Wine & Cheese: A Match Made in Sensory Heaven

Ah, the intoxicating aroma of a bold Cabernet Sauvignon swirling in your glass, its rich ruby hues catching the light. Then, the nutty, caramelized butterscotch notes of an aged Gouda. This, my friends, is the magic of wine and cheese pairing, a culinary symphony of flavors where two seemingly simple ingredients become an orchestral masterpiece of taste and texture.

But what makes this pairing so special? Why, over centuries, have cheese boards graced celebratory tables and intimate gatherings, always accompanied by a carefully chosen bottle? Let’s uncork the secrets and delve deeper into the art of pairing wine with cheese.

A Symphony of Flavors

Fat & Acid: A Tango of Balance

The fatty richness of cheese finds its perfect partner in the acidity of wine. The tannins in red wine cut through the creaminess, leaving your palate refreshed and ready for the next bite. Crisp white wines dance with the fat of softer cheeses, creating a light and playful interplay.

Sweet & Savory: A Harmonious Embrace

Imagine the bold bite of a sharp cheddar or blue cheese met by the gentle sweetness of a Sauternes dessert wine. Opposites attract in the world of pairing, with sweet wines taming the intensity of aged cheeses, while savory notes in wine enhance the fruitiness of younger cheeses. It’s a harmonious embrace that creates a perfect balance on the palate.

Texture & Aroma: A Multi-Sensory Experience

The smooth melt-in-your-mouth texture of Brie contrasts beautifully with the sharp acidity of Pinot Noir. There’s also an aromatic symphony with this pairing: An aged Brie and Pinot Noir can both provide funky aromas that intermingle harmoniously. Or try the honeyed notes of a goat cheese echoing the floral whispers of a Sauvignon Blanc. Each bite and each sniff is a new sensory adventure that elevates the tasting experience.

Classic Duos: A Guide for the Curious Palate

The Bold & the Beautiful

A robust Cabernet Sauvignon stands tall beside a vintage cheddar, their strong personalities meeting in a powerful dance of flavor. The wine’s tannins tame the cheese’s richness, while the cheese’s fat softens the wine’s intensity.

The Delicate Duo

A light, fruity Pinot Noir finds its soulmate in a creamy Brie. The wine’s acidity cuts through the cheese’s richness, while the cheese’s creaminess softens the wine’s tannins. It’s a gentle waltz of flavor, leaving your palate refreshed and wanting more.

Emilia-Romagna Classic: Parmigiano-Reggiano with Lambrusco

The nutty, salty notes of Parmigiano-Reggiano (Yes, it’s not just for grating! Try it on its own … a practice you find in northern Italy all the time!) harmonize flawlessly with the fruitiness and acidity of Lambrusco, creating a tantalizing balance on the palate. Combined with cured meats and some bread, this is a common lunch in this cheese’s namesake northern province of Italy, showcasing the regional art of wine pairing.

A Savory Pairing: Gouda with Merlot

The caramel undertones of Gouda find a perfect companion in the soft, velvety texture and plummy flavors of Merlot, creating a symphony of savory delights.

The Unexpected Twist

Blue cheese, with its pungent bite, might seem like a pairing pariah. But introduce it to a sweet Sauternes and watch the magic happen! The wine’s sweetness tames the cheese’s intensity, while the cheese’s richness enhances the wine’s complexity. It’s a revelation for adventurous palates.

Beyond the Rules: Embrace the Adventure

A great wine and cheese pairing is like a perfect duet, where the notes of one enhance the melody of the other, creating a harmonious experience that lingers on the palate.

While classic pairings offer a safe haven, remember, the true magic lies in exploration. Don’t be afraid to experiment! Pair a sparkling rosé with a creamy goat cheese, or a bold Zinfandel with a sharp cheddar. Trust your palate, let your curiosity guide you, and discover unexpected harmonies that redefine the art of pairing wine and cheese.

