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Q: What to Serve at a Wine and Cheese Party?

by David on September 30, 2007

Question from Becky: I’m planning a wine and cheese party and I wonder what wines and cheeses taste best together. Thanks for your help!

Reply:Hi, Becky. Thanks for writing! Wine and cheese parties are great fun and easy to do, too!

First, let me say that I think most people worry too much about pairing wine and food. Most wines and foods seem to taste pretty good together and the best combinations are personal. The other thing is that your guests will have lots of distractions by way of conversation and music, so they’re not likely to be terribly critical.

But, cheese can be a little tricky compared to other foods so, while there’s been almost no formal research into pairing cheese and wine, we have recommendations based upon experience.

If your friends are fans of big, red wines, then the guideline is the bigger the wine, the harder the cheese. Soft cheese and red wine may not be bad together, but if you’re serving some special bottles of red, pairing them with hard cheeses will probably show them off to best advantage. Those triple-cream cheeses we all love tend to coat your palate and deaden the flavor of your red wine. So, think about some nice, aged Gouda, an good cheddar or Parmigiano Reggiano.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t have any triple cream cheese! For those deliciously sinful cheeses it’s smart to go with high-acid wines, which are usually white, such as sparkling wine, Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio. Goosecross Chardonnay has a high acid by California standards and is very nice with those cheeses too. Cool-climate whites (most of Europe, New Zealand) will also tend to be higher in acidity.

White wines will go well with semi-soft cheeses, too, and you’ve got a lot of latitude. If the cheese has hints of sweetness, then pick a fruity or slightly sweet white like Viognier, Riesling or off-dry Chenin Blanc so the cheese doesn’t make the wine seem sour. For those who drink red no matter what, put out fruity, low-tannin reds like a Beaujolais style or a soft Pinot Noir.

Blue cheese is one of the trickiest pairings, and if you want to serve a blue, if I were you, I’d do a taste test first. You’re usually very safe with sweet wines, but if you want to move into dry whites and reds, just give it a try first.

Goat cheese will taste best with a high-acid white, especially Sauvignon Blanc - it’s a classic!

So, I think it boils down to this:
* Among wines, whites are the most versatile with cheese.
* Among cheeses, medium-hard to hard cheeses are the most versatile with wine.

Note: In my own, personal taste tests here at Goosecross, I’ve found that there is no cheese that can get the better of our Chenin Blanc. I call it “The Terminator”! ;-) It stands up to virtually any style of cheese!

So, these are some fairly tried-and-true ideas, but nothing’s hard and fast. Our good friend, Barrie Lynn The Cheese Impresario, recommends that you limit yourself to five cheeses or everyone will get confused. She has some other great suggestions in our podcast interview, including serving cheese with olive oil or honey as a complement. There’s also a little more detail in this article on our website.

Regardless of what you decide, I know everyone will have a great time. You may serve certain cheeses and wines as pairings but, inevitably, your friends will go back to the cheeses and wines they like the best regardless of any guidelines and all these theories go right out the window! After all, if it tastes good, it is good! Here’s to a great evening of wine, cheese and friends!

Cheers! Nancy

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