8 Tips on How to Pair Red Wine and Cheese

by JJ Buckley Fine Wines

Board with a variety of cheeses and glasses of red wine on a table.

Peanut butter and jelly, grilled cheese and tomato soup, steak and potatoes—there are some well-known, incredible pairings out there. Another top favorite: wine and cheese, of course. These two may even top the list of the most iconic food combinations—and when paired correctly, each brings out the best elements of the other to create an unrivaled flavor experience.

In this article, we’ll talk specifically about how to pair red wine with different types of cheese and then share some of the best pairings for you to try.

Pairing Tips

There are a lot of red wines out there—and a mind-boggling variety of cheeses. You can’t open just any bottle or red and expect it to work with any cheese you plan to serve or eat. Tannins can quickly overpower the flavor of a more delicate cheese or make it taste a little off. Here are a few tips on how to successfully pair red wine with cheese.

Heavy With Heavy and Light With Light

A good number of red wines are heavy and dry. These characteristics can overpower more delicate, lighter cheeses. If you enjoy the heavy reds, choose stronger cheeses like aged cheddar or a Grana Padano. If you prefer lighter cheeses, look for lighter, fruity red wines like Gamay or Beaujolais.

High Tannins With Aged Cheeses

Young red wines feature some rather strong tannins, which generally mellow with time. The more tannic wines do very well with flavorful aged cheeses, attaching to the fats and cleansing the palate with each sip. Pairing a young red with a lighter cheese, however, alters the flavor of the bite, leaving the cheese tasting unpleasantly metallic or chalky.

Mirror Styles

Generally, matching the styles of your wine and cheese is a safe bet. The more unusual the cheese, the more unusual the wine you can pair with it. An old, aged wine also does well with aged cheese.

Sweetness Is Your Friend

Cheese loves sweetness, including sweetness in a wine. Red dessert wines and fortified wines such as port and sherry pair particularly well with heavy, rich cheeses like bleu and Stilton.

8 Red Wine and Cheese Pairings

Now, let’s take a closer look at some of the best red wine and cheese pairings to consider:

1. Nebbiolo and Feta

Nebbiolo’s notes of dark red fruits, rose, and tar need something with a bit of "funk" (but nothing too potent). Feta cheese, with its creamy texture and high fat content, is the perfect complement. Another excellent red wine for feta is Beaujolais.

2. Cabernet Franc and Goat Cheese

Generally, goat cheese does best with whites, but that doesn’t mean you can’t pair it with red wine. Cabernet Franc is a lighter red with a deliciously tart acidity. It also features delightful fruity and herbaceous notes. The fresh, fruity flavors play very nicely with the tart, earthy flavors of goat cheese. The higher acidity of the wine also helps to cut through the heaviness of the cheese.

3. Merlot and Brie

Brie is one of the world’s most popular cheeses. The soft-ripened cheese has a bloomy rind and features multiple layers such as creaminess, nuttiness, sweetness, earthiness, and tanginess. As such, it pairs well with many different types of wines, depending on the traits of the cheese you want to feature most. One of the best reds to pair with this cheese is a fruity Merlot with fewer tannins. Pinot noir is a good option if you’re looking to highlight the earthy funk of the cheese, and the bright, fresh notes of Beaujolais can accent the tang.

4. Pinot Noir and Gruyere

Gruyere is a semi-hard cheese that’s sweet, slightly salty, creamy, and nutty. These flavors pair well with the berry fruit flavors of Pinot noir. Both the wine and cheese have the right amount of complexity and aroma. They balance one another without one overpowering the other.

5. Shiraz and Gouda

Gouda has a sweet, pleasantly sharp taste with a caramelized finish. The ripe berry flavors of Shiraz complement these flavors perfectly. The wine also features notes of tobacco and smoke. These notes make Shiraz a good partner for smoked Gouda cheese as well. The cheese can help to bring those tobacco notes to the forefront.

6. Cabernet Sauvignon and Aged Cheddar

As previously mentioned, big, bold cheeses need a wine with similar traits to stand up to them. A strong aged cheddar cheese matches wonderfully with the tannins of a Cabernet Sauvignon. Instead of one drowning out the other, they have equally bold flavors that are a match made in wine-and-cheese heaven.

7. Chianti and Pecorino

Pecorino is a hard, dry, salty Italian cheese. Generally aged for one year, it’s granular and incredibly sharp. Chianti is an Italian wine hailing from Tuscany. It’s tart, acidic, and very tannic. The wine also features deeply savory notes.

The two are an excellent example of the adage, “What grows together goes together.” The savory notes of Chianti coax forward the herbal notes of pecorino, and the texture of the cheese pairs well with the wine’s tannins. Additionally, the black fruits of Chianti hold up to the bold flavors of the cheese.

8. Port and Stilton

Port wines are bold, full-bodied, and deliciously sweet. The wine needs an equally unusual cheese, and what better partner than a salty, pungent, and stinky Stilton? Again, following the tips above, cheese loves sweetness. The stinkier the cheese, the sweeter the wine. An older, sweeter Port is the perfect match for the funkiness of Stilton.

Find All the Best Reds for Your Favorite Cheeses

Wine and cheese are quite possibly one of the greatest food pairings on Earth. Finding the right wine—especially the right red wine—to go with whatever cheese you plan to serve can be challenging, but it’s not impossible. JJ Buckley Fine Wines has a wide selection of reds and whites, allowing you to find the best fits for all of your pairing needs.

If you’re feeling stuck, our consultancy services can help you find the right fit from all that we have to offer.