In Europe, and especially in France, age-old gastronomical tradition puts cheese tasting at the end of a meal. This way the taste buds are not coated and one can enjoy the fine wines served with each course.
This is probably why the French never drink Champagne or sparkling wines with cheese- it’s simply not in our culture.
Each region in France produces many specialty cheeses. The country produces over 400 kinds of cheese and over 150 of them have earned special AOC brand protection. These are all handmade and have been paired with local wines for centuries. Finding the perfect union of wine and cheese is a serious pastime for the French.
Even many French mistakenly believe that cheese should be served with red wine. This is a serious mistake because tannins do not like dairy products and often produce a very unpleasant metallic taste.
Each cheese is enhanced with certain wines but not all wines will work, so this is why we always offer an assortment of cheeses. Sommeliers will tell you that white wine is ideal with cheese. Tannins, acidity and red wine aromas are much better company with the main course.
Which white wine will best highlight your cheese? Does one go for a dry or fruity white, or even semi-sweet or a dessert wine?
Finally, before suggesting a wine, remember that the stronger the cheese, the more you’ll need a powerful and full-bodied wine.
My Advice for Perfect Taste Combinations
With white wine, you can serve both goat and sheep cheeses. Sancerre, Chablis, or Muscadet are perfect matches. However, the cheese must be matured and not too cold or too creamy. Don’t think twice about offering the highly aromatic white wines made from Viognier or southern Sauvignon grapes.
Hard cow cheese, like Beaufort, Gruyère, and Comté, will be comfortable with a Chardonnay or a Burgundy from Macon, for example. The same goes for pressed uncooked cheeses like the Saint-Nectaire or Saint-Paulin that prefer a white wine with body and fruitiness.
Generally, a dry white wine with fruity notes and a hint of acidity are wonderful with the cheeses used in mountain dishes like fondue and tartiflette.
Soft cheeses can cause trouble. We have to differentiate between those with washed rinds like Munster, Pont-l’Evêque or Epoisses, and those with rinds like Brie or Camembert. For the former, you’ll enjoy lighter, dry white wines like an AOC Alsace or Riesling, but the latter call for Chablis or Pinot Blanc. Avoid wines with mineral notes.
With ‘blue’ cheeses such as Roquefort, Bleu d’Auvergne, Bleu de Bresse, and Fourme d’Ambert, the perfect marriage is to serve sweet or dessert wines like Sauternes, Muscat, Monbazillac, Jurançon and Pacherenc de Vic Bill or even a Maury or Banyuls.
Parmesan is an Italian cheese made from cows’ milk and matured for at least 12 months. Its fruity and pointed flavor demands a very dry white wine if served in a salad, but if served alone we can successfully push the pairing with a Tokay or Pinot Gris.
A fresh cheese such as Mozzarella appreciates a young white Burgundy Aligoté, or a rose wine.
Take heart, red wine lovers! There are a few cows’ milk cheeses that can be served with red wine (even though white wine is still recommended).
In this case, drink lighter, young wines from Gamay grapes like Beaujolais Nouveau, or from the Pinot Noir grapes from California, Napa Valley and Central Coast.