Wine and cheese, cheese and wine; seems like a match made in heaven, but this can be one of the most complex matches between food and wine. Let's try to explain and make this as easy as possible.
Every wine and every cheese made from different producers around the world can taste quite different. Since we are dealing with living products that undergo constant change, we will need to generalize some of the matching principles of wine and cheese. Not all wines will harmonize with cheese but by experimenting with the vast array of wines and cheese available today you can create your own flavour combinations.
Let's look at a few basic principles. The three main components of cheese, i.e. fat, salt and acid, as well as texture and mouth-feel of the cheese will play a key role in matching wine and cheese. Cheese can range from soft and creamy, to dry, hard and crumbly, and all points in between.
Fat provides a heavy, rich mouth-feel and therefore matches best with wines of equal weight.
Salt enhances the flavour of food and therefore will increase the perception of a wine's basic components. Salty cheese goes well with sweeter wines, as the salt will enhance the sweetness which is more pleasing. With red wine the salt will soften the astringency of young reds but often enhance its bitterness; instead, a mature red or light-bodied, fruit-forward red with little to no tannin is best with salty cheese.
Acid complements acid, therefore a cheese with a higher level of acidity should match well with a wine with higher levels of acidity.
Fruit-forward, young red wines with moderate tannins are best with hard cheese; since hard cheese has a higher fat content, the fat helps to soften the tannins of the red wine and allows the fruit to shine.
Blue cheese is rich, salty, moldy and full-flavoured, often with a creamy mouth-feel, demanding sweeter full-flavoured dessert wines to complement.
Soft, creamy cheeses generally coat the mouth therefore wines with refreshing acidity will cleanse the palate.
Balance and Harmony
The key to matching wine and cheese is to achieve balance and harmony. By understanding the main components of the cheese, and appreciating the texture and mouth-feel of the cheese, that perfect match can be found.
The balance of power should also be observed. By balancing the weight of the cheese to the weight of the wine, both the wine and cheese will harmonize.
By contrasting or complementing the main components of wine and cheese you can achieve this balance and harmony.
Examples might include:
- Spicy cheese and spicy wine
- Spicy cheese and sweeter or fruit-forward wine
- Fruity tasting cheese with fruity wine
- Salty cheese with sweeter wine
- Hard cheese with moderately tannic red wine
- Creamy cheese with high acid wine
- High acid cheese with high acid wine
- Herbal cheese with herbal wine
- Blue cheese with sweet wine
- Smoky cheese with oak aged wine
- Complex cheese with simple wine
- Simple cheese with complex wine
Thus, generally refreshing white wines, sparkling wines, Late Harvest wines, Icewine, and fruit-forward red wines make the best matches with most cheeses.