Wine and cheese pairing

A Fall Affair: Wine and Cheese Pairings for Autumn

Pairing wine and cheese for autumn can be a delicious way to celebrate the season’s flavors. Autumn is known for its harvest of rich, earthy, and slightly sweet ingredients which can be captured in certain wine and cheese combinations. Here are some that work well this time of year.

Savory Cheeses

With apologies to pumpkins, apples are the the undisputed queen of autumnal fruit flavors. Aged Cheddar is undoubtedly the best cheese with apples, so it leads this list. It also welcomes a diversity of wine companions:

The bold, fruity, and spicy notes of Zinfandel work well. The wine’s intensity can stand up to the sharpness of the cheese and enhance its complexity.

There is a richness to aged Cheddar that tames the mouth-drying tannins you’ll find in many Cabernet Sauvignons, bringing out the fruit flavors of the wine.

Barrel-fermented chardonnay is a surprisingly good pairing with a strong cheddar. The oaky notes reveal a mellow smokiness in the cheese.

A close second to Aged Cheddar in capturing the essence of Autumn is Gouda. It expresses a range of flavors as it ages that all evoke the spirit of the season.

Most commonly available Gouda is less than a year old. At this stage, there is a throat-tickling sharpness that can be unpleasant when paired with wines with pronounced tannins, like Cabernet Sauvignon or Nebbiolo. However, the round fruity notes of medium bodied reds like Merlot, Malbec, or Cabernet Franc are a lovely complement to Gouda’s nutty sweetness. 

If you can find one, younger Goudas are soft and buttery with just a hint of the nuttiness to come. Dry Fino or Amontillado sherries make a perfect match.

After about a year of aging, Gouda’s easygoing flavors start to turn to butterscotch and toffee, while the natural saltiness intensifies. An off-dry Riesling echoes these caramelly notes with a vivid freshness that plays well against the saltiness.

Long-aged Gouda achieves an umami rich quality similar to Parmigiano-Reggiano. Now a rich, tannic wine is exactly what is called for. Try it with Cabernet Sauvignon or Sagrantino.

Soft Cheeses

Though these can be, and are, enjoyed year-round, their comforting creaminess reaches a peak in Fall. Especially when baked and eaten warm and gooey.

Brie is often served with apples and pears and you’ll find those same flavors in Chardonnay. These wines also often deliver at least a touch of oak, which can complement the mild flavors of the cheese. Texturally, Brie’s creamy and buttery qualities pair nicely with those of a full-bodied Chard.

Camembert is a slightly stronger and more aromatic cousin of Brie. Pair it with a fruity and elegant Pinot Noir. The wine’s acidity will balance the cheese’s creaminess while its earthy red fruit flavors will enhance Camembert’s pungent nature.

Full-bodied Blues

The dense, rich texture and funky flavor profiles of these stinky, aged wonders are a welcome foil to the earthy flavors and chilling nip of autumn. Wine-wise there are a few ways to go.

The bold and peppery characteristics of Syrah match the peppery pungency of blues like Roquefort or Gorgonzola. At the same time, the wine’s dark fruit flavors provide balance to the cheese’s saltiness.

Port wines, particularly Tawny Port, make an ideal partner for a refined blue like Stilton. In this pairing, the wine’s elevated sweetness pleasingly contrasts with the cheese’s sharpness and vice-versa.

Super dank blue cheeses call for an even sweeter contrast. Moscato can work if the cheese is on the lighter side, texturally, but this is truly a job for the Honey Golden wines of the world; Sauternes, Tokaj, BA’s and TBA’s. If you haven’t tried a pairing like this, put it on your bucket list, near the top

Mountain cheeses

These dense, hard cheeses come from the long cheesemaking traditions of the French, Swiss, and Italian Alps, where it is Fall year-round. 

Emmental, with its nutty and slightly sweet taste, is tailor-made to go with a crisp, off-dry Riesling. Besides having a similar joie de vivre, the wine’s acidity cuts pleasantly through the cheese’s richness.

Parmigiano-Reggiano calls to mind the classic pairing strategy: what grows together goes together.
In this case, the so-called King of Cheeses receives all courtier. Red, white and sparkling are welcome
That is, those from the same Northeastern corner of Italy: Prosecco, Pinot Grigio and Amarone della Valpolicella are all classic matches. 

Of all the cheeses in this list, Gruyere is likely the most evocative of fall in its flavors alone. Nutty and mild, it carries with the spicy zippiness of the mountain air of its home in the Swiss Alps. Fitting that it be paired with the most Autumnal wine, also with Swiss origins, – Gewurztraminer. Even the least verbose description of this wine is bound to mention its aromas of rose, apricot, lychee, cinnamon, and ginger. Like a Christmas fruit cake cooling in the window of a villa in Interlaken.

Just as oenophile means “lover of wine”, a cheese lover is a turophile. If you are either or both, share the love! There is no wrong way to host a wine and cheese party but here are a few tips to get you started:

When creating autumn-themed wine and cheese pairings, consider the combinations of flavor and texture outlined above but don’t be limited by them. Use them as guide to experimentation with the goal of forming harmonious pairings of your own.

Fall is harvest time so include seasonal fruits, preserves and other appropriate goodies in addition to the cheese. Crusty bread or crispy crackers make good palate cleansers.

Pro-Tip: If you want to taste a wide variety of cheese but not open a different wine for each, reach for the bubbles. Sparkling wine, Champagne, Cava, Prosecco, is incredibly versatile and pairs well with a variety of cheeses. Its acidity and effervescence can refresh the palate and complement an assortment  that includes both mild and stronger cheeses. 

Have a few friends over, put out a nice spread, pop a few bottles and enjoy.

Trevor Hertrich
Trevor Hertrich