The Foodie Guide to Pairing Wine & Cheese

This post is by guest blogger Sara Kahn, Founder of The Cheese Ambassador.

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Whether you are hosting a soiree or a casual get-together this holiday, your mission is to provide your guests with warm hospitality, lively conversation and a delectable spread of food and drink. Whether the menu is complicated or simple it better be delicious.

Serving a sumptuous gourmet cheese course is perfect as a starter or centerpiece of the meal. Not only is the preparation simple (no cooking!) but more importantly, your guests will enjoy discovering and savoring new favorites.

As a wine lover, you want to impress with the right pairings but the overwhelming selections of wine and cheese can make your head spin. Relax. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to choosing the right combinations of cheese and wine. Just keep in mind a few simple considerations.

A cheese course is about observing and enjoying contrasting and complementary flavors. For a foolproof gourmet cheese course, select 3–5 cheeses that vary in texture and flavor. Add some crusty bread, fresh or dried fruit, olives and nuts, and voila!

Remember, wines are meant to cleanse the palate, wash away the tongue-coating richness of the cheese and prepare your mouth for the next delicious bite. It’s important that your selections don’t overwhelm the cheese and vice versa. Essentially, you’ll want to match wine and cheese of the same intensity level. Just remember “like for like”.

Take a look at the gourmet cheese categories and wine recommendations below for guidance. You’ll see how easy it is to serve an elegant wine and cheese course. For best results, just add friends and family.

Fresh – These cheeses are not aged and usually are white and light in flavor, smooth and sometimes tangy. Try chevre (goat cheese), feta and smoked mozzarella.
Beverage Pairings – Acidic white wines stand up to the tang and milky flavors of fresh cheese. Try a Washington state Viognier or a lightly oaked Washington state Chardonnay with French goat cheese, Boutari (a white Greek wine produced on the island of Santorini) with Greek Feta and Pinot Grigio with mozzarella.

Bloomy – Encased in a whitish, edible rind, bloomy gourmet cheeses are often velvety, gooey with a mild flavor. Add Brie, Camembert or Pierre-Robert to the cheese board for a decadent treat.
Beverage Pairings – Seek out a carbonated beverage to refresh the mouth from the rich and creamy flavors. Traditionally, bloomy cheeses are served with French Champagne but also try Cava from Spain and Prosecco from Italy. (Readers, if you have any sparkling northwest wine faves, please let us know!)

Washed Rind – During the aging process, washed-rind cheeses are usually bathed in a brine or washed with liquor such as wine, beer or a spirits. It’s this brining process that gives the cheese an aromatic quality. Almost all have orange or reddish hued rinds. Not mild and not sharp, washed rind cheeses are full-flavored. Give Taleggio, Drunken Goat, and Epoisses a taste.
Beverage Pairings – The fruity and tannic flavors of Washington red wines work well with the stronger flavors of washed rind cheeses. Or try Italian reds such as Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino with Taleggio, a Spanish Rioja with the Drunken Goat and a Cabernet Sauvignon with Epoisses.

Semisoft – These supple cheeses are rich, creamy with stronger flavors. Fontina is herbal and nutty while Morbier offers sweetness with greater pungency.
Beverage Pairings – Sample these with light and fruity Washington reds or fruity whites.

Firm – Typically, firm cheeses are still pliable and packed with flavor. The best are a bit crumbly and aged for robust, nutty goodness. Cheddar, Gouda and Gruyere are crowd pleasers.
Beverage Pairings – A pint of English ale is the traditional beverage of choice for Cheddar but a Washington state Sauvignon Blanc is complex enough to complement. Gouda is great with a Washington Syrah and drink Beaujolais with Gruyere.

Hard – Hard cheeses are dry, crumbly and aged for intensity. Piave, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Aged Comte boast salty, caramelized, nutty flavors.
Beverage Pairings – You’ll find hearty wines can hold their own against these cheeses. Try a Washington state Barbera or Chianti with the Piave and Parmigiano and Washington Merlot with the Comte.

