Wine Talk: Classic Wine and Cheese Pairings

BY Robert Whitley TIMEOctober 26, 2020 PRINT

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 chèvre, the goat’s milk cheese that originated in France. Chèvre 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 Époisses, 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, Côte-Rôtie, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, or any of the savory Rhône-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.

Tasting Notes

Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer’s enthusiasm for the recommended wine.

Georges Duboeuf 2019 Beaujolais, France ($11.99): The Beaujolais AOC designation is the broadest in the region and encompasses those vineyards that can’t legally be declared Villages or Cru, hence the low price even though in some vintages, such as 2019, the wines can be stellar. The Duboeuf sports a deep-garnet color. On the palate, the wine is floral with excellent depth and, typical of the AOC, has slightly harder tannins than you might find in the Villages or Cru wines. Best Value. Rating: 87.

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Georges Duboeuf 2019 Beaujolais, France. (Courtesy of Quintessential Wines)

La Jota 2017 Merlot, Howell Mountain ($85): Merlot from Howell Mountain has long been some of the finest produced in the Napa Valley. Situated on the eastern side of the valley, the Howell Mountain vineyards are well above the fog line and catch the afternoon sun, ensuring full ripeness in most vintages. This beauty from La Jota is richly layered, showing ripe black cherry and blueberry fruit, and complex oak spice aromas. Rating: 96.

Mt. Brave 2016 Merlot, Mt. Veeder ($80): The Mt. Veeder vineyards that face east are typically firmer in structure and slightly more tannic than the reds produced across the valley in the west-facing mountains. This vintage from Mt. Brave is rich and powerful, with firm tannins and a tight structure that will benefit from another few years in the cellar. It shows ripe notes of cherry and currant, a touch of graphite/lead pencil, and the requisite wood spice. Rating: 95.

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Mt. Brave Merlot, Mt. Veeder. (Courtesy of Mt. Brave Wines)

Chelsea Goldschmidt 2018 Merlot, Salmon’s Leap, Dry Creek Valley ($22): Purists might suggest the Dry Creek Valley is too warm for merlot, but winemaker Nick Goldschmidt is something of a wizard with these things, so conventional wisdom doesn’t really apply. This vintage offers complex aromas of red and black fruits, soft tannins, and excellent persistence through the finish, all at a modest price. Rating: 91.

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Chelsea Goldschmidt 2018 Merlot, Salmon’s Leap, Dry Creek Valley. (Courtesy of Goldschmidt Vineyards)

Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru. To find out more about Robert Whitley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at Email Robert at Copyright 2020

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