Despite the plethora of cheese and wine options, creating a satisfying sampler is easy. Select cheeses first, and the wine pairings will present themselves. Experimentation is part of the fun. Start with these basics then check out popular cheese types and matching wines.
Explore a single region. You're usually safe matching wines with cheeses that are produced in the same region or country. For instance, Spanish wines and cheeses have a long history together.
Sample cheese (and wine, if you can). Many specialty cheese shops, farmer's market vendors, and other specialty retailers encourage sampling. Sampling wine may be a little more challenging although some shops do offer tastings. Ask for recommendations, and buy a few bottles to compare. Note your preferences.
Choose handcrafted or artisanal cheeses when possible. Although they carry a higher price tag than manufactured versions, these small-batch cheeses typically also carry incomparable flavor.
About aged cheddar cheese: Firm and crumbly, this classic has a sharp flavor. Made with cow's milk, aged cheddar is produced in the United States and England.
Wine pairing suggestions: Syrah (Shiraz), Petite Sirah, or Zinfandel
Flavor boosters: Served with multigrain or rye bread or whole grain crackers, aged cheddar has a pleasing bite. Create a flavor sensation with a smear of whole grain mustard. Apples and pears add a touch of crispness in every mouthful, and a drizzle of honey delivers a sweet balance.
About fresh goat cheese: With an earthy, mild flavor and slight tang, this spreadable cheese often is labeled chevre, the French word for goat. Made with goat's milk, it's a favorite of artisanal cheese makers and is produced in France and the United States.
Wine pairing suggestions: Beaujolais, dry sparkling wine, or Sauvignon Blanc
Flavor boosters: Try Concord grapes as a sweet, acidic complement to goat cheese, and believe it or not, grape jelly tastes great with goat cheese. Fresh goat cheese also plays nicely with fresh or dried figs, dates, honeycomb, apples, and pears.
About Maytag Blue cheese: Soft and crumbly, this blue cheese has a tangy, peppery flavor. Maytag and other varieties of blue-veined cheese have a sharp but pleasing bite. Made with cow's milk, Maytag Blue cheese is produced in Iowa.
Wine pairing suggestions: Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah (Shiraz)
Flavor boosters: Counter the strong flavors of Maytag Blue with apricots, citrus fruits, fresh dates, walnuts, or dried fruits for a combination of outstanding tastes and interesting textures.
About aged Gouda cheese: Hard, with a nutty, caramel flavor, aged Gouda retains a creamy texture and may end with a hint of butterscotch. Tasty on a cheese plate, Gouda also works well for fondue. Made with cow's milk, it is produced in Holland.
Wine pairing suggestions: Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Zinfandel
Flavor boosters: With its slight caramel tone, what could pair better with aged Gouda than apples? Complete the mix with fresh or dried apricots, pears, or dark bread. For coffee-addicted companions, aged Gouda is also delicious with a dark roast.
About Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese: With a nutty, tangy flavor, Parmigiano-Reggiano has a natural hard but edible rind. When cut in slivers, Parmigiano-Reggiano is crumbly and exudes its unique aroma. Made with cow's milk in Italy, the cheese must mature for at least 12 months before it is evaluated and marked with a seal that designates its length of maturation.
Wine pairing suggestions: Chianti Classico or Merlot
Flavor boosters: Parmigiano-Reggiano begs to be paired with fresh figs, melon, or honey-drizzled pears.
About Manchego cheese: Firm, with a mellow flavor, Manchego is mild, buttery, and nutty, with a hint of salty piquancy often found in other sheep's milk cheeses. True Manchego is made from whole milk of the hardy Manchega sheep that graze on the wheat and brush fields of La Mancha, a rugged land in the interior of Spain.
Wine pairing suggestions: Sherry (fino), Rioja, or Spanish sparkling wines
Flavor boosters: Manchego transforms from appetizer to dessert depending on its companions. Enjoy it with olives, baguette slices, cured meats, carrots, red sweet pepper strips, and even avocado. Or finish it with Marcona almonds, green apple slices, honey or orange preserves, grapefruit, and mango.
About Brie cheese: Creamy, with a buttery and slightly tangy flavor, Brie is a cheese board favorite served at room temperature or heated to oozy goodness. Made with cow's milk and originating in France, Brie and its rind are intended to be eaten together, which adds to the complexity of the flavor experience.