Blue – The bluish-green veins give blue cheese its punch. Listed from strong to strongest in pungency are creamy Gorgonzola, nutty Stilton and salty Roquefort.
Beverage Pairings – Intense gourmet cheeses like blues can be tamed with sweet dessert wines, liqueurs and even a fruity beer. Port and sherry are traditional blue libations. For a unique treat, try a raspberry-flavored beer like Belgian Lambic (look for Lindeman’s Framboise). All can be savored while lingering over dessert.

About Sara KahnEven though her passion for gourmet cheese was undying, Sara Kahn found shopping for it to be overwhelming, time consuming and confusing. She established The Cheese Ambassador to offer a simple way to select and serve the world’s finest cheeses. By providing the perfect combination of exquisite cheese along with a comprehensive cheese course guide, enjoying gourmet cheese is now a deliciously enriching experience.

Editor’s Note: Not only was Sara kind enough to offer her words of wisdom and recommendations for wine and cheese pairings in this guest blog post, she also offered to send me a cheese sample. If you know me, you know I love good cheese almost as much as I love a fine wine! How could I resist?

Thanks, Sara! I’ll stop by The Cheese Ambassador for the holidays!


Mark Your Calendars: Two Wine Events for Camp Goodtimes

Mark your calendars for Dec. 2 at the R.E. Welch Art Gallery in downtown Seattle to show your support for the Good Times Wine Auction  and Camp Goodtimes WestAppetizers will be paired with wines from two of our favorite Washington state wineries – William Church and Gilbert Cellars.

Hopefully it’s not too late to RSVP – call (425) 322-1142 to find out! This is  a wonderful, informal event sponsored by United Healthcare to connect wine lovers who want to make a difference in the life of a pediatric cancer patient.

It’s also a preview to the American Cancer Society’s 2010 Good Times Wine Auction on March 27, 2010 at The Harbor Club in Bellevue — where another favorite winery, Alexandria Nicole Cellars, will be featured.

This Good Times for Camp Goodtimes Wine Auction is one of the area’s premier black-tie events with a wine tasting, an elegant dinner, a spectacular auction and more.

For more information, please visit Good Times Wine Auction,  Camp Goodtimes West or you can also chat with Good Times Wine Auction on Twitter.


WA Wine Lovers in the Seattle Area – Listen Up!

If you love Washington wines and you live in the Seattle area, do yourself a favor and check out Full Pull Wines. This is a unique wine retailer — with good prices on fine Washington wines.

I first wrote about Full Pull Wines in September, and finally had an opportunity to stop by the warehouse in Seattle SODO’s district. It was a fantastic experience, which I highly recommend to Washington wine lovers.

How to find out more? First, go to the Full Pull Wines website, and you will see that their “list is currently open.”  Full Pull sells wine through a mailing list, using a one-offer-per-day model. Sign up to their mailing list, and you’ll start getting emails about some wonderful Washington wines. When you find wine that you want to purchase, order online, and then pick it up at the warehouse or have it shipped.

Each Full Pull offer contains two prices: regular retail price and a “Thursday pickup price.” If you agree to pick up your wines on Thursdays, you will not only receive the best pricing but will also be invited to sample other wines when you pick up your order.

I recently purchased a couple of bottles of the velvety 2005 Boudreaux Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon and picked them up on a Thursday at the Full Pull Wines warehouse. Owner Paul Zitarelli was pouring side-by-side tastings of Barbera, and there was a fun mystery taste too. Paul is knowledgable and friendly; he has good stories to share, and he likes to hear recommendations from visitors too. A few other people were there tasting at the same time, and it ended up being an enjoyable part of my afternoon.

It’s definitely a different way to purchase wines – and easy for Seattleites to order those favorites from central or eastern Washington. I’m thinking about buying some discounted wines there for holiday parties and as gifts.

If you want to know more, you can also follow Full Pull Wines on Twitter.


Drink This: Wine Made Simple

I just received a publisher’s advance copy of the book Drink This: Wine Made Simple and I can’t wait to read it. Yes, I received a free review copy, but quite frankly, I suspect I would have bought it when it’s released next week.

