Pairing White Wine and Cheese

White wine and cheese are soul mates, say the experts at Wisconsin Cheese. Check out their suggestions here to create your own perfect love match.

Photo: Aerial Mike/AdobeStock

Everyone knows that cheese and wine go together like coffee and cream. What most people don’t know, however, is that white wine is generally easier to pair with cheese, say the folks at Wisconsin Cheese—and they definitely know a thing or two about cheese. Before the red wine lovers grab their pitchforks, they say they still love bold, dry reds, but if they had to grab one bottle of wine to pair with the most cheeses possible—it would be a white wine. White wine and cheese are the pairing equivalent of soul mates, they say. What is one go-to wine? They suggest a Riesling will pair well with almost any cheese—you won’t be disappointed!

Whether you’re planning a cheese board for a weekend night or just need to know why that blue cheese and Riesling you tried went so well together, Wisconsin Cheese has the answers. Food and drink author, cheese pairing expert, and Wisconsin cheese lover Jeanette Hurt worked with them to offer these wine pairing suggestions and guidelines. And, if you’re hosting a cheese party, keep in mind to plan for about 2 to 3 ounces of cheese per person.

How Are Red and White Wines Different?

It’s all about the grapes. White wine is generally made with light green, pink, or white grapes, while red wine is made with darker grapes. The differences don’t stop there, however. Once picked, the winemaking process for white and red wines differs as well. Red wines are fermented with all parts of the grape (skins and seeds included), while white wines are pressed to remove the skin and seeds before fermenting.

Why does this matter? The seeds and skin of the grape are what give red wines their prominent tannins. These tannins—although delicious—can make cheese pairing more of a challenge.

Tannins and Cheese Pairing

What exactly are tannins? Hurt explains, “If you bite into a tea bag, or the skin of an apple, that astringent bitterness you taste—that’s a tannin.” In practice, this means that white wines generally pair more readily with a larger variety of cheeses.

While we still cherish our big, bold red wines, these tannins can often overpower the flavor and creaminess of cheese. Luckily, white wines are naturally lower in tannins compared to their red relatives.

Favorite White Wines for Cheese Pairing

Riesling: This white wine is pretty much one-size-fits-all. If you’re new to the delicious world of wine and cheese, start with a Riesling—you can’t go wrong. This German wine is flowery and aromatic with fairly high acidity, making it taste fresh and crisp. Hurt swears by having a bottle of Riesling on hand for every impromptu cheese board.

Must-try Riesling and Cheese Pairings: Blue • Asiago • Gorgonzola

Sauvignon Blanc is every 20-something’s choice at the bar, for good reason: It’s crisp, light, and refreshing. This wine is delicately flavored, so it’s best to opt for a cheese that matches its intensity.

Rather than aged, ultra-flavorful cheeses, we love milky, slightly sweet cheeses that are fairly young in maturity. Sauvignon Blanc and Wisconsin Brick are a match made in cheese-lover heaven. The acidity from the Sauvignon Blanc is just enough to balance out these rich butter cheeses.

Must-try Sauvignon Blanc and Cheese Pairings: Brick • Muenster • Gouda

Chardonnay: The word that springs to mind when someone mentions Chardonnay? Buttery. This unctuous, full-bodied white wine is one of the most popular choices across the country. With this wine, we recommend choosing a cheese that is complementary—like butterkäse, a rich, buttery cheese—or contradictory, like a dry, sharp aged Parmesan.

Must-try Chardonnay and Cheese Pairings: Butterkäse • Parmesan • Alpine-Style

Pinot Grigio, or Pinot Gris, originally hails from the Alsace region of France. Sweet, rich, and slightly spicy, this dry wine pairs well with creamier cheese varieties. We think it’s très belle with some fresh ‘ella. Mozzarella, that is.

Must-try Pinot Grigio and Cheese Pairings: Mozzarella • Feta • Cheddar

Pinot Blanc
: Dry, full-bodied, and bright, Pinot Blanc is—unsurprisingly—the lighter, more fun sister of Pinot Noir. It has all the makings of a great cheese pairing: crisp, refreshing, and acidic. Pinot Blanc pairs well with fresh cheeses that are soft, creamy, and oh-so-good. Nobody puts baby (Swiss) in the corner.

Must-try Pinot Blanc and Cheese Pairings: Gouda • Feta • Baby Swiss

Hungry and Thirsty for More?

Make your own cheese board: Check out these tips from Wisconsin Cheese for putting together a wine-inspired cheese board.

Attend Minnesota Monthly’s Food & Wine Experience: You can try a delicious selection of wine, cheese, and more in one spot at Minnesota Monthly’s Food & Wine Experience the weekend of March 3-5. The 28th annual event will be a sampling adventure where guests sip unique varietals of local, regional, and national wines; try specialty spirits, beers, and seltzers; and taste mouthwatering food. Click here for information and tickets.

Mary Subialka is the editor of Real Food and Drinks magazines, covering the flavorful world of food, wine, and spirits. She rarely meets a chicken she doesn’t like, and hopes that her son, who used to eat beets and Indian food as a preschooler, will one day again think of real food as more than something you need to eat before dessert and be inspired by his younger brother, who is now into trying new foods.