Wine pairing suggestions: Pouilly-Fuisse, Cotes du Rhone, or Bordeaux
Flavor boosters: Creamy Brie only gets better when you enjoy it with almonds or toasted pecans, strawberries or raspberries, caramelized pears or apples, or red or green grapes.
Editor's Tip: Pair creamy with tannin. A rich, creamy, buttery, smooth cheese offsets the harshness of a tannic wine. Sparkling wine is a flavor sensation with creamy cheeses, too.
About Pecorino Romano cheese: Hard, with a sharp and piquant flavor, Pecorino Romano is aromatic and distinctive. Made in Italy with sheep's milk (pecora is the Italian word for sheep), Pecorino Romano has a characteristic salty sharpness.
Wine pairing suggestion: Barolo, Gattinara, or Barbaresco
Flavor boosters: Traditionally, locals in the Roman countryside pair Pecorino Romano with rustic homemade-style bread. Accentuate the traditional with fresh or dried figs, melon, or pears as a flavor enhancer.
About Roquefort cheese: Creamy and rich, Roquefort has an assertive and slightly salty flavor. This pungent French blue cheese is made from sheep's milk. The French often eat Roquefort as a dessert cheese.
Wine pairing suggestion: Vouvray, French red Burgundy, or Cotes du Rhone
Flavor boosters: If you prefer the French sensation of a dessert cheese, sample fresh dates or dried fruits with Roquefort. Walnuts or spiced nuts also mesh well with this cheese.
Editor's Tip: Blend complementary flavors. The salty, sharp flavor of blue cheese balances the sweetness of dessert wines. Select a sweet wine to pair with blue cheese as a pleasing after-dinner course.
About Scamorza cheese: Firm, with a mildly smoky flavor, Scamorza is a smooth and shiny cheese in the same family as provolone and mozzarella. Made with cow's milk in Italy, Scamorza traditionally is shaped like an oversized pear.
Wine pairing suggestions: Pinot Grigio or Orvieto
Flavor boosters: Enjoy Scamorza with sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, salami, ham, or Italian sausage to accentuate its mild flavors.
About fresh mozzarella cheese: With a mild and sweet flavor, fresh mozzarella is much different from the processed or shredded variety found on pizza and other foods. Made with cow's or buffalo's milk in Italy and the United States, fresh mozzarella is usually sold in a ball surrounded by whey or water. The soft ball slices easily for lovely presentation and wonderful flavor combinations.
Wine pairing suggestions: Bardolino or Valpolicella
Flavor boosters: Sliced and topped with a tomato slice, basil leaf, and a splash of olive oil, simple mozzarella becomes a fantastic mini salad. The salty flair of prosciutto adds complexity to the mild flavor, as do roasted red peppers and olives.
About Gruyere cheese: Firm, with a mild and nutty flavor, Gruyere has a complexity that may at first seem a bit fruity. Made with cow's milk, Gruyere's texture is simultaneously creamy and grainy. From France and Switzerland, this cheese is known for a fondue-friendly melting point and is still delicious with crackers, bread, and fruit.
Wine pairing suggestions: Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Cotes du Rhone, or red Burgundy
Flavor boosters: Choose red apples, plums, and hazelnuts to emphasize Gruyere's complex flavors. Don't forget chunks of hearty bread, too.
About Dry Monterey Jack cheese: Hard, with a full-bodied, tangy flavor, dry Monterey Jack is made with cow's milk in California. The aging process generates an exotic mix of intense, bold, nutty flavors.
Wine pairing suggestions: Gewurztraminer, a dry Reisling, Petite Sirah, or Zinfandel
Flavor boosters: Dip Dry Jack in balsamic vinegar for an unexpected cheese companion. Dry Jack is also a friend to persimmons and plums, walnuts, and salami.
About mascarpone cheese: With a mild, sweet flavor, mascarpone is from Italy. Made with cow's milk, this spreadable cheese is soft, rich, and butterlike. Besides being a pleasing addition to a cheese tray, mascarpone is famous in Italian desserts, such as tiramisu.
Wine pairing suggestions: Frascati or Soave
Flavor boosters: Creamy and rich on its own, top mascarpone with fresh blueberries, strawberries, or raspberries for a sweet finish.
When shopping for cheese and wine pairings, this quick-read chart can be tucked in your bag for easy reference. Use it to gather your preferred cheese selection, balancing milk sources, textures, and flavor punch. Follow the Rule of Three: For a simple but fascinating flavor experience, choose at least one cheese from each of the three primary milk sources: cows, goats, and sheep. This handy guide lets you easily match your choices to wine variety recommendations.