Everybody knows that wine and cheese go together like, well, wine and cheese. But through human history, this timeless food and beverage pairing has gone from an everyday pleasure to a culinary conundrum. These days, we even teach classes on how to pair wine and cheese.
Luckily, a few simple tips will set you on the path to deliciousness. Read on for our guide to pairing cheese with wine (plus beer, whiskey, gin, and amaro, too).
Why Do People Eat Cheese and Wine?
Humans have enjoyed cheese and wine together since these fermented foods were first developed some 10,000 years ago (though beer, which predates wine, was likely the original beverage pairing).
Cheese and wine evolved as ways to process and preserve perishable raw materials—in this case, fresh milk, which would have been indigestible to Neolithic adult humans, and fresh grapes. It stands to reason that food and drink developed side by side by humans would taste delicious together as well as on their own.
Those early pairing pioneers probably didn’t have much choice in which cheeses and wines they enjoyed together—they simply consumed the varieties endemic to their region. It wasn’t until the mid-20th century that we were faced with so many options to choose from.
How Do You Pair Wine and Cheese?
This brings us to today, when we can source seemingly countless varieties of wine and cheese from all over the world. If the prospect of hitting on a winning combo seems mind-boggling, don’t worry—we’ve got some wine and cheese pairing tips and recommendations to bring a method to the madness.
Here are 5 simple guidelines you can use when planning to pair cheese with wine, beer, and spirits, plus a few of our favorite combinations to get you started.
Pairing Tip #1: What Grows Together Goes Together
One of the best ways to get your head around pairing cheese and wine is to look at a map. These historic foodstuffs evolved together over millennia, so we can be pretty sure these pairings are solid.
When it comes to European wine and cheese, picking out historic pairings based on geography is a safe bet. Serve a hunk of Manchego with a Spanish wine like Rioja or Cava, or a soft-ripened goat cheese from France’s Loire Valley with a dry, citrusy Sancerre from the same region.
While we here in the U.S. don’t have quite the same history with wine and cheese, we can still look to terroir to guide our choices: California cheese with California wines, for example, or cheeses from Finger Lakes makers paired with the region’s wines.
Pairing Tip #2: Match Intensities
We often think about cheese on a spectrum of intensity, with soft, mild fresh cheeses and robust, pungent aged wheels on the other. We can think about wines in the same way—and seek out pairings that complement each other well on that scale.
For example, serving big, bold red wines with robust, long-aged wheels like cheddar or Gouda is a classic move, as is serving a young, soft-ripened cheese with a crisp white wine or wheat ale.
Pairing Tip #3: Seek Out Contrasting Profiles
Many of our classic wine and cheese pairings are based on similarity, but bringing opposite flavors and textures together can be just as compelling.
A great example of this is the festive pairing of soft, creamy bloomy rind cheeses with dry, effervescent sparkling wines. The acidity and bubbles help cleanse the palate and prepare you to take another lush, buttery bite.
This goes for flavor, too, not just mouthfeel. The salt content of blue cheese is balanced by sweet wines like port or Sauternes. On the lighter side, fruit-forward wines like dry Riesling can have a similar effect despite containing very little residual sugar.
Pairing Tip #4: Look for Food-Friendly Styles
So you’ve got some guidelines for pairing individual cheeses with individual wines—but what if you’re serving a cheese board featuring several styles?
If you’re looking for the perfect bottle to serve with a few different types of cheese, seek out versatile wines that play well with a variety of different flavors and textures. (You’ll often see recommendations for these “food-friendly” wines around Thanksgiving, when perplexed home cooks try to find a bottle that pairs with a plethora of different side dishes.) We’ve included recommendations for some versatile styles under red, white, rosé, and sparkling wines below.
Pairing Tip #5: Keep Experimenting
The most important thing? Don’t get discouraged. If you’ve picked out a tasty-looking bottle and a sought-after wedge in the past but weren’t really wowed by the result, that’s okay. Pairing is all about experimentation, and a wine that clashes with or drowns out one cheese in your fridge might sing with a different style.
Plus, wine is actually intermediate level when it comes to pairing cheese and beverages. If you’re just beginning your pairing journey, you might want to start with beer, which is a little more flexible (and easier on your wallet).
Wine and Cheese Pairing Recommendations
Now that you’re armed with general guidelines, let’s explore some stylistic combinations of wine and cheese to try.
Pairing Red Wine With Cheese
The powerful profile of a bold red wine will drown out all but the most robust cheeses, so pair fuller-bodied wines like Malbec, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon with firm, long-aged cheeses like Comte, cheddar, Gouda, and Gruyere that can stand up to that flavor.
Light- to medium-bodied reds like Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc are much more flexible. Reach for these bottles when seeking a safe option to serve alongside a cheese board that features a variety of styles. For extra decadence, incorporate craft chocolate into your red wine and cheese pairing plan.
Pairing White Wine With Cheese
If you’re considering serving red or white with cheese, one rule of thumb states that white wine tends to be a surer bet. After all, with flavors ranging from fruity to herbaceous to mineral and textures including crisp, bright, and rich, white wine is an incredibly versatile option.
