We all have that mental image of a cheese board piled high with cheese and accouterments. What’s missing from that tasty mirage? A drink pairing of course. If your first pick would be a bold glass of red wine at your side, then you’ve come to the right place.
This guide will cover the basics of pairing red wine with cheese as well as some of our favorite red wine and cheese matches for you to try. We also interviewed award-winning food and drink author, cheese pairing expert, and fellow Wisconsin cheese lover Jeanette Hurt, so you know everything you’re reading is cheese lover certified.
The Basics of Red Wine and Cheese Pairing
You might be wondering if pairing cheese with red wine is any different than white wine. The short answer? Yes. But, there’s more to it than that. Let’s give you a quick primer on the differences between red and white wine before we get to the important part: cheese pairing.
How Are Red and White Wines Different?
On the simplest level, it comes down to the grapes. Red wine is generally made with dark, black, or blue grapes while white wines are made with light, pink, or white grapes. There are exceptions to this, but this is a gouda rule of thumb. The differences don’t stop there, though. Once picked, the winemaking process for red and white 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 skins 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 are quite important to consider when pairing red wine with cheese, as we’ll discuss next.
Tannins and Cheese Pairing
What exactly are tannins? Jeanette put it well, “If you bite into a tea bag, or the skin of an apple, that astringent bitterness you taste—that’s a tannin.”
While tannins are part of what gives red wine their distinct character, they can be challenging to pair with cheese as Jeanette explains.
Tannins can clash with the creaminess of cheese if you don’t pair them right.
In practice, what this means is that we generally recommend sticking with lighter reds with fewer tannins, unless you are pairing with equally strong cheeses.
Fruit is Your Friend
Just like we talked about in our beginner’s guide to cheese pairing, matching the strength of your wine to your cheese is a key step in finding your perfect pairing.
For red wine, this is particularly important since many varieties of red like cabernet sauvignon or malbec can overpower the flavor of delicate cheeses.
Instead, you can opt for fruit-forward and mild reds like a pinot noir or Beaujolais that are generally more appropriate for these subtle cheeses.
Our Favorite Red Wines for Cheese Pairing
Named after the region in France they were first grown in, Beaujolais wines are light-bodied and low in tannins while still packing plenty of tart, fruity acidity—exactly what you want for cheese pairing. If you’re in a pinch, this is our overall top pick for red wine and cheese pairing.
Must-try Beaujolais and Cheese Pairings:
Another cheese pairing favorite from Jeanette is a light to medium-bodied pinot noir. Pinots are generally slightly higher in tannins and fruitier compared to a Beaujolais making it a versatile wine that goes well with variety of your favorite cheeses.
Must-try Pinot Noir and Cheese Pairings:
Looking for a bolder red that still pairs well with cheese? Look no further than a cabernet franc. This medium-bodied red is loaded with notes of fresh pepper, plum, and berries with enough acidity to balance salty, fresh cheeses like feta.
Must-try Cabernet Franc and Cheese Pairings:
Pairing full-bodied wines like cabernet sauvignon or syrah can be difficult for cheese lovers. Jeanette put it best, “The more tannins a wine has, the more challenging it is to pair.”
That doesn’t mean it can’t be done though! If you’re eager to have some cheese alongside your bold bottle of cabernet sauvignon, we recommend choosing strong, hardy cheeses like an 8- or 10-year aged cheddar. Nutty aged cheeses can better balance the strong oaky finish that cabernet sauvignon is known for.
Must-try Cabernet Sauvignon and Cheese Pairings:
Answer All Your Cheese Pairing Questions
Ready to learn more about cheese pairing? We’ve covered everything you need to know about pairing cheese with wine, food, beer, and more. Start with our beginner’s guide or just dive into whatever topic suits your fancy. Explore a world of cheese pairing at your fingertips.
Wine and Cheese Pairing
Liquor and Cheese Pairing
Cheese Board Essentials
Flex your cheese pairing muscles and get creative, or try one of our cheese board recipes, like this Summertime Cheese Board or this Sweet and Savory Brunch Cheese Board. If you want to cook a full meal try our selection of over 300 handcrafted recipes featuring Wisconsin Cheese. Share your creation with us on Instagram or Facebook and become part of the largest cheese community in the world.
Want to make cheese pairing even easier? You can plan your cheese board ahead of time and get your favorite Wisconsin cheeses delivered right to your door with our continuously updated list of cheesemakers and retailers that allow you to order cheese online. Award-winning Wisconsin cheese is just a click away.
What cheese is good with red wine?
Red wines play well with bold, hearty, and aged cheeses like cheddar or gouda. These cheeses can stand up to the extra tannins red wine has, compared to white wine. If you’d like to pair more delicate cheeses like baby swiss or even a light creamy blue, pick a light to medium-bodied red wine like a Beaujolais or pinot noir.
Does red wine and cheese pair well?
Absolutely! Pairing red wine with cheese can take a little more consideration compared to white wine, but there are still plenty of perfect pairings to be found. We recommend choosing light red wines that are lower in tannins. Here are our top three red wines for cheese pairing:
What cheeses go with cabernet sauvignon?
A cabernet sauvignon goes best with hard aged cheeses that pack their own intense flavor to match the oaky finish and high tannins of this full-bodied red. Try an aged cheddar, swiss, or a Wisconsin favorite like Roth Private Reserve.