Parting Thoughts: Celebrating Culinary Harmony

Wine and cheese pairing is not just about rules and formulas; it’s about a journey of discovery – a celebration of sensory delight that brings people together. So, gather your friends, uncork a bottle, slice some cheese, and embark on your own culinary adventure. Remember, the perfect pairing is the one that makes you smile with every bite and every sip.

In the realm of gastronomy, few pleasures rival the sheer delight of a well-paired glass of wine with the perfect cheese. It’s a sensory escapade that brings people together, encouraging moments of conviviality and appreciation for the finer things in life.

Indulge and Explore

The beauty of wine and cheese pairing lies not only in the classics but also in the endless possibilities waiting to be discovered. Embrace experimentation, relish the journey, and savor the endless symphony of flavors that await your palate.

In conclusion, the enchantment of pairing wine with cheese resides in the synergy of flavors, textures, and aromas that unite to create an unforgettable sensory experience. So, embark on this delectable journey, explore new combinations, and revel in the magic of this timeless culinary art.

Walter On Wine (WOW) is a platform dedicated to finding a simpler, better path through the complexity of wine. Check out our exclusive guides designed to help you enjoy every sip of your wine experience, whether you are drinking, serving, or ordering while dining out. Walter One Wine is tailored specifically for aficionados and enthusiasts of fine wine alike.

Walter On Wine (WOW) is a platform dedicated to finding a simpler, better path through the complexity of wine. Check out our exclusive guides designed to help you enjoy every sip of your wine experience, whether you are drinking, serving, or ordering while dining out. Walter One Wine is tailored specifically for aficionados and enthusiasts of fine wine alike.

Cheers to a world of flavor, waiting to be explored!

Discover the art of food and wine pairing with expert tips and recommendations

Picture this: a beautifully set table, a sumptuous meal spread out before you, and a glass of wine held up to catch the soft glow of candlelight. Ah, the sheer delight of a well-paired food and wine experience! It’s a culinary symphony that dances on your palate, creating harmonious sensations that elevate your dining experience to new heights. Welcome to the enchanting world of food and wine pairing, where flavors and aromas come together like old friends, creating moments of pure gastronomic pleasure.

glass of wine

In this journey through the art of food and wine pairing, we’ll explore the basic principles that underpin this delightful practice, dive into the nuances of matching different foods with various types of wine, and provide you with practical suggestions for your next culinary adventure. Whether you’re a seasoned wine connoisseur or a curious beginner, this guide will help you master the fine art of pairing food and wine to perfection.

Understanding Food and Wine Characteristics

Before we delve into the intricacies of food and wine pairing, it’s crucial to understand the fundamental characteristics of both. Imagine wine and food as puzzle pieces – each with its own shape, texture, and flavor. To create the perfect pairing, you need to find pieces that fit seamlessly together.

Flavor Profiles of Different Foods

Foods come in an astonishing array of flavors, ranging from sweet and sour to spicy and umami-rich (that savory flavor found in meats, mushrooms, cheese, some vegetables like broccoli or soy sauce). They can be bold and hearty or delicate and subtle. Consider, for instance, a spicy Thai curry versus a delicate piece of sushi. These contrasting flavors will interact with wine in distinct ways.

Wine Characteristics and Varietals

Similarly, wines possess their own unique characteristics. The type of grape, the region where it’s grown, the winemaking process, and aging all contribute to a wine’s flavor profile. Red wines can range from bold and tannic to savory, silky, or fruity and light, while white wines can be creamy, aromatic, or crisp. For instance, a robust Cabernet Sauvignon and a delicate Pinot Grigio offer entirely different tasting experiences.

delicious food with wine
different types of wine

Common Taste Elements and Their Interactions

At the heart of food and wine pairing are common taste elements that interact to create congruent or contrasting pairings. These elements include acidity, sweetness, bitterness, saltiness, and umami. For example, pairing a high-acidity wine with a tangy dish can enhance the flavors, while matching a sweet wine with a salty cheese can balance the palate.

