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Wine and Cheese

Robert Whitley on

No matter your level of interest or knowledge, there is one thing you know about wine: Wine loves cheese, and cheese loves wine. You know this because you have heard the wine and cheese mantra over and over again.

What you are rarely told is what wine goes with what cheese. That's probably because the choices are subjective. There is no consensus, for example, on whether white wine or red wine is a better match. Besides, there are so many different wines and different cheeses.

A friend asked recently for recommendations for a holiday wine and cheese party. I typically serve whatever wine is already open (yes, occasionally there is some leftover wine) with whatever cheese I have. As far as I am concerned, there is no such thing as a bad match.

That said, there are some that are better than others and a few classic pairings that should be considered in the planning stage of a wine and cheese or dinner party.

The most classic pairing, and perhaps the most elegant, is Sauternes with Stilton cheese or any blue-veined cheese. Around the holidays, it is a perfect ending to a gourmet dinner. Sauternes is expensive, however, so potential substitutes might be in order. Take late-harvest riesling or pinot gris from the Alsace region of France, or even some of the famous late-harvest wines from California, particularly the stellar Navarro Vineyards from Mendocino County.

Inexpensive ruby Port wine (late-bottled vintage level, not too expensive) also pairs beautifully with blue-veined cheeses after dinner.


Another classic pairing is Sancerre or sauvignon blanc with chevre, the goat's milk cheese that originated in France. Chevre and a sauvignon from France's Loire Valley is a sublime combination. I can almost guarantee you won't hear any complaints after serving up this combo.

Then there is the realm of savory, creamy cheeses such as French Epoisses, Portugal's Serra da Estrela and even less fragrant (some might say stinky) cheeses such as Camembert from Normandy. For such cheeses, I personally like to serve older red wines: Burgundy and pinot noir, Bordeaux and cabernet sauvignon, Hermitage, Cote-Rotie, Chateauneuf-du-Pape or any of the savory Rhone-style blends made in the south of France or domestically.

Aged reds that have lost some of their primary fruit and moved on to secondary, earthier aromas are an astonishing complement to earthy, savory cheese.

That said, I repeat: What wine with what cheese is a subjective matter. It all boils down to what wines you like and what cheese you like. Honestly, after decades of trying, I haven't found a bad combination yet.


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