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How To Pair Wine And Cheese

There's a lot of cheese in the world-- hundreds of different kinds -- and every last bit of it, to Ray Isle's mind, tastes even better with wine.
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By Ray Isle, Executive Wine Editor, Food & Wine

There's a lot of cheese in the world -- hundreds of different kinds, made from the milk of everything from buffalos to yaks -- and every last bit of it, to my mind, tastes even better with wine. Well, except for casu marzu, a Sardinian cheese with live cheese-fly larvae in it. I have no idea why anyone in their right mind would eat that, as it could not possibly taste anything other than revolting, no matter how powerful the alcohol was that you poured with it.

Anyway, generally speaking, here are a few thoughts about pairing cheese with wine. Of course, as always with pairing, these are suggestions -- there are no rules, other than to eat food you like and drink wine (or whatever else) you like with it.

1. Go White It's counterintuitive, since most people think of pairing cheese with red wine, but white wines tend to go better with cheese. The lack of tannins, which are particularly tough on creamy cheeses, helps, as does the lively acidity many whites have. The best possibilities are unoaked whites, for instance Rieslings, (most) Sauvignon Blancs or Albariños from Spain.

2. If Red, Go Light or Old Again, tannins are tough, so if you simply think it's lunacy drinking white wine with cheese, then look either for light, low-tannin reds like Beaujolais or ones that have had enough time to age (tannins mellow over time). For affordable reds that already have some age, Rioja is the best place to head -- the current vintage on the market for reservas is 2005, and even wines from good producers like Valdemar and Riscal are usually under $15.

3. Cheese Is Food In other words, just as lighter wines tend to go better with lighter foods and heavier wines with heavier foods, lighter cheeses are better with lighter wines -- fresh goat cheese with a crisp Sancerre, for instance. Richer cheeses, like Camembert or Tête de Moine, need a more full-bodied wine, such as white Burgundy or a Pinot Gris from Alsace.

4. OK, Fine, Drink Cabernet If you're dead-set on a big, tannic red, your best bet is one of the harder, saltier cow's milk cheeses -- cheddar or dry Jack, for instance -- or a similar sheep's cheese, like pecorino. Or pair an Amarone from Italy with some Parmagiano drizzled with honey -- Sandro Boscaini, the owner of the renowned Amarone producer Masi, swears by that match.

5. Blue Cheese and Sweet Wine Love Each Other If there's one cheese-wine marriage that's made in heaven, it's blue cheese and sweet wine. This could be a classic like Roquefort and Sauternes or Stilton with port, or you could head farther afield and try a Moscato with something like Gorgonzola. But feel free to wing it -- there's rarely an instance where this pairing won't work.