How to Pair Wine and Cheese Like an Expert

Create perfect wine and cheese pairings with the help of our expert tips and sommelier-recommended combinations.

Wine and Cheese Pairings
Photo: Victor Protasio

Wine and cheese are a classic culinary pairing. Take it from Laura Werlin, a James Beard Award-winning author with six books on cheese, including Cheese Essentials and Grilled Cheese Please, the reason for this is simple. "Wine and cheese are two very humble products that are both fermented and both taste like the place where they came from," she says. Pairing them together is really about having fun, she says. "Don't let your head get in the way."

With more cheesemongers ushering an array of classic and trendy new cheeses to American dinner tables and award-winning cheeses becoming more accessible at local supermarkets, divining a good wine and cheese pairing today is easier than ever.

Werlin says that one simple rule is to be aware of acidity. "The least successful pairings are most likely to happen with super oaky, low-acid wines," she says. "Cheese tends to bring out the tannins in oak. What you're looking for in the wine is some degree of acidity to cut through the richness of the cheese."

Master Sommelier Matt Stamp, co-owner of the restaurant and wine shop Compline in Napa, California, recommends, "Save the big reds for aged cheeses with grainier, crumbly textures. Light, crisp white wines often call for fresher cheeses; you can easily pair zesty, citrusy Sauvignon Blanc with tangy goat's milk cheeses like chevre or feta." His favorite pairing is Madeira and a good aged Cheddar because "the nutty tones in the cheese and wine are genius together."

With some guidance from Werlin, here are 13 delicious wine and cheese pairings tested by the Food & Wine editors.

Wine and Cheese Pairings | Bollinger Special Cuvee Brut Champagne
Courtesy of Champagne Bollinger

Washed-Rind Cheese: Berthaut Époisses

Wine Pairing: NV Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut, Champagne, France ($79)

Champagne is cheese's best friend, capable of eliciting a mouthful of magic with just about any cheese in the world. The bubbles dance on the tongue, and as Werlin says, "scrub away" the cheese on your palate, making way for another bite of cheese. This Bollinger offers notes of granny smith apple, poached pears, and a subtle mushroom earthiness that complement the pungent, sweet, and salty notes of Époisse — a cow's milk cheese primarily made in Burgundy's Côte-d'Or region in France — while cutting through the richness with bracing acidity and stony minerality.

Semi-Hard Cheese: Piave-Vecchio

Wine Pairing: 2019 Tenuta Sant'Antonio Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso Monti Garbi, Veneto, Italy ($24)

Piave is a well-known Italian cow's milk cheese, and Piave-Vecchio, an unpasteurized, slightly aged version, is especially good with Italian reds. The cheese is firm, mild, and slightly salty, layered with grassy and nutty notes. Paired with this Monti Garbi, a blend of mostly Corvina and Rondinella grapes, the cheese's salty notes elevate the wine's fruit component, packed with red currants, brown spices, and a deep roasted coffee note atop baked cherry compote, with grippy acidity. Tenuta Sant'Antonio also makes "Campo Dei Gigli" an Amarone della Valpolicella, which offers deep Kirsch, sultana, and brown sugar flavors, revealing distinct nutty notes when paired with the Piave-Vecchio.

Soft-Ripened Triple-Cream Cheese: Cowgirl Creamery Mt Tam

Wine Pairing: 2020 Château Montelena Chardonnay, Napa Valley, California ($72)

Château Montelena winemaker Matt Crafton suggests an aged comté or a triple cream — like Cowgirl Creamery's Mt Tam, a three-week aged, pasteurized cow's milk triple cream — with his Chardonnay. The style of the Chardonnay, which is fresh, with integrated oak spices and zesty acidity, really lends itself to the cheese. The creamy, buttery quality of the Mt Tam imbues the Chardonnay with richer floral, fruit, and mineral qualities. After five to seven years in the bottle, Château Montelena's Chardonnay develops buttery, caramelly, and earthy notes, adding another layer of dimension to this excellent pairing.

Hard Cheese: Emmi Gruyère

Wine Pairing: 2021 Domaine Marcel Lapierre Le Beaujolais, Beaujolais, France ($34)

The late Marcel Lapierre (the winery is helmed by his son, Mathieu) was a leading voice on natural wine, a category generally defined by low-intervention winemaking practices and land management without the use of pesticides or herbicides. This Lapierre is remarkably bright, with vivid red berry fruit, earth, spice, balanced natural acidity, and young, gentle tannins. Light-bodied, low-tannin wines, like Beaujolais, pair well with a mellow cheese, not super salty or acidic, but more savory, grassy, and a little buttery, like Gruyère. Paired with Gruyère — and maybe a little speck or prosciutto — it's happiness bite after bite, sip after sip.

Semi-Hard Cheese: Herve Mons Gabietou

Wine Pairing: 2020 Domaine du Pélican Arbois Chardonnay, Jura, France ($54)

This sheep and cow's milk cheese comes from France's rugged and stunning Basque country, along the western Pyrenees Mountains that border Spain. The zippy acidity of the French Chardonnay from the lush Jura region — a renowned and distinctive wine-making region close to Switzerland — has a candied-ginger-like spice, wet stone minerality, crushed almonds, and the kicker, a kind of cheese-rind quality, which combined with the firm but sweet-cream notes of this Gabietou, makes an astounding pairing bursting with wildflowers and deep earthy minerality.

