Christmas is a time for feasting and one essential element of this seasonal over indulgence is the festive cheeseboard. A cheeseboard stacked with chunks of three or four different cheeses accompanied by a bunch of plump grapes and a few sticks of crunchy celery is usually a mouth watering sight to behold.
However, putting together a cheeseboard can cause a number of headaches for the host. The problem is not only deciding which cheeses to choose but also selecting which wine or wines to serve to complement the cheeses.
Excepting a few classic cheese and white wine combinations such as Roquefort and Sauternes, red wine is usually the safest bet to accompany a cheeseboard. However, even choosing a red wine can be a conundrum as the tannins in some reds clash horribly with some cheeses.
The key is to juggle your choice of cheeses and red wine to come up with the best compromise. Whilst a certain cheese might be said to make a wonderful pairing with a certain red wine, if that red wine is likely to clash with the rest of the cheeses you might have to settle for a different red which makes an adequate pairing instead. Alternatively, you could decide to offer only one cheese and serve it with a red wine which complements it perfectly. You’re the host; your guests are likely to be full of festive goodwill, so the choice is yours!
If you do decide to go for a cheeseboard selection accompanied by a single red wine then you should opt for a Rioja Gran Reserva. This is the closest you will get to a universal cheese red wine – it is a perfect match for many cheeses and a good complement to many others.
Cheeses which make a wonderful pairing with Rioja Gran Reserva include the British cheeses Caerphilly and Red Leicester as well as medium or mild Cheddar. Excellent pairings are also made with Boursault, a cream cheese from Northwest France; Cantal, a mild, semi-hard cheese from the Auvergne in France; Cave cheese, a piquant, semi-hard cheese from Denmark; Comte, a hard, relatively strong cheese from Northeast France; mature Gouda from the Netherlands; Mahon, a hard, fruity cheese from Menorca in Spain; Pont l’Eveque, a soft and pungent cheese from Northwest France and Vacheron Fribourgeois, a medium strong and semi-hard cheese from Switzerland.
There should be plenty of options amongst the list above to allow you to create a cheeseboard which could be eaten accompanied by a Rioja Gran Reserva. Alternatively, other cheese options which make an adequate pairing include Cheshire, Double Gloucester, Lancashire and Wensleydale from the UK as well as French Brie; Dutch Edam; hard goat’s cheese; Gruyere from Switzerland; Manchego, a hard and mild ewe’s milk cheese from Spain and Munster, a strong, soft cheese from Northeast France.
If you decide to offer just one cheese then your red wine options improve greatly. The star choice with a mature farmhouse Cheddar is the southern Italian red wine Salice Salentino. Other Italian red wines also work well with mature Cheddar including aged Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Rosso di Montalcino and Chianti Classico or Rufina. Also worth a try is a Ribera del Duero from Spain or a Zinfandel.
Brie and Camembert from northern France can be difficult to match well with a red wine. Many reds are too tannic for Brie and the mild taste of Camembert can be easily overwhelmed by a red wine. A mature Ribera del Duero is the best red wine match for Brie whilst Camembert makes a good pairing with Chianti or Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Port Salut, another cheese from northern France, is semi-soft and mild and can also be overpowered by many red wines. However, Valpolicella or Chianti from Italy make excellent matches and warm climate Cabernet Sauvignons are also good.
Blue cheese can be difficult to match with wines and any reds should be low in tannin. The Italian creamy blue cheese Cambozola makes a good match with Californian Zinfandel and Beaujolais Crus. Rioja Gran Reserva comes closest to a decent pairing with Dolcelatte whilst mature red Bordeaux makes a reasonable accompaniment for Gorgonzola. If you want Roquefort on your cheeseboard there are a few red wines which complement the cheese adequately including Zinfandel, mature red Bordeaux and Rioja Gran Reserva.
Don’t consider putting Danish Blue or Bleu d’Auvergne on a cheeseboard to be drunk with red wine.
Then we come to the king of Christmas cheeses – Stilton. The port and Stilton combination is a Christmas classic and with good reason. However, avoid any form of ruby port – Stilton is best accompanied by an aged tawny port. The saltiness of the Stilton and the nutty, creamy characteristics of tawny port are a match made in heaven. However, if you do want to drink red wine with your Stilton try a Cotes du Rhone, California Barbera or Chianti.
Image by Ewan-M.