By Laura Burgess
Wine and cheese have been staples on tables around the globe for millennia, and for good reason: The tannins and acidity in wine are perfect counterpoints to sharp and delicate cheeses alike. Pairing the infinite variations of the two can be complicated, but if you stick to a few guiding principles, untold riches—or at least some serious gustatory pleasure—can be yours.
It’s always good to have some classic pairings in your back pocket, a few can’t-miss combos for when you find yourself on the way to a party empty-handed. Port wine, paired with Stilton, Roquefort, or another stout blue cheese, is always a winner. So is a lively glass of Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé with a spreadable and très tangy chèvre. Supple and aromatic (read: soft and stinky) cheeses like Époisses go great with white (and even red) Burgundy, and Champagne is a dream with mild, soft cheeses like Brie.
Wiser than memorizing these ready-made couplings is taking their lessons into account, because they attest to the principles of solid wine and cheese pairing: Combine similar styles, and flavors together for the best matches. Take the first example: Blue cheese is known for its assertiveness. Port is so powerful that it’s often paired with cigars. So what does that tell you? Strength calls for strength. Power demands power. In the cheese and wine realm, opposites don’t attract, so don’t overmatch your cheese or your wine.
In the case of Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé (or any super-crisp white wine, for that matter) and chèvre, think about what both wine and cheese bring to the table: energy, zip, verve, all in spades. The Sauv Blanc does it with a lively and bright streak of acid, and the goat cheese does it with its irrepressible tanginess. So they hit it off, like two extroverts at a dinner party. The conversation’s crackling—they joke, they banter, they play off each other—and everyone is entertained.
It’s also a good idea to seat the intellectuals together: those whose greatest virtues lie a little bit below the surface. Subtle wines and cheeses—think of the demure charms of creamy Brie, married with the toastiness of Champagne—go great together, as do those that dazzle with complexity. For a positively phenomenal pairing that will have you basking in blissful meditation, match a savory Old World red like Sangiovese or Bordeaux with a complex aged cheese, like a Gouda or Parmesan with two or three years under its crumbly belt. The wine and cheese share profound depth and complexity that make them ideal together, and the dueling savory elements will have you craving your next sip. Then your next bite. Then your next sip, and so on. That dance is where the magic of wine and cheese truly resides. (shop red wines)
Finally, when in doubt, go local: It’s hard to go wrong when you pair a regional wine with a homegrown cheese, like the aforementioned Burgundy and Epoisses. Or a feather-light Valtellina with Taleggio from Lombardy in Italy. Even a Sonoma County Cabernet with cocoa-dusted Vella Dry Monterey Jack. Because, for something as potentially complicated as wine and cheese pairing, sometimes it’s just that simple.