Basic Principles of Food and Wine Pairing

Now that we’ve laid the groundwork, let’s explore the two fundamental principles of food and wine pairing:

a. Complementary Pairings

In complementary pairings, the goal is to match the flavors and characteristics of the food with those of the wine, creating a harmonious union. Here, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. For example, a bold-flavored steak pairs beautifully with a bold and tannic red wine like a Cabernet Sauvignon. The richness of the wine complements the meat’s savory notes, resulting in a mouthwatering combination. Likewise, the classic pairing of a creamy, buttery lobster paired with a creamy Chardonnay, the textures in harmony and complementing each other.

b. Contrasting Pairings

Contrasting pairings, on the other hand, bring together flavors that counterbalance each other, creating an exciting interplay of tastes. Consider the creamy, buttery lobster now paired with a crisp, acidic Sauvignon Blanc. The wine’s acidity cuts through the richness of the dish, creating a dynamic contrast that keeps your palate engaged. Likewise, consider a sharp Roquefort blue cheese paired with a sweet Sauternes, a classic pairing from the south of France.

Pairing Suggestions for Different Food & Wine Categories

Now, let’s get to the fun part: pairing food and wine for various courses and occasions.

a. Appetizers and Small Bites

For those delightful pre-meal morsels, such as bruschetta, oysters, or cheese platters, sparkling wines like Champagne, Prosecco or Cava are perfect companions. Their effervescence cleanses the palate between bites and pairs wonderfully with a variety of flavors. Consider a fruity sparkling wine with mild cheeses and a drier option with oysters.

main course food with red wine
b. Main Courses

Pairing wines with the main course can be a delightful adventure. Here are some recommendations for different types of red wines:

  • Bold Red Wines (e.g., Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah/Shiraz): These wines are ideal for hearty, red meat dishes such as grilled ribeye steak or a rich, savory beef stew. Their strong tannins complement the meat’s flavors and provide a robust backbone to the meal.
  • Savory Red Wines (e.g., Sangiovese, Nebbiolo—Barolo, Barbaresco, or Tempranillo): For dishes with earthy or mushroom flavors, like truffle risotto or roasted chicken with mushrooms, opt for a savory red wine like Sangiovese, Barbaresco or Tempranillo. Its subtle fruitiness and earthy aromas blend well with the mushrooms’ umami flavors.
  • Silky Red Wines (e.g., Grenache, Malbec): Silky red wines, with their smooth texture and moderate or silky tannins, pair wonderfully with dishes like pork tenderloin, roast chicken or duck confit. The wine’s elegance complements the meat’s tenderness.
  • Fruity Red Wines (e.g., Syrah, Merlot, Gamay, Zinfandel): When enjoying dishes with fruity and spicy elements, such as barbecue ribs or spicy Mexican cuisine, reach for a fruity red wine. Its ripe fruit flavors and subtle spice notes harmonize with the dish’s profile.

Now, let’s explore pairings for different types of white wines:

Creamy White Wines (e.g., Chardonnay, Viognier, Grenache Blanc): Creamy white wines are the perfect match for creamy dishes like lobster bisque, chicken Alfredo, or dishes with a velvety sauce. The wine’s richness complements the dish’s texture.

  • Creamy White Wines (e.g., Chardonnay, Viognier, Grenache Blanc): Creamy white wines are the perfect match for creamy dishes like lobster bisque, chicken Alfredo, or dishes with a velvety sauce. The wine’s richness complements the dish’s texture.
  • Aromatic White Wines (e.g., Riesling, Gewürztraminer): Aromatic whites shine when paired with spicy or highly aromatic dishes. Think of Thai green curry, Indian cuisine, or spicy Sichuan dishes. The wine’s floral and fruity notes provide balance and contrast to the heat. Also, spices accentuate the perception of alcohol on the palate, which can be undesirable if paired with higher alcohol wines. (Walter’s note: pairing Chinese or Thai food with a good Gewurztraminer is one of my favorite food & wine combinations!)
  • Crisp White Wines (e.g., Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio): Crisp whites—including Champagne or sparkling white wines— are refreshing choices for lighter fare, such as seafood salads, grilled vegetables, or sushi. Their vibrant acidity and clean finish make them a versatile option for a wide range of dishes.
regional cuisines
regional cuisine with wine

