We also tend to reach for warming red wines when the weather cools in fall and winter—and, of course, a bottle of red makes a great holiday cheese gift when paired with a pungent hunk of blue or crystalline wedge of Parmigiano.
How Do You Pair Red Wine and Cheese?
Unfortunately, not every red wine pairs with just any cheese. You’ll have the most success if you follow a few rules of thumb to consider before you hit the cheese shop. Read on for our tips on pairing red wine and cheese.
Match Lighter Wines With Milder Cheeses
Some wines are lighter in flavor and mouthfeel, while others are bigger, bolder, and more intense. The same goes for cheese, which ranges from mild and milky to pungent and powerful depending on the style.
Generally, you’ll want to pair lighter-bodied red wines with milder, less intense cheeses and bigger, more flavorful reds with more intense cheeses. (This goes for pairing beverages with cheese overall.)
If you pair a fuller-bodied red with a subtle tomme or buttery bloomy rind, the wine will likely drown out the cheese completely. Conversely, a very light red such as Gamay or Pinot Noir won’t be able to stand up to a really punchy blue cheese or long-aged wheel with lots of flavor.
Try pairing light-bodied reds with subtler, less intense aged cheeses like the young Goudas and tommes from Boston Post Dairy; earthy sheep’s milk wheels from Vermont Shepherd; and even some particularly savory, full-flavored bloomy rinds.
Stick With Medium-Bodied Reds at First
Luckily, there’s a sweet spot in red wine’s spectrum of intensity that offers much more flexibility with cheese pairing.
Medium-bodied reds—Cabernet Franc, Barbera, Merlot, and Zinfandel, for example—tend to be safe choices to pair with a variety of cheeses. This comes in handy when you’re looking for a bottle to serve with several styles on a single cheese board.
Pair these reds with supple, stinky washed rinds like Pawlet from Consider Bardwell or Boxcarr’s Taleggio-style Lissome; semi-firm Alpines like Meadow Creek’s Appalachian or Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands Cheese; young cheddars, and other firm, medium-bodied wheels.
Match Bold, Tannin-Rich Wines With Longer-Aged Cheeses
Red wine gets its vibrant color from the skin of the grapes it’s made from, and those skins also impart tannins to the wine during fermentation. These astringent flavor compounds can impart bitterness to food and drink and create a “dry” feeling on your tongue—a welcome sensation when sipped with an intense, rich cheese.
For this reason, it’s best to pair bolder reds with lots of tannins with dense, hard, long-aged cheeses that are rich in both flavor and fat content. Wines like Malbec, Tempranillo, Petite Sirah, Bordeaux, or Cabernet Sauvignon need cheeses that can stand up to their bigger character and tannins.
Pair bold red wines with long-aged cheddars like Deer Creek’s The Stag or Cabot Clothbound; aged Italian wheels like Pecora Nocciola from Landmark Creamery or Parmigiano-Reggiano; and peppery, punchy blue cheeses like Bayley Hazen Blue from the Cellars at Jasper Hill.
Serve Sweet Red Wines With Salty Cheeses
Pairing like with like is one route to the perfect pairing, but bringing opposites together can be another. That’s why we traditionally pair sweet red wines with salt-forward varieties.
Sweet reds run the gamut from light and fizzy to heavy and rich, but this rule still holds whether you’re sipping a juicy, sparkling Lambrusco or a smooth, velvety port.
Pair sweet red wines with blue cheeses like Bayley Hazen Blue and even blue-bloomy hybrids like Cambozola, Firefly Farms’ Mountain Top Bleu, or Tulip Tree’s double-cream Chicory Blue. Bubbly sweet reds are perfect to pair with bloomy rinds like Nettle Meadow’s triple-cream Kunik. They’re also great with dense, salty Italian cheeses like Pecorino, Romano, and Parmigiano-Reggiano.
How to Serve Red Wine and Cheese
You’ve done your research, hit the shops, and now you’re ready to enjoy a new favorite pairing. But first, it’s important to bring your goodies to the proper temperature.
Red wines should be served warmer than refrigerator temperatures but not necessarily room temperature. Go for 62oF to 68oF, with Lambrusco better served between 57°F and 59°F due to its effervescence.
Cheese should be served at room temperature, just below 70°F. If you don’t store your cheese in a Cheese Grotto on a cool countertop, then it’s a good idea to take your cheese out of the refrigerator at least an hour beforehand to let it warm up a bit. This small but important step lets the aroma, flavor, and texture of the cheese open up, creating a much more enjoyable tasting experience.
What are your favorite red wines to pair with cheese? Tag us @cheesegrotto on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter and let us know!