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Friday, April 15, 2011

Pairing Wine and Cheese

Many people are well aware of wine’s longstanding relationship with cheese, but in order to enjoy the experience fully, it’s important to determine which wines pair best with which cheeses, and why.  Below I’ve picked out a few of my favorite wine and cheese pairings.

Champagne and good brie are an excellent match.  The bright bubbly texture of the Champagne provides a good contrast to the creamy and slightly dense texture of the brie, which softens if served at room temperature.  In addition, the earthy undertones of the Champagne, generally comprised of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, enhance the flavor of the brie, which has notes of mushroom from its soft white rind.  I’m a firm believer in the idea that if both the wine and the food are from nearby locations, they tend to pair nicely, and Ile-de-France, near Paris and where the brie is produced, is only about 70 miles away from the Champagne region.

Brie drizzled with wildflower honey

At my sister’s wedding last year, one of the hors d'oeuvres was brie with raspberry sauce, which I tasted with the Champagne chosen for the wedding, the Moet & Chandon Brut Imperial NV.  The pairing was ideal, and so recently I had the same Moet Imperial with a brie drizzled with Swedish lingonberry.  The balance between the sweetness and tartness in the berry, the mellow earthiness of the brie, and the yeasty yet crisp Champagne is a winning combination, and a must before an elegant dinner.

Brie drizzled with Swedish lingonberry, paired with Moet & Chandon Brut Imperial NV Champagne

My favorite white wine and cheese pairing is without a doubt Sancerre and chevre.  Wines from Sancerre, a subregion of the Loire in France, are made from Sauvignon Blanc, and are generally bright, crisp, and elegant.  Chevre, soft cheese made from goat’s milk, is also produced in the Loire region.  The goat cheese is very creamy and tangy, with some acidity and a relatively sticky texture.  Sancerre wines are bright and have an acidity that compliments the tanginess of the goat cheese, and a crisp texture that cleanses the palate effortlessly, making it a nice followup to a taste of goat cheese.

Goat cheese

Last year with an appetizer that involved goat cheese, I opted for a Sancerre which is presently my favorite - the Domaine Hippolyte-Reverdy.  This wine has notes of a fresh floral bouquet, herbs, and tropical fruit, and as the wine was let to breathe a bit, the characteristics were enhanced, and the elegant Sauvignon Blanc worked very nicely with the goat cheese.

2009 Domaine Hippolyte-Reverdy Sancerre

I’ve tried parmigiano-reggiano cheese with many different wines as it’s probably my favorite cheese to indulge in, and so far the most successful pairing has been with a Valpolicella.  From the Emilia-Romagna region, after aging for about two years, the hard cheese displays a big flavor, which means it needs a wine with a big flavor to accompany it.  The cheese is piquant, with sweet and nutty undertones and a very slightly oily texture, and its characteristics match very nicely with an Italian red wine with layers of ripe fruit and gentle spice.
The reasonably priced Cesari Mara Ripasso Valpolicella Superiore stands up to the presence of the parmigiano-reggiano very well.  From the Veneto region of Italy, this Valpolicella wine is made up of Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara.  It displays notes of ripe dark fruit and a hint of spice, and has a long finish.  It pairs nicely with the parmigiano-reggiano whether the cheese is served sliced or crumbled from a wedge, or grated over a traditional Italian pasta dinner.

Parmigiano-reggiano, paired with 2007 Cesari Mara Ripasso Valpolicella Superiore

The last of my wine and cheese pairings is full of bold aromas and flavors - Danish blue cheese and New World Cabernet Sauvignon.  Danish blue cheese is semi-soft and crumbly, with a pungent aroma and a sharp salty flavor.  The bold characteristics of this cheese call for a bold wine to stand up to the aroma and flavor.  New World Cabernet Sauvignon is generally full bodied, fruity, and oaky.

Danish blue cheese

My regular go-to American Cabernet is the Edge Napa Cabernet, deep and bold with characteristics of dark berry, oak, and vanilla spice and a lasting finish.  Each time I pair this wine with Danish blue cheese, I enjoy it even more.  The sharp saltiness of the cheese is matched with the strong fruit in the Cabernet, and while the pairing is intense and flavor-packed, I just can’t seem to have enough of it.

2008 Edge Napa Cabernet Sauvignon


  1. I love cheese and never considered honey on brie. There is no doubt in my mind that a trip to the store is in my imminent tomorrow. I have tried it with jelly like guava, apricot, strawberry, but never honey. Can't wait to give this one a spin! Another good excuse for me to crack a bottle of bubbly too!

    I can also see a Parmigiano-reggiano, paired with 2007 Cesari Mara Ripasso Valpolicella Superiore in my basket tomorrow too! Thanks Jacqueline!

  2. The wildflower honey seems easier on the palate, the clover honey available to me is a bit overpowering for the delicate earthiness of the brie so if you can find wildflower perhaps try that. I've never thought to try it with guava! Did you pair it with wine?

  3. Excellent post! I really appreciate your wine and cheese palate!