Cheese and wine matching suggestions in brief:
- Hard cheeses like cheddar or Comté: White Burgundy, Nebbiolo, Pinot Noir, Rioja, red Bordeaux blend
- Soft cheese: Champagne, Chablis, Hunter Semillon, Beaujolais
- Blue cheese: Sauternes, Pedro Ximénez Sherry, Rutherglen Muscat
- Goat and sheep cheeses: Sancerre, Dry Riesling, Rhône varieties – red and white (if aged), Fino Sherry
- Washed-rind cheeses: Rioja, red Burgundy, Alsace Pinot Gris, Gewurtztraminer
- All-rounders: Amontillado Sherry, tawny Port
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Master of Wine and Master Sommelier Gerard Basset knows a thing or two about cheese and wine.
The French-born resident Briton was awarded the title of Best Sommelier in the World 2010, holds an MBA in wine, and has an OBE for his achievements in the wine industry.
Basset’s ‘desert-island cheeseboard’ would have a trio:
- a 12-month-old nutty Comté (France’s most popular cheese) for the hard;
- a ripe, buttery Stilton for the blue;
- and a St-Marcellin for the soft: a creamy raw cow’s milk cheese with a very high fat content.
But what wines to pair with such different cheeses? Do you pick three? One? And do you pick the wine first to match the cheese or vice versa?
‘It’s very simple and it starts with one rule,’ says Basset.
‘Choose whether you want to give the lead role to the wine or to the cheese. If it’s the cheese, pick a wine with less character that will just complement it in the background. If you want the wine to be the star, go easy on the forcefulness of the cheese.’
Try: Comté, Emmental, Grana Padano, Gruyère, Lincolnshire Poacher, Manchego (sheep), Montgomery’s Cheddar, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino (sheep)
‘Go for a rich, dry white wine or a light to medium-bodied red wine, as their tannins and weight will work well with the structure of the cheese,’ says Basset.
‘For the easiest cheese match with your wine, look for one that is relatively young and relatively hard – not too much strength or age.’
Try: Brie, Camembert, Chaource, Neufchâtel, Tunworth, St-Marcellin, St-Félicien, Vacherin, Waterloo
‘Be careful here, as many of these cheeses have big personalities, especially as they age,’ warns Basset. ‘Wines that have good acidity to cut through the high fat content of these wines would work well’.
Try: Bleu d’Auvergne, Bleu des Causses, Cabrales, Gorgonzola, Stilton, Roquefort (sheep)
‘The classic match here, which everyone knows, is sweet wine,’ says Basset.
‘It works particularly well if the cheese is creamy. With Stilton, for example, you get the complement from the creamy texture of the cheese and structure of the wine, as well as the contrast from the salty and sweet.’
Goat: Crottin de Chavignol, Picodon, Ragstone, Tymsboro, Valençay
Sheep: Azeitão, Ossau-Iraty, Roncal, Serra de Estrela, Wigmore
‘The classic pairing is Crottin de Chavignol with Sancerre. But you can break the rules here, as long as you stick with a fresh wine with lively acidity’. Basset says that it is best to avoid very mature sheep or goat cheeses as they can be very strong.
Try: Epoisses, Langres, Livarot, Mahon, Maroilles, Munster, Pont L’Eveque, Stinking Bishop, Taleggio
‘Try to choose a younger cheese whose character will not destroy the wine.’ Epoisses and red Burgundy is a classic regional match, but Basset is not convinced.
‘I’d prefer an exuberant wine that stands up better. These are not cheeses for Chablis or mature Burgundy – any subtlety will be destroyed! Munster and Gewurztraminer is a classic match and would work with other washed-rind cheeses as well.’
All for one, one for all
If all that sounds too complex, and you just want one wine to match a whole cheeseboard, Basset advises that you look to fortified wines – the ultimate after-dinner companion.
‘I would immediately suggest amontillado Sherry, Rivesaltes, tawny Port or Madeira. They work very well with all cheeses as they aren’t too delicately flavoured and their taste profile is similar to the accompaniments you will serve with the cheese: nuts, dried fruit, the spices in chutney. Plus, they are crowd-pleasing wines.’
Cheese and wine: before or after pudding?
Basset, ever the diplomat, says he follows both his native and adopted countries’ practices. ‘I’ve been in England a long time, so I do both. There’s no rule: whatever works for you.’
He does admit that the concept of finishing your savoury courses to have a sweet dessert and then going back to savoury again with cheese is ‘illogical and quite shocking’ to most French people.
‘But that’s not to say it’s wrong. I quite like to have my dessert and coffee after my main course and then rest a while and have some cheese with another wine later.’