Regional and Cuisine-Specific Pairings

Food and wine pairing also takes inspiration from regional cuisines. Here are a few examples of how different cuisines can influence your wine choices:

a. Italian Cuisine

Italian cuisine and Italian wine are both renowned for their superb diversity. From the rich, tomato-based dishes of Southern Italy to the delicate flavors of Northern Italy. For a classic pairing, enjoy a bold red Chianti with a hearty plate of spaghetti Bolognese, or opt for a crisp Pinot Grigio or aromatic Vermentino with a light Caprese salad. When in doubt—or just for inspiration!—pair a wine from the same region where the food dish originated. The locals figured this out a long time ago.

Italian cuisine with wine
French cuisine with wine
b. French Cuisine

French cuisine offers a treasure trove of pairing opportunities. Try a creamy Chardonnay with Coq au Vin or a delicate Sancerre—or a Muscadet—with moules et frites or escargot. The French have mastered the art of pairing wine with their regional dishes. Again, look to local pairings for sublime inspiration.

c. Asian Cuisine

The complexity of Asian cuisine calls for versatile wines. Pair a spicy Thai curry with a Gewurztraminer or off-dry Riesling (halbtrocken, or “half-dry”) to temper the heat, or enjoy a high-acid Sauvignon Blanc or sparkling white wine with sushi to enhance the flavors of the delicate fish.

Asian cuisine with wine
Mexican cuisine with wine
d. Mexican Cuisine

Mexican dishes can range from delicate to bursting with vibrant flavors and spices. A zesty Margarita may be your go-to (and will always a good choice!) but consider a pairing ceviche or light meat or fish tacos with a lighter, brighter Sauvignon Blanc/Sancerre, Albariño, or Chenin Blanc; or pair hearty and flavorful dishes like enchiladas or carne asada with a medium-bodied red like Cabernet Franc, Carménère, or Carignan. A Tempranillo, Sangiovese or Malbec can also work if the food is not very spicy.

Tips for Perfect Food and Wine Pairings

Now that you have a better grasp of the principles and possibilities of food and wine pairing, here are some additional tips to enhance your pairing experience:

a. Considering Regional Wine Traditions

When enjoying cuisine from a specific region, consider pairing it with a wine from the same area. There’s a reason why Italian dishes often pair well with Italian wines – they’ve evolved together over centuries.

b. Take Into Account Personal Preferences

Everyone’s palate is unique, and personal preferences play a significant role in food and wine pairing. Don’t be afraid to break convention and try combinations that appeal to your taste buds.

c. Experimenting with Different Combinations

The joy of pairing lies in experimentation. Try contrasting or complementary pairings to discover new flavor experiences. Keep a wine journal to record your favorite discoveries.

d. Seek Expert Recommendations

If you’re uncertain about pairings, seek guidance from wine experts, sommeliers, or even your local wine shop. They can offer valuable insights and recommendations tailored to your specific meal.

Some Foods That May Cause Pairing Problems

a. Asparagus

Asparagus contain a sulfur compound (methyl mercaptan) that may cause a metallic taste

b. Artichoke

The organic compound cynarine inhibits taste receptors for salt, acid, and bitterness, and may make the wine taste oddly sweet

c. Spicy peppers

The active ingredient capsaicin increases the burning perception exponentially as alcohol increases

d. Sugar

Sugar dulls all flavors, resulting in palate boredom

e. Blue cheese & Brie:

The Penicillium fungi in these cheeses affects half the population, resulting in a metallic taste when paired with red wine

f. Iron

Sometimes found in fish, especially tuna, haddock and sardines, results in a fishy taste when paired with red wine

Recommended Wine Resources and Tools

To further enhance your food and wine pairing journey, consider using the following resources and tools:

a. Wine Pairing Apps and Websites

There are numerous apps and websites dedicated to wine and food pairing. They often provide pairing suggestions based on the wine or dish you have in mind. Some popular options include Vivino, Wine Spectator, and Wine Folly.

