Red Wine & Cheese Made Simple

One’s head can quickly spin out of control when it comes to planning the ideal wine and cheese paring.  The possibilities and combinations joining these two iconic culinary items into joyful bliss are endless.  While pairing white wine and cheese seems to be the easy ‘out’ for pairings, selecting the right red wine and cheese pairing is a bit more of a challenge. We’re here to help with some of the basics to get you started on the path to red wine and cheese pairings that will blow your mind.

While not written in stone, a simple guideline to use while searching out cheese is to start with your wine of choice. Knowing the style and flavor profile of the wine is the key and first step to a great paring. For instance, red wines with alcohol levels above 14.5% are big, bold and more intensely flavored – making your pairing choice very different than it would be for a soft, low-alcohol Pinot Noir.

A new-found favorite of mine for the warmer months is Layer Cake Rose’ of Pinot Noir (13.2% alc), with aromas of passionfruit, pink grapefruit and dried rose petals giving way to flavors of guava and field-ripened strawberries, this style of wine cries out for fresh, soft cheeses.  Think along the lines of Ricotta, Mozzarella, Burrata, or Feta to name a few.

If you are a fan of semi-hard, medium-aged cheeses such as Havarti, Edam, Jarlsberg, Manchego and ‘nutty’ cow cheeses, then your focus should be pointed toward wines such as Primitivo and Pinot Noir. If you’re up to surprise a few people and catch them off guard, Halloumi is a perfect blend of goat and sheep’s milk, ideal for grilling. Yes, you can grill this cheese.

Let’s not forget about our stinky cheeses such as, Morbier, Taleggio which match up with Pinot Noir as well.

Making the jump into the big, bold world of Cabernet Sauvignon directs one to harder cheeses, those with nutty, salty flavor profiles. Here I like to focus on aged cheeses (1-yr minimum), since their water content is low, allowing flavors to concentrate, increasing the flavor profiles and fat content.  Look for Cheddar, Gouda, Parmesan-Reggiano and others made with cow’s milk.

Don’t forget about Blue Cheese! I have found that their stronger pungency at times can be overwhelming with red wines. Those too strong in flavor can bring about a metallic taste in the wine.  But, younger and milder blue cheese with hints of sweetness will do quite well.  A favorite of mine is Caveman Blue from Rogue Creamery.

One last thing to keep in mind–temperature of both the wine and the cheese. For the red wine look to keep between 60°-65° degrees, and for the cheese in ambient room temperatures, it should be allowed to set out 30-60 minutes before serving.

Remember, wine and cheese parings can be simple and easy no matter the occasion.  It is the quality time with family and friends that is the important factor and makes the time together memorable.

Submitted by Executive Chef, Michael Laukert