Matching cheese & wine


Let the wine fairy (aka Bloodwood's Stephen Doyle) help you find the perfect wine match

Like a pie and beer at the footy, red white and cheese after dinner is a perfect match. Well, there’s no arguments about the former, but you may be surprised to discover that white wine, especially Sauvignon Blanc, suits more cheeses than red. So if you’re inviting friends over to crack a big Barossa shiraz, think carefully about the cheese you choose.

Cheese importer and author Will Studd says the difficulty everyone grapples with is putting several cheeses of varying styles on the plate.

“There is no wine that fits all cheeses. If you’re going to try it, best try a white wine,” he suggests. “The problem with many classic Australian reds is they tend to be too high in alcohol and tannin to suit cheese”. If you’re still keen though, consider softer, aged reds.

Studd’s solution to the matching dilemma is to serve just one cheese, or a couple in a similar style, with a particular wine.  “It’s always better to have one great cheese than three or four mediocre ones,” he says, adding that the pleasure of a good cheese is increased by a great wine.

The best way to find suitable matches is by considering the strength of a cheese seeking complementary weight and flavours in the wine. It’s the same rule of thumb that applies to all wine and food combinations- match like with like. White wines are better suited to soft cheeses and stronger flavours. Mature hard cheeses go well with a mature, full-bodied red wine. The smellier the cheese, the more it suits a sweeter wine. Dessert wines are great across a wide range of cheeses.

Studd’s “made in heaven” combinations include Comte and Gruyere with Riesling, Brillat Savarin with Champagne and Roquefort with Sauternes. “I’m also very partial to cider with a Normandy camembert,” he confesses.

For high fat white mould cheeses such as a Milawa Camembert, he likes an unwooded Chardonnay, while a soft red, such as Merlot or Pinot Noir is great with ewe’s milk cheeses.

Andrew Harris, wine educator at Brown Brothers, matches in a similar fashion, warning that you should be especially careful with soft, lighter cheeses.

“A juicy Shiraz would overpower them and the cheeses won’t reveal their subtleties in the wine either,” he says.

Harris will never forget his first day on the job 15 years ago, waiting tables at the winery’s Epicurean restaurant. The menu, which has cheese scattered liberally through its dishes, also features local cheeses. The Milawa Blue, a mildly flavoured soft mould cheese, paired with botrytis-affected Noble Riesling, was a revelation.

“It sticks in my mind as showing how well they can go together,” he says. “The combination of high acidity and residual sweetness in the wine has similar characteristics to the cheese.”

If you’re keen on a red, then Harris suggests the Milawa Cheese Company’s Capricornia, a hard goat’s cheese.

“It has a nutty Parmesan-like quality to it and nice texture and weight. I haven’t had a red wine that hasn’t gone well with it,” he says.

Meanwhile, Milawa Cheese Company founder David Brown takes a more relaxed approach and suggests others follow that tradition too.

“Europeans will have a couple of cheeses and the best wines in the cellar and simply have a great time. Don’t get too precious or carried away about it all,” Brown says. “Do what you reckon is right and don’t let anyone else tell you about it.”

That said he repeats the notion of looking for texture and flavour profiles that work in unison, adding that contrasts also work, but are much harder to find.

“For example, with a sharp, simple acidic goat’s cheese, I’d be looking for light bodied wine and normally think of Sancerre, an austere Riesling or Champagne. For a rich Brie, a buttery, West Australian chardonnay with bit of malo works well – or a low-tanin red,” Brown says.

If you opening the Grange remains a priority, Milawa’s Capricornia is his suggestion, or pair up the St Henri with Milawa Gold, a Cheddar or Pecorino.

“Wash rinds are good for having two-bob each way with either a round white or low-tannin red,” Brown says.

After 21 years of making cheese at Milawa, David Brown’s philosophy is worth remembering: “It’s all good fun, so enjoy what you discover.”

In the end, the choice is yours. And just like the footy, you can barrack for any team you like.


Matching cheeses and Brown Brothers wines, by Andrew Harris, Brown Brothers

Fresh cheese, such as ricotta and bocconcini. You’ find gentle tangy, grassy, herbaceous flavours so consider the limited release Riesling or Crouchen Riesling with its touch of sweetness. Fresh sparkling wines work well too – try the newly released 2009 Prosecco, an Italian aperitif-style that’s light and crisp.

Goat’s milk cheese: You’ve got all those really fresh, lively sharp flavours and acid in the cheeses, so you want something that’s going to parallel them. Try Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc. If you want a red, Tarrango is a cracking match.

White mould cheese, such as Camembert and Brie. They need a little more weight in the palate, so look at a lightly wooded chardonnay with a small bit of malolactic fermentation and new oak, but not too much. Try the 2008 Banksdale single vineyard chardonnay, or the 2008 Victorian chardonnay with its stone fruit notes.

Washed rind cheese, such as Milawa Gold, Livarot and Taleggio. You want something with a bit of texture and weight, so look at the Noble Riesling, Tawny Port or Grand Tokay. You need some residual sugar to tackle any strong, stinky flavours.

Semi-hard cheese, such as Cheddar and Raclette. These go well bigger red, like the 2004 Patricia cabernet sauvignon or the 2005 Shiraz, Mondeuse and Cabernet, which has incredible and complexity of flavours and good tannin.

Hard cheese, such as Parmesan and Comte. Wines with savoury notes are a good complement to the nuttiness of the cheese. Consider the Italian varietals, especially barbera, as well as the fortifieds.

Blue cheese. Look for a pretty generous wine like the 2007 Durif or 2005 Patricia Shiraz, with some fleshiness of fruit behind it, plus some structural power. You can also try the Sparkling Shiraz with an aged blue cheese because it has spice and power of flavour with a little residual sugar. Serve Noble Riesling with a mild blue, and Tokay or Tawny Port with more powerful ones.


* This piece was originally commissioned for the Brown Brothers magazine Epicurian


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