‘What’s the best wine to pair with cheese?’

Sommelier Melanie Brown advises on the best wines to pair with classic cheeseboard choices

Words by Club Oenologique Editors

wine and cheese

In our Ask the Sommelier series, we put your wine-related questions to top sommeliers. In this instalment, Melanie Brown – sommelier and founder of Specialist Cellars and The Laundry in London – advises on the best wines to pair with cheese.

‘My partner and I love trying different cheeses, but we often find ourselves pairing them with the same old easy-drinking red. We’d like to try some different wines and learn a bit more about which style of wine goes with which cheese.’
Eric from Washington DC, USA

mel brown
Melanie Brown says although port might be the classic choice for a cheese course, she prefers to go for cool-climate wines

Sommelier Melanie Brown responds:

‘Traditionally, port wine might be served with cheese, but I find this a bit old-school and prefer to go in a more savoury direction with wines to pair with cheese. I always think about balancing fat and acid when pairing food and wine, and this is particularly key when pairing wine with something creamy and fatty like cheese. I work with New World wines a lot in the shop [Specialist Cellars] and in the restaurant [The Laundry], and I think cooler-climate wines from places like South Africa and Australia work really well with cheese because they have lots of fresh acidity to balance against the fattiness of the cheese.

If you’re looking for something that’ll work across a whole cheeseboard, you want something in-between the lighter Pinot Noirs and the darker, more intense wines – like a Syrah

For instance, I love the combination of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and goat’s cheese. New Zealand Sauvignon is one of the world’s most iconic wines, and it’s particularly well known for its fresh acid structure and wonderful citrus fruit characteristics. You can match that with a creamy, soft goat’s cheese, and it really lifts the aromatics of the Sauvignon Blanc. It’s probably my favourite cheese-and-wine match.

What wine pairs best with hard cheese?

For hard cheeses like English Red Leicester or Cheddar, or hard alpine cheeses, I’d go for a Pinot Noir. Ones from the south of New Zealand are bright and very vibrant with softer red fruit characteristics that match well with the delicate nuttiness of the harder-style cheeses. I’d stay away from anything too heavy and tannic with more intense dark fruit flavours as this will overpower the flavours in the cheese.

wine and cheese
Hard cheeses require a more delicate, fruit-driven wine

What wine pairs best with strong cheese?

For the stinky cheeses, you’ll need something dark and rich. I’m talking really ripe, stinky, and perhaps blue cheeses. Bordeaux varietal wines will be good here: Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Merlot would all be good directions to go in. These are really rich, dark, concentrated wines with more tannin structure, which stands up to the ripeness in the cheese. The flavour profile of these wines will really be brought to life with a strong blue.

What wine pairs best with a cheeseboard?

If you’re looking for something that’ll work across a whole cheeseboard, you want something in-between the lighter Pinot Noirs and the darker, more intense wines. Something like a Syrah would work; something with a little spicy edge to stand up to more intense cheeses, but with a delicate fruit flavour that doesn’t overpower the more delicate flavours of the cheese. If you’re going to a cheese night blind, that’s probably the right bottle to bring.

A more unusual pairing I’d recommend is a soft cheese with stone fruit, like apricots, paired with an orange wine. The skin-contact element of the wine really brings out the stone fruit in the cheese and adds a real depth of flavour.

Interview by Louella Berryman

Do you have a question to put to the world’s top sommeliers? Send them to editor@cluboenologique.com