When you think of a “classic” picnic (the French way), you immediately think of a baguette served with cheese, some charcuterie, some grapes, and a good bottle of wine. It’s impossible to have a good picnic without wine and cheese!
Finding the right wine and cheese pairing is important. The natural acidity of the wine pairs brilliantly with the fatty taste of the cheese, creating a balanced “mouthfeel“. The tannins in the wine cut through the fat of the cheese, giving us a delightful combination of flavours.
But with the wrong pairings, the wine isn’t strong enough to cut through stronger cheese flavours, or the creamy flavours of softer cheeses are drowned out by wines with heavy tannins. You want the flavours of the wine and cheese to complement each other and bring out the best in each other.
There are five elements of pairing food with wine:
- Salt –Salty food can throw off the taste of wine, drown out fruit flavours, or make alcohol taste bitter. Serve salty foods alongside wines with a high sugar content (to counteract the salt), or acidic wines for salty seafoods.
- Acid – Acidity is what makes wine taste fresh and upbeat, and acid in food has that same bright flavour. You want to find a wine to match the acidity of your food.
- Fat – Cheese is fairly high in fat, which can coat your palate and stop you from tasting lighter wines. You need a rich, bold, high tannin wine to serve with fatty cheeses or cured meats.
- Sweet – Too much sugar can turn cloying! Rich whites go well with fruit-flavoured meat sauces. The wine should be sweeter than the dessert, and serve sweet red such as Port with dark chocolate.
- Texture – Light foods pair with light wines; heavy wines serve well alongside heavy foods.
Here are some of the best pairings for you to try:
Bold Red Wine and Cheese
When you drink a bold, full-bodied red wine, you want to add sharp, heavily flavoured cheese on top. The combination of the two flavours will combine for a magical burst of flavour that will highlight the rich notes of both the wines and the cheese.
Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, and Syrah all pair beautifully with intense cheeses–with cheddar being one of the best options for your wine and cheese pairing. The salty flavours of the cheese will help to accentuate the subtler, earthier flavours of the wine, fortifying your taste buds and helping you to get the most from the wine.
- For a Cabernet Sauvignon, try adding an aged cheddar or hard cheese with chili pepper.
- For a Syrah, mix in a smoked cheese in order to bring out the tobacco notes of the wine
- For a Grenache, serve an aged Spanish manchego for subtler flavours.
- For a Merlot, offer aged Gouda or Grana Padano cheese to bring out the most in your wine.
These pairings will help you to get the maximum flavour from the bold, full-bodied wines!
Instead of the classic wine and cheese pairing, try something new by serving Gorgonzola with a fortified Malbec. The strong flavour of the Malbec will stand up to the sharp flavours of the Italian blue cheese, and you’ll find that the creamy texture pairs brilliantly with the richness of the wine.
Light Red Wine and Cheese
Light red wine can have just as much flavour as full-bodied wines, but they tend to have higher acidity and lower alcohol, which give them a ‘lighter’ taste.
Beaujolais and Pinot Noir wines are both soft on your palate, so you’ll want a delicately-flavoured cheese to help accentuate the flavours of the wine. Medium-firm cheeses with heavily nutty flavours and a washed rind are the classic pairing for light reds.
If you’re drinking Pinot Noir, try pairing it with Gruyere. Something about the nutty flavours of the cheese makes it the perfect combination for your light red. Taleggio is another excellent option for a wine and cheese pairing with Pinot Noir, as it is a semi-soft cheese (with a washed rind) that won’t overpower the flavours of the wine.
For those who really enjoy the softer light reds, go for Camembert or Brie. These cheeses will help to accentuate the floral notes of the red wines without overpowering it.
Rule of Thumb: The stronger the wine, the stronger the cheese. If you’re drinking a powerful red with intense flavours, you’ll want a stronger, stinkier cheese. If you’re drinking a light red, you’ll want something with a creamier, softer flavour.
White Wine and Cheese
One of the best things about white wine and cheese pairs is that you have a lot more options. Whites are more versatile, and they match with more cheeses than your dark and light reds.
This is thanks to the lack of tannins, which give red wines their bold, strong flavours. Without tannins, you don’t have to worry about the flavours of the wine overpowering the cheeses–or vice versa. This makes it easier to pair white wines with all sorts of cheeses.
The only cheese that’s a serious “no-no” for white wine is blue cheese (any type of blue). The strong, sharp flavours of the blue cheese have a tendency to drown out and overpower the subtler flavours of white wine. You won’t get as much out of your white if you pair it with blue cheese.
Instead, try these awesome pairings:
- For a Sauvignon Blanc, try goat’s cheese. The Loire Valley is home to many goat herds, and the cheese produced there is firmer and stronger. The spiciness of Loire Valley goat cheese pairs beautifully Chardonnay as well.
- For a Prosecco, try soft French cheese. The bitterness of the Prosecco whites pair beautifully with Brie or Savarin.
- For a Riesling, pair it with a Swiss fondue. The nutty, robust flavours of the cheese will go wonderfully with the delicate wine.
- For a Chardonnay, try Epoisses. This soft cheese is grown in the Burgundy region, the spiritual home of Chardonnay, and when they are paired together, the stinkiness disappears into the background.
Dessert Wine and Cheese
There’s nothing like a nice dessert wine to close your appetite at the end of a meal! Whether you serve port, an off-dry Prosecco (signified by the confusing ‘extra-dry’ term on the label), a Sauternes, or an ice wine, you’ll find the right cheese can help you to finish your picnic (or meal) in style.
When pairing a vintage port with a pungent Blue or Stilton cheese, the sweetness of the wine complements the richness of the cheese. The sweeter the dessert wine, the stronger the cheese you can eat. The dessert wine will help to shape the flavours of the strong cheese, making it the perfect end to your meal!
Fun Twist: Instead of the classic pairing, try serving a fresh goat’s cheese as the dessert with Port. Dribble a bit of honey over the cheese, along with some cacao nibs. While the cheese alone would be drowned out by the sweetness of the port, the addition of the honey and cacao will help the cheese to hold its own. It makes for a wicked pairing that you can’t help but love!
It’s all about knowing how to serve the right combination of wine and cheese, and the best way to learn is to experiment! Together, the two can elevate a simple picnic into something glorious, and you’ll find a whole new level of elegance with these cheese and wine pairings!