With so many amazing cheeses available in specialty stores, farmer’s markets, and even local grocers, it can seem almost impossible to always have the right bottle of wine on-hand to drink with your cheesy morsels. Unless you have an extensive wine cellar, picking wines with broad pairing appeal is key. Versatility is what you’re looking for.
Here are five wines that cover a lot of cheese pairing ground.
1. Sauvignon Blanc
Once thought of as a simple wine, this expressive and fun grape is finally getting the appreciation it deserves. Styles vary from serious & minerally (in France) to tropical & citrusy (in New Zealand). When pairing with cheese, sauvignon blancs wield a secret weapon: acidity. These crisp wines cut through rich triple cream cheeses like Brillat-Savarin beautifully, their racy texture contrasting the mouth-coating cheeses. Fresh goat cheeses share the same vivacious, zippy flavor. For a stellar regional pairing, match Valençay with sauvignon blanc from the same village. The refreshing brightness of the cheese melds with the wine’s lemony disposition perfectly.
2. Chenin Blanc
Ranging from bone-dry to richly sweet, these versatile wines exude aromas of green apple, white flowers, and honey. A rich body and roundness makes chenin blanc an outstanding partner for all sorts of cheeses. Pair French Vouvray with fresh goat cheese and dried apricots to keep things bright & sunny. Cheeses with more density will emphasize chenin blanc’s richness. Get a wedge of Grafton Village’s 2-year Cheddar and a spoonful of Wood’s Apple Cider Jelly and you’ll see exactly what I mean.
3. Pinot Noir
The softer tannins and silky texture of many Pinot Noirs make them a gorgeous companion for many styles of cheeses. New-world pinot is right at home with cheeses that have a soft, simple complexion. Try Jasper Hill’s Moses Sleeper. Slightly-aged goat cheeses also work well. French pinot pairs beautifully with cheeses that are a bit more aromatic. Try middle-aged Camembert or the perennial Burgundian classic, Époisses. The washed rind gives way to a luxurious center loaded with sweet cream flavor. Pinot’s gentle tannins and smooth flavors blend with the cheese perfectly.
Best-known for Chianti, this Italian favorite is loaded with bright red fruit flavors and firm tannins. Sangiovese is a natural pairing with cheeses that have body but aren’t too aggressive in flavor. Think Italian Parmigiano Reggiano or Spanish Manchego. Alpine cheeses also work well—their firm texture and density smooth out the wine’s tannic backbone. Try Spring Brook Tarentaise from Vermont. Add cherry preserves to really make the combination sing.
Powerful and assertive, zinfandel is the one to reach for when enjoying cheeses with more horsepower. Aged cheeses like Pecorino Gran Riserva have a touch of saltiness that locks on to the wine’s tannins, smoothing them out to an incredibly rich texture. Blue cheese can also benefit from zinfandel’s heft. Great Hill Blue, a sheep milk cheese from Massachusetts, has just the right balance of saltiness and minerality, effortlessly keeping pace with the wine. Add some French prunes and dessert is served.