Hard Cheese: British-Style English Cheddar or Pecorino Toscano

Wine Pairing: 2019 Domaine Barons de Rothschild Légende Medoc, Bordeaux, France ($28)

Most of the world's Cabernet Sauvignon wines tend to have big, robust tannins, which with cheese, means fewer choices. Aim for an aged Cabernet where the tannins have mellowed, and the fruit has taken a backseat. The earthy quality of a Bordeaux, like this "Légende" red, marries nicely with British-style cow's milk cheddars from makers like Neil's Yard or William Cofield Cheesemakers' cloth-bound and grainy McKinley Cheddar. You could also try sheep's milk Tuscan Pecorino — not Pecorino Romano, which is too salty. Whatever you do, don't pair blue cheese and Cabernet. It tends to produce a metallic taste that is unappealing.

Wine and Cheese Pairings | 2013 Arvay Janos Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos
Alex Staniloff

Blue Cheese: Castel Regio Gorgonzola Dolce

Wine Pairing: 2017 Royal Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos, Tokaji, Hungary (500ml $63)

Gorgonzola Dolce is a sweet and creamy cow's milk style of blue, made from milk from Piedmont or Lombardy, which hasn't been aged that long. It's pungent for sure, but paired with the luscious, golden sweet Tokaji Aszú wines from Hungary, it can turn blue cheese skeptics into die-hard fans. Royal Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos is on the higher end of sweetness with candied apricots, orange marmalade, and honeycomb notes. It has a super fresh and inviting, palate-coating sweetness, but with such bright acidity, it has a seemingly off-dry finish. With the Gorgonzola Dolce, all these sumptuous nutty notes emerge while the palate is cleansed with a lusciously sweet flavor leaving a lingering desire to keep having more cheese and more wine.

Alpine-Style Washed-Rind Cheese: Roth's Private Reserve

Wine Pairing: 2021 Mettler Family Vineyards Estate Grown Albariño, Lodi, California ($23)

This raw cow's milk cheese is cellar-aged for at least six months in Monroe, Wisconsin, and reveals a crumbly texture that offers subtle nutty and tangy grassy notes tinged with honeysuckle. The cheesemongers at Roth's suggest pairing this with a Riesling or even a hard cider, but this Mettler Albariño from Lodi offers the kind of rich mouthfeel and honeyed tropical fruit notes supported by lifted acidity that makes it a great match. If you can't find Mettler, look for Uruguay producer Bodega Garzon's Reserve Albariño ($19) or any dry German, Austrian, or Alsatian Riesling.

Alpine-Style Washed-Rind Cheese: Pleasant Ridge Reserve

Wine Pairing: 2021 Maçanita Douro White, Douro, Portugal ($29)

Stylistically, these Alpine-style cheeses hint at Gruyère but vary in their pungent aromas and flavors from mild to intense. Uplands Cheese, the Wisconsin makers of Pleasant Ridge, produce an "alpage" style, meaning the cheese is made strictly from milk from cows grazing on grass during the summer months. The result is a rich and flavorful, sweet and salty cheese with a distinctly fruity finish. This white wine from a brother and sister winemaking team in Portugal's Douro Valley is a blend of regional grapes that creates a bright, creamy, and dazzling aromatic wine. Golden orchard fruit with a touch of slate and salty minerality backed by lovely florals and white pepper make this an exciting pairing with an Alpine-style cheese.

Soft-Ripened Cheese: Jasper Hill Farm’s Harbison

Wine Pairing: 2019 Dutton-Goldfield Fox Den Vineyard Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, California ($74)

This spoonable, sweet, creamy pasteurized cow's milk cheese is wrapped in strips of spruce cambium bark — the inner-bark layers of spruce trees growing in the woodlands around Jasper Hill farm — lending a distinct cedar-like flavor, along with pretty wildflower notes. Most Pinot Noir is aged in oak, and many from Sonoma's Russian River Valley, such as this Fox Den Pinot, tend to develop distinct cedar-like spices when aged this way. Red cherry, pine forest, savory herbs, and elegant wildflower notes appear in the glass, making for a perfectly complementary pairing.

Blue Cheese: Rogue Cellars’ Smokey Blue

Wine Pairing: Dow’s 20 Year Aged Tawny Port ($63)

The sweeter the wine, the saltier the cheese needs to be. After a bite of Smokey Blue, a generous sip of this aged tawny port brings freshness and zip, cutting through the creaminess of the cheese, while a subtle smokey note delivers an unexpected pop of warm earthiness and muddled blueberry. The younger Dow tawnys are full and generous with apple brandy, spiced pear, and toasty walnut notes, so try to avoid intensely pungent blues because they will overpower the port. The older ports (30- and 40-year tawnys) show more delicate almond croissant, baked honeycomb, burnt orange, and creamy caramel flavors, and all offer a firm spine of acidity, which also makes them an excellent counterpoint to an array of blue cheeses.

Surface-Ripened Soft Cheese: Vermont Creamery Cremont

Wine Pairing: 2021 Ladera Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, California ($40)

This Cremon is a double-cream mixed milk cheese made from pasteurized cultured cow and goat milk that is decadent and silken in texture, revealing notes of fresh cream and light-skinned nuts, like Marcona almonds. This Ladera Sauvignon Blanc brings a richness of flavors with honeydew, kiwi, lime, and subtle oak spice balanced by zippy acidity, which washes away every delicious taste of the cheese.

Hard Cheese: Comté

Wine Pairing: 2013 Lenkey Pincészet Furmint Válogatás,Tokaji, Hungary ($44)

Hungarian Furmint wine and Comté — a raw cow's milk cheese made in France's Jura Mountains region — make an exquisite pairing. This Hungarian grape produces a dry style of profoundly mineral-rich whites with mouthwatering acidity, stone fruit, chestnut, and long earthy, honeycomb notes. The earthy element of the Furmint cuts the comté, which is a dense cheese, and brightens the palate. Conversely, the cheese elevates the wine's sweet, riper fruit notes, and everything lands in spectacular harmony. If you have trouble finding wines from Lenkey Pincészet, ask your local wine retailer to recommend any Furmint options.

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