In Food + Drink

The Golden Rules Of Pairing Wine And Cheese

Drink red wine with stronger-flavoured cheese, Chardonnay with nutty cheeses, sparkling wine with softer cheeses, and other must-know wine-and-cheese pairing rules.

Knowing how to pair wine and cheese isn’t so much a party trick anymore, more a necessity. Generally speaking, pairing the two almost always results in the cheese’s taste becoming more pronounced and the flavour profile of the wine becoming more complex.

So why is that? According to Raj Ray, co-owner of Silos Estate Winery in NSW’s Shoalhaven, the reason wine and cheese complement rather than fight each other is umami.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, you’re likely not alone. Umami is the ‘fifth taste’ and was only identified five-to-10 years ago. It joins sweet, sour, bitter and salty. Drawing its heritage from Japan, umami is used to describe a slightly fatty mouthfeel that’s both rich and savoury.

pair wine and cheese

Helicopter landing on Silos Estate Winery in NSW’s Shoalhaven. Image: supplied

“Chefs talk about providing umami as part of the meal experience,” says Ray. “When we talk about wine, we say ‘well, if you’re going to pair something with wine, have something that’s got umami characteristics’.

“Anything that has umami characteristics or mouthfeel – chocolates or cheeses or things like that – they enhance the taste receptors. It turbo charges everything. That’s why they’re paired.”

Here are Ray’s expert tips on how to pair wine and cheese:

pair wine and cheese

Raj Ray and his wife Sophie of Silos Estate. Image: supplied

Pair red wine with stronger-flavoured cheeses

Typically, red wines pair well with stronger-flavoured cheeses. But, Ray notes, there’s such a wide range of reds – heavy, short pallet, light, fruity – that that isn’t always necessarily the case. “For reds like Grenache, Tempranillo and Pinot Noir, that wouldn’t work,” he says.

Pair Chardonnay with nutty cheeses

It’s hard to generalise: “There is such a range of whites – sweet, dry, acidic – it’s not possible to say what type of cheese should be paired with one.

“Typically, I would match a Chardonnay with something a bit nutty like a Gruyere cheese, especially if the Chardonnay has been oaked, but blue cheeses for Gewurztraminer Rieslings with their tropical and acidic notes.”

Pair sparkling wines with softer cheeses

Ray says traditionally, soft, triple-cream cheeses, such as triple Brie, taste best when paired with a sparkling wine.

Pair acidic or sweet wines with smelly cheeses

pair wine and cheese

Strong-smelling cheese pair well with acidic or sweet wines. Image: Jez Timms / Unsplash

In general, strong-smelling cheese matches acidic or sweet wines, but Ray notes, “there’s no right answer here”.

“We usually match it with things like dessert wines, sweeter Rieslings or even a Provence-style Rosé.”

When in doubt, go with an aged cheddar

“It will work with most wines,” says Ray.

Make sure the wine and cheese are at the right temperature

pair wine and cheese

Ray says soft cheese should be consumed at room temperature; hard cheese, a little colder. Image: Pixabay

All else fails, just ensure both the cheese and the wine are served at the right temperature. “Generally-speaking in Australia, people have red wines too warm and white wines too cold. And that applies to cheese too.

“Typically, people are having cheese too warm or too cold. Soft cheeses, typically you have it at room temperature. Hard cheeses, you do have it a little bit cold. Get the temperature thing right because by doing that, you get the best smells and flavours that the producer has made for that product.”

Eat and drink what you enjoy

At the end of the day, Ray says it’s important not to stress too much about getting the pairings exactly right, and to instead go with what you enjoy.

“Don’t let people tell you what you should like,” he says. “People get really anxious – this is just food and wine. The world doesn’t end if you make the wrong choice.

“If you like it, don’t let other people talk you out of it – go for it. We discovered nutella and bananas; apples with pepper and salt; vanilla ice cream with soy sauce – so why not a chewy Parmesan with a Sav Blanc if you like it?”

(Lead image:Photo by John Canelis on Unsplash)

Published 04 February, 2019