As red wine lovers, we believe the most perfect culinary match of all-time is found between the harmonious pairing of wine and cheese. Together, they share a beautiful history of accompanying one another, so much that it is almost impossible to enjoy one without the other. In other words, wine without cheese (or vice versa) simply does not make sense. Just as wine can be made from different grapes, cheese can be made from the milk of different animals. Where the grapes are grown and how they are cultivated will be reflected in the wine the same way that where the animals live and what they eat will be reflected in the cheese. Wine and cheese share similarities in that both are fermented, both are complex and both have exceptionally rich histories. The French refer to wine, cheese and bread as the holy trinity of food. This title is deserving because all three share an ancient lineage, all three are mentioned numerous times in the Bible, and all three taste great together. As food science developed, it became known that cheese makes wine more palatable primarily because the high fat content in cheese coats the back of the palate when you swallow. It just so happens that the taste receptors for “bitter” reside on the back of the tongue and when coated with cheese, wines will taste more balanced. Another common link between these two partners is that both reach their maturation and peak flavor through a period of aging. Both require careful attention to detail through multi-step processes by skilled artisans to ensure final products of outstanding quality. Both flourish in specific climates and geographical conditions and both cheese-making and wine-making traditions continue today, almost exactly the same as when they were first developed hundreds of years ago.
Our idea of a truly perfect day is essentially quite simple. It does not require traveling to an exotic destination in search of lions and tigers or even indulging in a grandeur shopping spree on Rodeo Drive but rather, hand us a simple bottle of red wine and a hunk of good old-fashioned cheese and our day is made. You too can also experience the joy of a wine and cheese pairing by understanding the flavors of specific red grapes and how they are best matched with different types of cheeses.
There are only two strict rules for pairing wine and cheese. The first rule is to match acidity. Tart wines should pair with sharper cheeses and mellow wines should pair with creamier cheeses. The second rule is to match power. Do not let a strong wine overpower a mild cheese, or vice versa. One additional tip, albeit not a rule, is to create a wine and cheese pairing by selecting products from the same region of the world. This brings in the element of terroir, which describes how foods get their qualities from the earth and the climate, and that a wine and a cheese from the same region should share complementary properties.
Cheeses that pair with Cabernet Sauvignon:
Cabernet Sauvignon, the king of red grapes, evokes a robust flavor which will vary depending on the region in which it is grown. Typically, it is assertive, fruit-forward and earthy with dominant flavors of red and black cherries and dark plums, all with a fine underlying structure. Fortunately, certain aged semi-hard and hard cheeses are strong and pungent enough to match the complex flavor profile of a Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine also pairs reasonably well with medium-bodied, firm-textured cow’s milk cheeses like Swiss Gruyère, Comté, and Beemster Classic. Additionally, we have found that Taleggio, an aromatic washed-rind cheese from Northern Italy, also makes for a lovely Cabernet Sauvignon pairing. When shopping for cheese to pair with Cabernet Sauvignon also look for : Asiago, Blue, Havarti, Romano, Pepper Jack, any type of Swiss, or aged Cheddar.
Cheeses that pair with Chianti and Sangiovese:
Sangiovese might be Italy’s best-known grape, as it is the basis for Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino and many wines referred to as “Super Tuscan”. Chianti is a medium-bodied wine with typical flavors of cherry, plum, raspberry, strawberry, spice, almonds, tobacco, vanilla and coffee. Sangiovese wines offer good acidity, substantial tannins, rich fruitiness and herbal aromas. It should be no surprise that Sangiovese wines pair well with red pasta dishes. Additionally, classic to Italian style, remember to pair a wonderfully aged balsamic vinegar with a harder, tangy cheese such as Parmigiano. Contrasting flavors of sweet, syrupy vinegar blended with the funkiness of salty cheese, washed down by a velvety Brunello ensures an extraordinary tastebud explosion. When shopping for cheese that pairs well with Sangiovese or Chianti also look for: Aged Pecorino Toscano, Grana Padano, Stravecchio, Fontina, Mozzerella, Mild Provolone and aged Asiago.
Cheeses that pair with Malbec:
The most popular Malbec wines come from Argentina. If you are not familiar with this varietal, Malbec wine is quite food friendly, similar to Merlot, but perhaps a tad earthier. Malbec is a full-bodied red wine with bold plum and berry flavors accented by notes of chocolate. We like to pair Malbec with spiced cheeses like Malagon with Rosemary or an aged cheese like Manchego Reserve. When shopping for cheese to pair with Malbec wines also look for: Cashel Blue (semi-soft cows milk cheese) or a Manchego (Spain’s famous sheep’s milk cheese). Another good option is a Taleggio, which is a semi-soft, washed-rind cheese from the Valtaleggio region in northern Italy, near Lombardy. It is characteristically aromatic yet mild in flavor and features tangy, meaty notes with a fruity finish. The texture of the cheese is moist-to-oozy with a very pleasant melt-in-your-mouth feel.
