Cheese and wine matching: top tips from the experts

Milk The Cow's Laura Lown says to contrast the rich blow-out flavours of blue cheese with a sweet dessert wine.
Milk The Cow's Laura Lown says to contrast the rich blow-out flavours of blue cheese with a sweet dessert wine. 

In the '70s, throwing a cheese and wine party was like wearing a highly flammable leisure suit - everyone did it. After banishing it to Naff-ville for a time, we came to our senses and reinstated it as an acceptable social event (albeit without the pineapple chunks), because really, there's little better than consuming both cheese and wine in the one sitting.

But how do you pick a wine that will best balance the tang of an aged cheddar or coax out the nuttiness of a Comté? And which pairings should you avoid at all costs? We've picked the brains of three of Australia's cheesiest authorities to help you find your cheese and wine nirvana.

The basic guidelines

A cheese platter at Milk the Cow in Melbourne.
A cheese platter at Milk the Cow in Melbourne. Photo: Emma Merkas

Firstly, plenty of experts will argue that in love and cheese, there are no rules. If knocking back a shiraz with your chevre tickles your fancy, go for it.

"Wine matching is very much an individual preference," says Claudia Bowman, international cheese expert and co-founder of McIntosh and Bowman, Australia's largest cheese education and appreciation company. "One should never be discouraged from enjoying a certain combination just because someone, somewhere disagrees."

However, there are a few guidelines that can help make your cheese and wine experience even more enjoyable. The key things to consider are flavour, texture and aroma. 

A full-bodied red works well with Parmigiano Reggiano.
A full-bodied red works well with Parmigiano Reggiano. Photo: Melissa Adams

Generally speaking, it's best to match light with light and strong with strong, according to Valerie Henbest, a French-born cheese educator, consultant and judge who runs cheese and beverage matching classes around Australia through Adelaide's The Smelly Cheese Shop.

"Pair delicate cheeses with relatively light-bodied wines. Aged and pungent cheeses with complex and concentrated flavours need wines with more body and strength," says Henbest.

Complement, contrast or cut through

Advertisement

To pick the perfect pairing, you want a wine that either complements the flavours and textures of a cheese, contrasts with them, or cuts through.

"For example, if you're complementing, there are cheeses washed in red wine and they go great with red wines," says Laura Lown, head cheesemonger at Melbourne's Milk The Cow; its licensed fromageries in St Kilda and Carlton offer cheese and boutique booze flights. "Or if you have a sweet dessert wine like a semillon or a botrytis, then contrast by matching it with a rich, salty blue cheese."

'Cut through' means picking a wine with characteristics that cut through the flavour, texture and mouthfeel of a cheese. Champagne, for example, is the ideal match for a triple cream because its bubbles will cleanse your palate of all that silky creaminess.

The Smelly Cheese Shop in Adelaide runs cheese and beverage matching classes.
The Smelly Cheese Shop in Adelaide runs cheese and beverage matching classes. Photo: South Australian Tourism Commission

What grows together goes together

Wine and cheese from the same region often match well. That's because the terroir of a region lends its characteristics to the produce made there. This is not a hard-and-fast rule, but it can be a helpful place to start.

"Take Chianti and Parmesan," says Bowman. "And lovers of the Alsatian region in France will wax lyrical about the sublime combination of Munster cheese [a washed rind] and Gewürztraminer."

Perfect pairings

Despite some misconception, white wine is generally a better match with most cheeses than red wine, which easily overpowers. If you want one wine to go with a mixed cheese platter, the consensus is to pick a palate-cleansing sparkling or champagne.

Says Bowman: "Yes, red wine is the most romantic pairing for cheese; however, in truth, there are very few big heavy reds that I would ever consider having with cheese. And certainly never red wine with blue cheese."

For a little inspiration, here are some of our experts' favourite matches:

Full-bodied reds: think sharp, aged cheddar, aged Gouda, Grana Padano, Parmigiano Reggiano and Pecorino Romano, and smelly washed-rinds. "The big, dominant, long-lasting mouthfeel of a traditional English style cloth-bound cheddar will stand up to a heavy-bodied red," says Bowman.

Medium- and light-bodied reds: these are the easiest red wines to pair with cheese. Try semi-hard Swiss style cheeses such as Gruyère, raclette and Appenzeller, and Manchego.

Sauvignon blanc: goat's cheese is a winner with savvy-b. "I like to think of this as a perfect regional pairing," says Henbest. "Think French goat's cheese from the Loire Valley with its delightful creamy and fudgy texture, then pair it with the local wine, Sancerre. Bingo!"

Chardonnay: one of Lown's favourite matches is a buttery chardonnay with cheddar. Chardonnay also pairs well with camembert and brie and some washed rinds, though it's best to avoid an oaked wine.

Riesling: Henbest recommends pairing dry riesling with a creamy white mould cheese such as brie or double brie, and a late-harvest riesling with a washed rind such as Taleggio or Pont l'Eveque.

At the end of the day (or whenever you eat your cheese), it comes down to what you enjoy. So if you've started to feel a little awkward about that wedge of Gorgonzola and bottle of cab sauv on the table, don't sweat it. 

"You need to respect your own palate," says Lown. "The fun is in experimenting to see what works best for you."