When it comes to holiday entertaining, it’s hard to beat the fun and ease of a wine and cheese party. It is such an effortless gathering considering there is rarely, if any, cooking and prep time involved other than shopping and setup. How do you find perfect wine for cheese pairing?
The menu can be as simple as wine and cheese. But if you want to have more substantial food offerings, you can add crusty breads and other complementing foods such as charcuterie, olives and nuts or an array of fruits such as pears, apples and grapes.
Wine and cheese have many similar characteristics, even the language used to describe them. Fermentation, acidity, light-bodied versus full-bodied, region identity, and even the “terroir” are used to describe cheese. Cheese is deeply connected to the animal from whose milk it’s made and to the animal’s environment. A cheese made from the milk of a goat that was feeding on the juniper grasses on the hillside pastures of Corsica will have a definite “terroir,” just as red wines include flavors and aromas from eucalyptus trees growing close to the vines from which its grapes are grown.
In the past, most of us followed the time-honored rule of “pair cheese and wines that share the same home.” Italian gorgonzola with chianti and French brie with Champagne. But the rule is not as sensible when you consider what wine to pair with cheese made from the cows of Wisconsin.
It’s not that some of the rules should be disregarded. It’s just sometimes best to use them as a starting point and then let your taste buds create new rules!
Stick with reputable wine and cheese retailers to guide you on specifics while helping you stay within budget. And keep in mind that quality is better than quantity. Here are some of my favorite combinations.
Sparkling wine and brie
- NV Zonin Sparkling Wine, Italy (about $14 retail)
- NV Gaston Chiquet Champagne, France (about $49 retail)
Sauvignon blanc and chevre goat cheese
- 2015 Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand (about $14 retail)
- 2015 Bell Sauvignon Blanc, California (about $16 retail)
Chardonnay and camembert
- 2014 Apaltagua Chardonnay, Chile (about $11 retail)
- 2015 Paul Hobbs Chardonnay, California (about $40 retail)
Merlot and pecorino fresca
- 2014 McManisFamily Vineyards Merlot, California (about $12 retail)
- 2014 Robert Mondavi Merlot, California (about $26 retail)
Cabernet sauvignon and aged gouda
- 2014 McNab Ridge Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, California (about $15 retail)
- 2013 Spann Cabernet Sauvignon, California (about $30 retail)
Port and Stilton
- Dow’s Late BottledVintage Port, Portugal (about $25 retail)
- Graham’s 10-Year-Old Tawny Port, Portugal (about $45 retail)
A few years ago, I realized that entertaining friends in our home did not have to be a stressful ordeal of extensive menu planning and seating charts.
I found our best get-togethers were around the coffee table in the living room, talking for hours and drinking wine from mismatched glasses.
For something to enjoy with the wine, look no further than the time-honored traditional cheese platter. It’s easy, elegant and effortless because the secret is all in keeping it simple. If you want to add a few treats beyond bread and crackers, consider olives, prosciutto di Parma, Serrano ham, tapenades, apricots, pear, apples or figs.
Blue Stilton and Tawny Port
- Sandeman 10 Year Tawny Port, Portugal (about $38 retail)
- Niepoort 10 Year Tawny Port, Portugal (about $50 retail)
Brie and Champagne
- NV Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Champagne, France (about $45 retail)
- NV Taittinger Brut La Francaise Champagne, France (about $74 retail) Goat Cheese and Sauvignon Blanc
- 2010 Monkey Bay Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand (about $13 retail)
- 2010 Kim Crawford Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand (about $19 retail)
Aged Cheddar and Syrah
- 2009 Frei Brothers Syrah, California (about $19 retail)
- 2009 Renwood Amador Syrah, California (about $27 retail)
Finding the perfect Christmas gift can be a challenge, but if you’re buying for a wine lover you need look only for a bottle that suits their taste. These tips could help:
Don’t be hesitant to discuss your ideas and price range with your wine retailer. This is key, considering that a “nice bottle of cabernet sauvignon” can range from $10 to $600. Tell the retailer the price range you would like to spend. Higher price does not always equal a better quality wine.
Many stores offer special prices during the Christmas holidays, which makes finding a wine bargain easy.
Look for in-store wine sets — wine glasses, books and even cheeses — that are specially priced during the season.
If you are not sure of the person’s wine preference, go with a wine that is easy to drink and has a crowd-pleasing taste. Mouth-puckering reds or ultra-sweet whites are not the best choices. Consider a chardonnay, pinot grigio, pinot noir or merlot.
Wine-pairing with special gifts always offers an individual touch. You might want to consider the following.
WINE AND CHEESE
- Value — Chevre goat cheese with 2007 Mud House Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand (about $14, retail)
- Splurge — Stilton cheese with NV Taylor Fladgate 20 Year Tawny Port, Portugal (about $62, retail)
- Value — NV Brut Roederer Estate Sparkling Wine, California (about $22, retail)
- Splurge — NV Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, France, (about $62, retail)
PINOT GRIGIO (RELAXATION GIFTS)
- Value — 2006 Cavit Vineyards Pinot Grigio, Italy (about $10, retail)
- Splurge — 2006 Santa Margherita Valdadige Pinot Grigio, Italy (about $28, retail)
CABERNET SAUVIGNON (CHOCOLATE)
- Value — 2006 Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz/ Cabernet Sauvignon, Australia (about $12, retail)
- Splurge — 2005 Hall Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley (about $30, retail)