There is perhaps no food more closely associated with wine than cheese – and with good reason! Wine and cheese share deep and historical roots as artisan products, often produced side by side around the world.
Much like wine grape varieties, cheeses are produced from a variety of different milk sources – principally from cow, goat and sheep. Another important characteristic that wine and cheese share in common is the idea of aging. And like wine, cheeses are aged under different conditions and for different periods of time, with the net result being a significant impact on the flavour, texture and overall appreciation of the resulting cheese.
It should come as no surprise that a food product as diverse, artisan and complex as cheese demands a beverage that shares these same attributes. As both wine and cheese reached the mass North American market over the last several decades we witnessed an unfortunate evolution as mass marketing turned these wonderful artisan products into virtual clichés.
Today, however, we have better access to an amazing array of products from around the globe – handmade and small production wines and cheeses that when served together offer indulgent and delicious food and beverage pairings; indeed, pairings that thankfully leave clichés of days gone by in the rear view mirror.
So here it is – a collection of the greatest cheeses produced around the globe, along with an equally international selection of wines to serve alongside each.
1.) Brie, Camembert & Soft Creamy Cheeses
Wine Pairings: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Beaujolais
While these French cow’s milk cheeses have become international favourites, they are amongst newest styles included on this list, tracing their history back to the early to mid-1700s. The interior of these cheeses are classically produced to be quite soft and mild, with an edible white mould rind that often houses more intense flavour than the interior. Chardonnay with a bit of barrel aging is a classic pick alongside Brie or Camembert, for its complimentary rich, unctuous texture and nutty and buttery aromatic qualities. Light and refreshing reds (even served slightly chilled) like a Pinot Noir (I’d recommend trying one like this) or Beaujolais, are also delicious ideas, for their bright raspberry, red currant and strawberry fruit flavours, offering a marked counterpoint to the richness of the cheese.
Wine Pairings: Riesling, Verdejo, Gewurztraminer
Whether it’s atop French Onion Soup, in a quiche, adorning veal or chicken served Cordon Bleu, or starring alongside a slice of ham in a Croque-Monsieur, Gruyere may well be one of the most recognized and widely used “cooking” cheeses produced anywhere. But don’t let its use in the kitchen detract from its potential as a fine cheese to serve all on its own. Fully aged Gruyere offers all the textural and flavour complexity of a great cow’s milk cheese. The somewhat fruity flavour profile of this cheese invites light refreshing aromatic white wines with in a mid-weight frame. Slightly off-dry expressions of Riesling and Gewurztraminer (this is a tasty and affordable choice) are wonderful companions, but if you’re looking to explore new flavour combinations try pairing it up with a bone dry Spanish Verdejo from Rueda.
3.) Roquefort, Gorgonzola, Stilton & Full-flavoured Blue Cheeses
Wine Pairings: Australian Shiraz, Amarone, Port
Roquefort (French), Stilton (English) and Gorgonzola (Italian) are three of the best known blue cheeses produced around the globe. Blue cheeses such as these are certainly amongst the most full-flavoured and pungent cheeses you can find anywhere. With this in mind, we typically look to equally rich, full-flavoured wines as the best pairings. Reds like Aussie Shiraz (have you tried this chart-topping example yet?) or Ripasso style reds from Italy (most notably Amarone) offer density and concentration that will stand up to these cheeses, but other hot climate full-bodied reds can also work. My personal favourite alongside blue cheeses? I like to go to Port; the iconic fortified wines of Portugal, for their benchmark dark berry fruit, spice and richness.
4.) Fresh Mozzarella
Wine Pairings: Sauvignon Blanc, Champagne/Sparkling, Pinot Blanc/Pinot Bianco
Whether we’re talking about Mozzarella di bufala campana (produced from Buffalo milk) or Fior di latte (produced from Cow’s milk) these soft, young expressions of Italian mozzarella are some of my favourite cheeses. Sure, they’re used on pizzas, or alongside incredible fresh tomatoes and basil in a classic Caprese salad, but don’t overlook the lovely sweet mild flavours and incredible texture of young mozzarella when assembling your next cheese board. Delicate and mild young white wines like Pinot Blanc (France) or Pinot Bianco (Italy) are a perfect pairing here – not just for their mild aromatics, but also in offering a lovely buttery texture that mirrors the cheese.
Wine Pairings: Merlot, Malbec, Primitivo
Gouda can be produced in both semi-hard and hard styles, and is made in Holland from cow’s milk. Gouda is a terrific example of a cheese whose profile, texture, flavour and value differs greatly based on how long it has been aged. With roots in Holland dating back almost 1,000 years, it should come as no surprise that the Dutch have had plenty of time to explore and learn about the optimal conditions and length of aging to produce amazing flavours. Even the most aged expressions of Gouda are not “over the top” with flavour, so we recommend mid-weight red wines (here’s a perfect example!) with moderate silky tannins, as not to overpower the complex flavours that come with aged expression of this cheese.