Try a light, clean bottle like Chenin Blanc or Sauvignon Blanc with a cloudlike soft-ripened goat cheese or a hunk of aged goat Gouda like Brabander. On the more intense side of things, a sweet, rich ice wine, white port, or vin santo can stand up to pungent, salty blue cheese.
A medium-bodied white like Pinot Grigio or a very dry, fruit-forward Riesling can complement the bigger flavors of a wide range of wheels: a rich, funky washed rind, briny feta, or Pecorino-style aged sheep’s milk cheese, for example.
Pairing Rose Wine With Cheese
With tasting notes ranging from floral to citrusy, light, crisp rosé wine makes an excellent foil for fresh and soft-ripened cheeses, especially in summer’s heat, but it can shine alongside aged wheels, too. Seek out dry, tart bottles rather than sweet varieties for best results.
Emphasize a pale pink rosé’s light and floral qualities by pairing it with fresh or brined cheeses like mozzarella, halloumi, and feta. Match darker shades that offer juicy, fruity flavors with aged Alpine styles, goat Goudas, sheep cheeses, and soft, creamy blues.
Pairing Sparkling Wine With Cheese
Thanks to the palate-cleansing nature of its bubbles, sparkling wine can stand up to a wide range of particularly rich wheels. Their fizz plays well with rich, gooey softies like Camembert as well as soft washed rinds, creamy blue cheeses, nutty Alpine styles, and dense, crystalline Italian cheeses.
Brie and Champagne or Prosecco is a classic pairing for the winter holidays, but we like to bust out this combo any time there’s something to celebrate. A rich Chardonnay can harmonize with Taleggio-like washed rinds, while aged Pecorino and dense, crystalline Parmigiano match well with Italian bubbles like Cava or fruity, fizzy reds like Lambrusco. For sweeter bubblies like Moscato, try a soft, rich blue cheese.
How to Pair Cheese With Beer and Spirits
Cheese and alcohol pairing isn’t just limited to wine. Just about any boozy beverage, including cocktails—plus nonalcoholic ones like tea and kombucha—can be enjoyed alongside a tasty wedge or three. Here’s a rundown of how to serve cheese with beer as well as spirits like gin, whiskey, and amaro. Happy pairing!
Which Beers Go Well With Cheese?
Since beer is thought to predate wine, it’s likely our foundational pairing beverage. But the similarities don’t end there. If you think about it, beer is made from grain, which is a grass, and milking animals eat grass—so it just makes sense that pairing beer and cheese would be a breeze.
You can put the same pairing guidelines you’d use for wine into practice with beer. Match intensities, seek out contrasts, and look for geographical affinities. For versatile options that will play well with several cheeses, you can always pick up a mix-a-six and taste your way through several different styles. Another way to think about it is if a beer has “session” or “all day” in the name—generally meaning it’s easy-drinking and lower in alcohol content—it’ll suit a variety of cheeses.
How to Pair Cheese With Gin
Clear, crisp, and herbaceous, gin provides a bracing foil for a variety of cheeses closer to the mild end of the intensity spectrum—and a few with more prominent profiles, too. You can pair cheese with cocktails, but we also enjoy sipping fine gin on the rocks with cheese.
Salt-forward aged sheep’s milk cheeses like Pecorino work well with juniper-forward gins. Cheeses aged with juniper berries, like the Italian Ginepero di Capra, an aged goat wheel, and The Blue Jay, a juniper-infused blue from Wisconsin’s Deer Creek, are a no-brainer.
Bigger-flavored gins can also stand up to rich, funky cheeses like Epoisses or Winnimere. Bloomy rinds go well with a citrusy or flower-forward gin.
How to Pair Cheese With Whiskey
Rich and complex, whiskey is something of a next-level cheese accompaniment, but its rewards are great. With flavors ranging from smoky and woodsy to toasty and nutty to fruity and floral, this spirit can pair with a range of robustly flavored wheels. Sip it on its own or pair cheese with a cocktail like an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan.
Round, caramel-y bourbon, for example, can complement an earthy English-style clothbound cheddar, while spicy, full-bodied rye goes well with both soft, buttery bloomy rinds and dense, crystalline aged cheeses like Gouda or Parmigiano. Smoky Scotch has the spine to stand up to a brash, flinty hunk of blue.
How to Pair Cheese With Amaro
Amaro, the name for a wide variety of herb-infused Italian liqueurs, is typically served at the end of a meal as a digestif. Since a multicourse feast is often finished with a cheese course—and because amaro’s complex profiles include a wide range of flavors like sweet, fruity, herbaceous, earthy, and medicinal—these two make a natural end-of-meal combination.
Cheery, orange-hued Aperol—the star of the trendy Aperol Spritz cocktail—pairs beautifully with soft-ripened cheeses, especially sheep’s milk styles. Pro tip: many amari include cardoon thistle as a bittering agent, so Portuguese cheeses coagulated with thistle rennet are a natural combo.
Sweet, herbaceous amari like Strega can play well with young, soft-ripened goat’s milk cheeses, while the caramel-plus-espresso punch of Cynar is a natural fit with crystalline, caramelized aged Goudas. With dozens of varieties of amaro to choose from, you’re bound to find one that makes your favorite cheese sing.
What are your favorite drinks to pair with cheese? Tag us @cheesegrotto on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter and let us know!