best with what!

Why not just experiment and see what works for you.