Wine Pairings: Cabernet Sauvignon, California Pinot Noir, Dry Sherry (Palo Cortado or Oloroso)
With age comes wisdom – and when speaking of Cheddar cheese, with age comes flavour! While the average American consumes about 10 lbs of Cheddar cheese each year, our focus today is on the less commercial expressions of what may be the world’s most ubiquitous variety of cheese. Somewhere between its 5th and 10th birthday, Cheddar really begins to sing, with wonderful complex savoury flavours and distinctive gritty texture. While there are more flavourful cheese demanding even bigger, more full-bodied wine pairings, we’re starting to get closer to the top end of the spectrum, serving these cheeses alongside rich, robust reds with full, velvety tannins. Dry Sherries (and we just so happen to have these on-hand – the Rolls-Royce of sherry producers) also work beautifully alongside more flavourful cheese like Cheddar. I’d recommend a fuller style, such as an Oloroso or Palo Cortado.
7.) Aged Parmesan & Asiago
Wine Pairings: Chianti, Merlot, Loire Red Cabernet Franc
These world famous Italian cheese are both produced from Cow’s milk, and each bite is an incredible umami laden flavour explosion. These complex and salty cheeses get better with age – and offer a delicious nutty and buttery mouthful. I find that salty, firm, crumbly cheeses like this work best with refreshing lighter to mid-weight red wines. I’m a big fan of pairing regional wines and foods alongside one another, so either a northern Italian Merlot or a delicious Chianti would be a delicious choice here, but if you’re looking to shake things up a bit, try why not try a Loire Cabernet Franc? These reds offer up perfect freshness and acidity, with better examples showcasing an explosion array of red summer berry fruit.
8.) Chevre & Mild Goats Milk Cheeses
Wine Pairings: Champagne, Sauvignon Blanc, Chablis
Today, cheeses made from goat’s milk are produced in virtually every country around the world, from the UK to China, from Venezuela to Malta, and back again. To further complicate things, these cheeses are produced in almost as many different styles and ages as places. For this piece, we’ll stick to the classic interpretations from France’s Loire Valley and the small hockey puck shaped pieces known as Crottin de Chavignol. Produced in a variety of ages, we recommend serving this iconic expression of goat cheese alongside lower alcohol whites like Chablis or Sancerre, and consider older expressions of this cheese alongside a great bottle of Champagne (and it doesn’t get much greater than this!), or better sparkling wines.
Wine Pairings: Merlot, Rioja, Garnacha/Grenache based reds (Priorat, Southern France)
Manchego is Spain’s best known cheese, produced only in the province of La Mancha, from whole sheep’s milk. Depending on age, this dense, compact and firm cheese offers somewhat fruity flavours when young, that evolve into earthier, spicy and nutty flavours when aged. Often served all on its own in paper thin shavings as part of a traditional tapas meal, we recommend serving the better (more aged) examples of Manchego with mid-weight red wines with bright red fruit flavours and great acidity and freshness. Balanced Spanish reds like Rioja or the Garnacha based reds of Priorat (you can find a stunning example here!) are natural choices – but if you’re looking for a bit of adventure, try serving Manchego alongside a Northern Italian Merlot.
10.) Feta & Cotija
Wine Pairings: Beaujolais, Pinot Grigio, Torrontes
Even though Feta (Greek) is made from Sheep and Goat milk and Cotija (Mexican) is produced from Cow’s milk, younger expressions of both these cheeses share a similar texture and salty flavour. While these cheeses are most commonly used to top salads, vegetables or meat dishes, on their own we favour crisp refreshing white wines like Pinot Grigio or Torrontes – or if you’re looking for a bit of adventure, try them with Beaujolais – a red wine that actually behaves a lot like a white wine when served slightly chilled next to food. The bright, clean and refreshing berry fruit and acidity in Beaujolais is a perfect companion to these salty, crumbly young cheeses.
11.) Muenster & Taleggio
Wine Pairings: Zinfandel, Amarone, Aged Northern Rhone reds
While produced in vastly different parts of Europe, Taleggio (Italy) and Muenster (France) are two of the oldest soft cheese produced anywhere. They also share a distinctively aromatic quality that comes from hand washing with salt brine while they age. The final product is a cheese with a powerful and full-flavoured exterior – with a buttery and much milder interior. These cheeses work best with big, dense red wines whose lushness pairs well with the buttery interior. Aged Northern Rhone reds are a particularly good match, as the earthy and gamey qualities of aged Syrah compliment these same flavours and aromas in the exterior of these cheeses.