Cheeses that pair with Merlot:
Merlot is famous for being one of the main components in Bordeaux wine blends. The relatively soft tannins and voluptuous fruit of Merlot make this wine a natural companion for a wide variety of cheeses, particularly aged surface-ripened cheeses. These cheeses are savory and earthy, yet perk up in the presence of the fruit from the wine. Equally excellent are semi-hard cheeses, which are usually mellow enough to not overpower the wine, yet bold enough to hold their own. On its own, the quality of Merlot wine varies more than perhaps any other single varietal. Mass-produced Merlot can be dull and leave you feeling uninspired, while a fine handcrafted Merlot can rival any other top red wine. Generally, Merlot wine is less tannic than Cabernet Sauvignon, making it a bit more versatile. We particularly like to pair Merlot wine with Basque sheep’s milk cheeses like Istara, Alpine cow’s milk cheeses like Beaufort and medium-bodied washed rind cheeses like Pont l’Eveque. When shopping for cheese that pairs well with Merlot also look for: Asiago, Brick, Cheddar, Gorgonzola, Gruyère, Havarti, Parmigiano and Romano.
Cheeses that pair with Pinot Noir:
Pinot Noir is the primary grape used to make French Burgundy wines. Of all the red wines, Pinot is the most cheese friendly because of its relatively light tannins and bright fruit flavor. It is delicate enough not to overwhelm the palate. Just about any cheese in the semi-soft, soft-ripened, semi-hard, and hard cheese families, and even some mild washed-rind cheeses, will be compatible with Pinot Noir. Particularly enjoyable are the cheeses that have nutty, earthy, herbaceous and/or buttery components. We happen to adore a Pinot pairing of BellaVitano Balsamic Aged Cheese from Sartori. This exquisite cheese is not only perfectly sweet and nutty, but has unbelievable bursts of balsamic vinegar that are so delicious, it takes will-power to not finish the entire block. Originated in Wisconsin, BellaVitano Balsamic cheese strategically hits your taste buds as it moves from the front to the back of your mouth and tastes best at room temperature. There is no need to slice this cheese as it crumbles into jagged little chunks of goodness. BellaVitano is so good, it should be enjoyed with all red wine varietals. Additional cheese that pairs well with Pinot Noir are: Asiago, Blue, Brick, Brie, Camembert, Feta, Fontina, Gorgonzola, Gruyère, Havarti, Monterey Jack, Swiss and all gooey triple cremes.
Cheeses that pair with Rioja and Tempranillo:
The Tempranillo grape is native to Spain and is associated with flavors of cherry, berry and exotic spice. Given its low acidity and fruitiness, Tempranillo wines pair well with many types of cheese but are most often paired with Spanish cheeses to embrace its own terroir. When shopping for chesse that pairs well with Rioja and Tempranillo wine, also look for: Mahon, Artisan Raw Milk Manchego, Asiago, Drunken Goat and Majorero (a Spanish goat’s milk cheese).
Cheeses that pair with Syrah/Shiraz:
The Syrah grape is famous for being the primary component in French red wines from the Rhône region. A grape found in many parts of the world, Syrah takes on the unique character of each place it is grown. In California, that means black currants, and black cherries with a black pepper finish while in other regions the wine may evoke lighter or stronger flavor components. These elements point to cheeses that are spicy, assertive, yet well-rounded. Think semi-hard and hard cheeses and you’ll have a memorable pairing. Syrah typically has low acidity and strong berry flavors. We prefer to pair Syrah wine with French sheep’s milk cheeses like Abbaye de Belloc or aged cow’s milk cheeses from the French Alps like Comté Reserve. For something different, pair a glass of Syrah with a lightly smoked cheese like Spanish Idizabal or a Smoked Gouda.
Cheeses that pair with Zinfandel:
Zinfandel is often called the “American grape” because of its long history of being grown in California. “Big” and “bold” are synonymous with Zinfandel. Add to that berries and black pepper, and you have a delicious and hearty glass of Zinfandel. At the cheese counter, look for equally “strong” cheeses to make a natural pairing with Zinfandel. Look for semi-hard cow’s and sheep’s milk cheeses. Quite bold in character, it needs a similarly forceful cheese to stand up to it. We like to pair Zinfandel with zesty American blue cheeses whose slighter salty character provide a nice contrast to the sweet jammy qualities of this wine. In addition, aged Gouda or aged Cheddar are a lovely pairing as well. Lighter, less concentrated Zinfandels have also become quite popular and if you enjoy them, look for fresh Burrata at the market. Freshly cracked black pepper and extra virgin olive oil should dress the Burrata and match the hints of spice found in a lighter Zinfandel most brilliantly.
If you ever find yourself overwhelmed at the cheese counter because you simply cannot remember which cheese pairs best with your wine of choice, be sure to download the Cheese Cupid App. It is a quick and useful tool which walks you through the selection process: http://www.cheesecupid.com