‘Good with cheese’ has to be the least helpful back label wine serving suggestion after ‘good with pasta’. Do they mean all cheeses from Roquefort to Pecorino? The cheese board coming out at the end of a meal is a minefield for the wine lover. All those strong, disparate flavours can play havoc with your carefully-chosen wines.
Don’t serve anything too old or fine with pungent cheese; powerful cheese will knock out an old wine. Even the classic combinations sometimes don’t work: I find that the tannins in young vintage port can be quite unpleasant with Stilton. The hardest ones are really stinky cheeses like Époisses or the aptly-named Stinking Bishop that will lay waste to anything they touch.
I’ve picked six commonly-encountered cheese styles with a couple of tips on how to deal with them. Warning, you’re going to need a lot of glasses if you follow all my advice. Don’t forget, however, that your two greatest friends at the table are white Burgundy (see the Chablis below) and a good Beaujolais (like the Brouilly), add a bottle of tawny port and you’ve got most of your major food groups covered. And you’ll save on the washing up.
Sauvignon Blanc especially from the Loire is the classic accompaniment to goat’s cheese though my recommendation is the lean elegant 2018 Brancott Estate Living Land Series organic Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough (£11 Tesco). If you’re splashing out the 2016 Chablis Premier Cru Montée de Tonnerre from Domaine Louis Michel (£36 Great Western Wine) offering powerful limey fruit and age has brought toasty notes. The useful thing with Chablis and this Chablis in particular, is that it’s a great all rounder. On Christmas Day, it will keep you going from the smoked salmon at noon until the Queen’s Speech, and beyond!
Those nutty salty cheeses like Manchego or Gruyere call for wines with some heft. Reds can be good but sherry is ideal. I’d recommend the addictively almondy 12 year old Amontillado Delicado from Gonzalez-Byass (£15.49 Waitrose) and the slightly fuller and sweeter-tasting (though still bone dry) Cayetano del Pino Palo Cortado Solera (£16 The Wine Society) which would also go nicely with blue cheeses. Both really overdeliver for the money.
There’s an old saying in the wine trade, buy wine with apple, sell with cheese. A good fatty cheddar will flatter a tannic red wine. The fat coats the mouth protecting it from the tannins making the wine taste smoother. The 2011 La Raison Du Château des Fougères (£15 Tesco) will appeal to the old school claret lover with its mature flavours of tobacco and stewed fruit with still a little tannic bite to complement the cheese. The other thing that goes well is a West Country cider from a producer like Gregg’s Pit: the sparkling 2017 Dabinett and Yarlington Mill (varieties of apples) is custom built for mature cheddar and will freshen you up after a long meal (£14.30 Brew Cavern).
Of course, port is the classic accompaniment (and if you’re buying port why not see my guide to what to buy this Christmas) but other sweeties also chime with blue cheese. Sauternes is good or Monbazillac if you’re on a budget but my favourite is the original nobly rotted wine, Tokay from Hungary. The 2011 Disznókő Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos (£30.95 for 50cl Lea & Sandeman) is simply superb with its pineapple and bitter marmalade flavours, and refreshing tang. Australia makes some excellent port-style wines like the Old Boys 21 year old Tawny from De Bortoli (£20.99 for 50cl Waitrose). It’s hugely intense with sweet fruit and a finish like toasted walnuts.
Your Chablis from before would be good. Light reds also work wonderfully with a nice ripe brie, though for a really stinky one see the options below. As with the goat’s cheese, I’m going to suggest a good all rounder that you can drink through Christmas lunch. A young red Burgundy or New World Pinot would be just the ticket, but I’m going with this juicy Brouilly 2017 from Chateau des Tours (£14.99 Roberts & Speight). Champagne is also a good fit so if you have any left over from aperitifs, Pol Roger Blanc de Blanc 2012 please (£89 Laithwaite’s).
Washed rind cheeses
Stinky washed rind cheeses are the hardest to get right. If you’re struggling to find the right wine, why not try beer? A tangy fruit Lambic like Kriek Boon (£3 Waitrose) from Belgium, made with fresh cherries not syrup so it’s not cloying like some fruit beers can be, can take the smelliest cheese in its stride. Or also from Belgium, Chimay Bleue (£3.99 Beer Snifters) is a great all rounder at the table having a port-like quality. It gets better with age. I found an old bottle in my parent’s garage last year and it quite made my Christmas.