July always feels like a month-long party: Swimming pools are open for business, our nation celebrates its birthday, and backyard patio tables everywhere are loaded to the gills with amazingly delicious seasonal food. It’s summertime, and the eatin’ is fine.
If you’re anything like me, you’re going to need a couple bottles of wine to keep your celebrations rolling. Here are five wine and cheese pairings that you need to try this month.
1. Sparkling Wine with Fresh Chévre
With the focus on grilled foods, gorgeous seasonal fruits, and picnic-friendly plates, picking the right cheese can seem challenging. It must be flavorful, but not too heavy. There aren’t many cheeses better-suited to summer dining than fresh chévre. Bright and sassy, young goat cheese lends texture and acidity that fit just as well in for omelettes at brunch, with prosciutto and figs in the afternoon, or stuffed into chicken breast for dining al fresco.
Westfield Farms makes a wonderfully versatile chévre. (I’m partial to their herb-covered version, which is fantastic in salads.) Capriole’s Julianna is a summer stunner covered in lavender, rosemary, and wildflowers. Blue Ledge Farm’s seven ounce Crottina is absolutely picnic-friendly.
Such lively cheese calls for washing down with wine that can keep pace with the cheese’s acidity, but without overpowering it. Bubbles are a great choice. Their effervescence lends a tactile refreshment that readies the palate for the next bite. California is loaded with options like those from Roederer Estate, Gloria Ferrer, or Domaine Chandon. But don’t stop there—excellent wines can be found all over the place. Oregon’s Argyle is great, New Mexico’s Gruet is a fantastic value, and Massachusetts’ Westport Rivers Winery is really tasty stuff.
2. Riesling with Washed-Rind Cheeses
Far too many people still see riesling as the sappy-sweet white wine that any self-respecting wine lover should avoid, but what is often overlooked is this noble grape’s amazing food pairing abilities. Its fuller body gives riesling the ability to stand up to creamy or fatty foods. Think fried clams or fettuccine alfredo—but cheese is no exception. Riesling’s touch of sweetness is also an excellent foil to cheese with a strong flavor.
For that reason, I’m especially fond of riesling with washed-rind cheeses. The aggressive flavors of the rind are mellowed by the wine, and the soft center melts into the wine’s full body. My current obsession is Gatekeeper, a triple cream cheese made by Old Chatham Sheepherding Company and washed and aged by Crown Finish Caves. Notes of orange blossom and ramps give this cheese a lot of character. Pair it with Thirsty Owl riesling from New York’s Finger Lakes for bonus points; the orange blossom aromas are similar to those in the cheese.
There is no shortage of top-notch American washed-rind cheeses. Grey Barn Farm’s Prufrock is pungent yet delicate, with toasty and nutty characteristics. The buttery and savory paste of von Trapp’s Oma is always welcome at the table as well, especially if it’s topping a burger with some ultra-caramelized onions.
3. Rosé with Alpine-style cheese
America has finally caught on to how delicious rosé can be. No longer do people automatically assume all pink wines are sweet, high-alcohol beverages bereft of any real flavor or quality; it’s great to see. Summertime sipping is all about refreshment, and rosé delivers. Plus, having a bit more structure and backbone than most white wines is a plus here. That touch of heft allows the wine to pair beautifully with cheeses with a firmer texture and richer flavor.
Alpine-style cheeses are a great addition to a summer picnic table because they’re strong enough to take grilled burgers or veggies from good to great, yet mild enough to snack on with some fresh fruit and a glass of wine. Maggie’s Reserve from Cricket Creek Farm (pictured above) is an Italian alps-inspired beauty that’s aged for 12-18 months. The fudgy texture is satisfying and its flavor is rich and caramelly. Serve it up with some fresh strawberries and a chilled bottle of rosé. The Robert Sinskey Vin Gris of Pinot Noir pictured here is loaded with soft citrus and berry tones. Lovely.
4. Petit Sirah with Clothbound Cheddar
Ok, first things first. Petit Sirah is not the same as syrah or shiraz. It’s the offspring of syrah and the obscure French grape Peloursin, and it is grown almost exclusively in California. These wines are full-bodied with deep tones and benefit from a bit of decanting if possible.
Petit Sirah (also known as Petit Syrah) has broad shoulders and wants food with equal density. These grilled portobello mushrooms with pomegranate molasses would be quite tasty and Barbecued meats are also a great choice, especially if they are slathered in sauce. The wine’s resonant fruit tones and thick body will hold up to serious foods, and that includes cheeses with weight to them—nothing wispy or light need apply.
When picking a cheese, go with one of the greatest crowd-pleasers there is: cheddar. The dense, curdy chew of a block of cheddar is so, so satisfying. With flavor profiles ranging from nutty and buttery to sharp and fruity, there’s something for everyone to like. Cheddar’s flexibility in cooking is a huge plus as well. From chunks in a summer salad to the base for an amazing mac and cheese, it’s tough to go wrong with cheddar. Shelburne Farm’s 2-year Farmstead Cheddar has savory flavor and a melty disposition. Bleu Mont’s Bandage-Wrapped Cheddar is a nod to English cheddars with bold, assertive flavor. And, of course, you can’t talk about American clothbound cheddars without mentioning Jasper Hill’s Cabot Clothbound Cheddar: At once crumbly, sweet, and savory, this cheese has it all going on.
5. Red Blends with Blue Cheese
Someone once told me blue cheese and red wine just don’t mix; I couldn’t disagree with them more! Bold blue cheeses are great with the thick, rich character of a big red wine. It’s all about choosing the right pairing. If the blue cheese is particularly assertive, the wine needs to have enough body to match. If the cheese has a strong salt tone, a wine with firm tannins will smooth things out.
There are lots of great domestic blue cheese options. At the top of my list is always Jasper Hill Farm’s Bayley Hazen. It gloriously balances peppery undertones with a flavor akin to toasted nuts. The thick and fudgy texture makes it a fantastic choice for grilled flank steak with blue cheese butter. Another great choice is Great Hill Blue. This non-homogenized beauty has lots of tang that’s offset by a clear saltiness. It’s a crumbler, which is perfect for mixing into burgers, especially when topped with a batch of quick-pickled red onions. Of course, there’s always room for the classic Maytag Blue.
For the wine, go big. Really big. The usual suspects like cabernet sauvignon or merlot are fine choices here, but red blends can have even more richness and weight. They combine the best characteristics of several grapes, often yielding a wine greater than the sum of the parts. Andrew Murray Vineyards makes a Syrah mixed with a little Viognier that is like drinking blackberry jam, while Jeff Runquist’s 1448 red blend is full of black raspberry and toasty vanilla tones. An all-time favorite is the Venge Vineyard Scout’s Honor (pictured here). he power and opulence of this wine is tough to convey, but if you’ve ever wondered what drinking a velour blanket made of dark fruit would be like, this is it.