b. Wine Tasting Events and Workshops

Attending wine tasting events or workshops can be an enjoyable and educational experience. You’ll have the opportunity to taste wines alongside various dishes and learn from experts in a hands-on setting.

c. Books and Magazines on Wine and Food Pairing

Books and magazines dedicated to wine and food pairing are excellent resources for in-depth knowledge. Consider titles like “What to Drink with What You Eat” by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page or subscribing to wine-focused publications for ongoing inspiration.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Before we conclude, let’s address some common questions about food and wine pairing:

a. How do I pair wine with spicy foods?

Pairing wine with spicy dishes can be challenging. Opt for wines with lower alcohol and a touch of sweetness, such as a Riesling or a slightly off-dry Gewürztraminer. These wines can cool the heat and complement the flavors of spicy cuisine.

b. Can I pair white wine with red meat?

While red meat typically pairs best with red wines due to their boldness and tannin structure, you can still enjoy a white wine with lighter red meat dishes, like ham or pork loin. A light Pinot Noir or Chardonnay can work surprisingly well.

c. What are some affordable wine options for pairing?

You don’t need to break the bank for a great food and wine pairing. Look for value-driven wines from regions like Argentina, Chile, or Portugal. These countries produce excellent wines at affordable prices. Look also to regions within the U.S. outside of Napa; consider Cabernet Sauvignon from Paso Robles, or Chardonnay or Pinot Noir from Santa Rita Hills.

d. How do I pair wine with vegetarian dishes?

Pairing wine with vegetarian cuisine offers a world of possibilities. Consider the dish’s dominant flavors and textures. For example, a vegetable stir-fry may pair well with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc, while a hearty mushroom risotto complements a Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo or Sangiovese.

Conclusion

In the world of gastronomy, the perfect food and wine pairing is like a beautiful melody – it can evoke emotions, elevate your dining experience, and create lasting memories. Whether you’re celebrating a special occasion or simply enjoying a quiet evening at home, understanding the art of food and wine pairing can open up a world of culinary delight.

As you embark on your journey of exploration, remember that the best pairings often come from a combination of knowledge and intuition. Don’t be afraid to try new combinations, seek expert guidance when needed, and savor the joy of discovering your own perfect matches.

So, raise your glass to the endless possibilities that food and wine pairing offer. Cheers to the delightful moments, the harmonious flavors, and the great food and wine pairings that await you. May your palate be forever tantalized, and your dining experiences enriched by the wonderful world of wine and food pairing. Bon appétit!

This combination, seriously, is one of the most magical food and wine pairings you will ever find: pepperoni pizza and Chianti!

 

Why pepperoni pizza and Chianti? It comes down to chemistry. Like peanut butter and jelly. Like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.

 

The pizza is loaded with gooey luscious mozzarella cheese. Mozzarella brings a lot of fat, about 18% by volume. The medium-high acidity in Chianti is a scrubber that refreshes the palate and readies it for more taste sensations and plays well with the acidity in the tomato sauce. The acidity also keeps the tannins of the wine in check: Without it, higher tannins can clash with the tomato sauce and make it taste flat or even metallic.

 

Pepperoni pizza and Chianti!

enjoying Pepperoni Pizza and Chianti

 

Now that you have all those mouth-filling structural flavors playing well together, you can enjoy the secondary interplay of the wine’s fruity (cherry, strawberry, and plum) and savory (leather and herb) flavors with the meaty-spicy pepperoni and herb-saturated tomato sauce. Each bite fills and overwhelms the palate in the best of all possible ways, followed by each sip of wine that sings along in harmony and prepares you for the next bite.

 

Rinse and repeat.

 

Three Great Chianti Wines

2018 Fèlsina Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Colonia, $135
2019 Volpaia Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Coltassala, $75

2019 San Felice Chianti Classico Riserva Il Grigio, $25

Fèlsina Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Colonia

Fèlsina Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Colonia