How to: Match Wine with Cheese

Written by
Vintage Cellars
February 16, 2017
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Let us guide your next wine & cheese soiree with some ways to cut through the rind for a perfect board & barrel match.

Cheese. A craft spanning thousands of years celebrating flavour, texture and nature. It stands as a testament to the region and climate of its origins, and the perfect counterpart to any wine selection. Yet if you are not well versed in the world of cheese it can be difficult to match with your favourite wines. So to lead you in your next wine and cheese soiree here are some ways to cut through the rind for the perfect board and barrel combination.

Putting your wine and cheese selection together

For the purposes of your cheese journey you can consider four major cheese styles to select from: soft, washed rind, blue and semi-hard. But don’t expect to need to fill a cheese board with everything, rather think of two or three cheeses to match your wines. Less is more, and condiments such as pear, apple or quince should be used sparingly to keep the wine and cheese the centrepiece. Identifying the perfect pair is all about complementing characteristics. Neither wine or cheese should overpower in flavour, rather their balance is coordinated through weight and texture; light-bodied wine with delicate cheeses; medium with medium; heavy with rich, intense styles. And if you follow this rule the margin for error is surprisingly small, so feel encouraged to experiment.

Soft cheese – the classic staple

Soft cheeses are so called for their silky, melt-in-your-mouth consistency. Brie and Camembert are the most common styles, each originating in France and made from 100% cow’s milk. The names "Brie" and "Camembert" are not protected, however, and receive common use by many cheese makers in Australia. To distinguish the two, Camembert is typically a more robust style produced only in small wheels, while Brie is creamier and more delicate, made in small or large wheels and cut according to size. Don’t be troubled by the idea buying slices of Brie cut from the wheel though. Packaging is not always a reflection of quality and a simple plastic wrap with a weight sticker could be leagues above extensively pre-packaged brands.

As for the wine, Pinot Gris, with its silky textural notes, bold fruits and developed complexity stands at the heart of a perfect soft cheese match. New Zealand is producing some excellent examples of the French style, with the Rapaura Springs Pinot Gris from Marlborough, with notes of pear, quince and apple and a hint of residual fruit sugars making for an ideal selection.

Blue cheese – sharp and salty

Blue cheeses are typically creamy in texture, much like their soft counterparts; though exhibit notably sharper and saltier characteristics due to the rich blue vein. Their robust nature makes for an ideal selection when paired with a broad range of red styles. The Wild Run Pinot Noir, for example, is an ideal middle player with lively berry fruits and a vibrant acidity that lends itself well to the creamy texture. Additionally, if a dessert wine is on the table, such as De Bortoli’s Noble One, a blue on the board is a remarkable match as the residual sugars complement the salty notes with surprising sophistication.

Washed rind – pungent and powerful

Washed rind cheeses are not as common on the supermarket floor as their flavour can sometimes be too heady for the everyday cheese lover. But for the ardent adventurer, they can be a pungent pleasure. As the name suggests, washed rind cheeses are washed in a brine solution that can soften or harden the cheese depending on its moisture content. They are easily identifiable by their golden orange rind which enhances and intensifies the funky aromas and flavours. When matching with wines, a little more fullness of flavour can be more fitting here. Bigger whites, such as a fruitful Chardonnay, or an aromatic Gewurztraminer act to balance the artfully abundant funky flavours. A pungent piece of Muenster accompanied by a Hugel Gewurztraminer from the Alsace region would make for a worthy pair.

Semi-hard – versatile and distinguished

Last on the list are the semi-hard cheeses, which have a firmer texture and consistency due to less moisture content in the cheese itself. They can range from the softer style, such as a Mersey Valley cheddar, to something a little denser such as a Colby, Gouda, or Cheddar. Combinations of sheep and cow’s milk are common, and flavours can vary, developing more as the cheeses age. Wine matching is more flexible here, with flavour-for-flavour unleashed blow for blow. If serving a broad range of reds and whites, a set of semi-hard cheeses run nicely, especially if you include in a firm washed rind such as Taleggio. Additionally, if you fancied a more traditional fortified, such as the Penfold’s Father Tawny, then a robust English cheddar would be hard to beat.

No matter your wine selection there is always something to select, so feel free to follow your nose and find your favourite matching friends.