I deliberately used the word “suspect” because I haven’t read it yet — it literally just arrived in the mail. But the publicity from Random House makes me look forward to cracking it open.

Written by four-time James Beard award-winning food and wine writer, Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl, the book is described as having answers to questions such as “does price really equal quality?” and “why are some wines meant to age and others immediately drinkable?”

 “A down-to-earth guide that shows you how and why to stop being intimidated, educate and cultivate your own palate, gain the confidence to approach your local vintners or sommeliers when it’s decision-time, and be whatever kind of wine person you want to be.”

So this post is a heads up that I will be telling you more about this book as I read it in the days and weeks ahead – but if you don’t want to wait, check it out yourself. It might make a perfect gift for that person on your list who loves wine and wants to know more about it.


Nine Washington Wines Make Top 100

Wine Spectator just published its Top 100 wines for 2009, and the largest number (ever) of Washington wines made the list. It’s also the first time a Washington wine has been #1 — 2006 Columbia Crest Reserve Cabernet.

The Spectator‘s list is based on score, value (reflected by release price), availability and an “excitement” factor.  The list won’t be made generally available until Wednesday – but props to Seattle wine blogger Sean Sullivan for publishing the list today. For full details, along with Sean’s reviews of each wine, please check out his post at Washington Wine Report.

The Washington wines on the list are:

1. Columbia Crest Cabernet Sauvignon CV Reserve 2006 95pts $27

26. Cayuse Syrah Walla Walla Valley Cailloux Vineyard 2006 95pts $65

33. Novelty Hill Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2006 92pts $25

36. Efeste Syrah Red Mountain Ceidleigh 2006 93pts $29

38. Chateau Ste. Michelle Cabernet HHH Canoe Ridge Estate 2006 92pts $28

60. Spring Valley Uriah Walla Walla Valley 2006 93pts $50

66. Barnard Griffin Riesling Columbia Valley 2008 90pts $8

72. The Magnificent Wine Company Syrah Columbia Valley 2006 91pts $20

74. Waterbrook Cabernet Sauvignon CV Reserve 2006 91pts $22

Congratulations to Washington wines!


Experience William Church Winery and Enter a Contest

Experience a bottle of wine from William Church Winery and enter to win a great contest! This is one of the easiest contests I’ve ever seen!

First, you get to enjoy a bottle of William Church wine. If you don’t have one, go to the Woodinville winery and buy one – and if you mention this contest, your purchase is 10% off! Easy-peasy!

Second, create a wonderful experience when you open the bottle of wine. That’s easy too. Enjoy the bottle with a friend or family, savor the great taste and the great company …. maybe pair it with your favorite appetizer or meal. (You can take a photo, but you don’t have to do that for this contest.)

Third, write a few sentences about your experience in an email to That’s it – not an essay or a blog post or dozens of paragraphs. Just a few sentences … in an email! How easy is that?

Those three simple steps enter you into the contest – and the prize is amazing! A wine club membership for a year plus a private tasting for you and 10 of your friends. Nice!

The contest runs until January 16; the drawing for two lucky winners is Jan. 31. Now wouldn’t that be a nice way to start a new year?

And did I really say “easy-peasy?”


Love to Meet You Saturday!

My good friends at William Church Winery have asked me to be a “special guest” at their Woodinville tasting room on Saturday – I’ll talk about blogs and Twitter, and you can taste the new release of their fabulous Bishop’s Blend, along with delicious appetizers from Preservation Kitchen restaurant. You’ll also find holiday gift packs, 20% discounts, and William Church gear for holiday gifts.

And that’s not all – you can also enter their new contest (with some very cool prizes) – details are on their website.

The 2007 Bishop’s Blend is bound to be as popular as its predecessor, and at $19, you just can’t miss. The release party is from noon to 5 p.m. – and I’ll be there from 2-4 p.m. So please stop by and say hi on Nov. 14 at the William Church Winery in Woodinville!

More details at the websites for William Church Winery and Write for Wine.

Really hope you can stop by and meet me!


Come Meet Me at William Church Winery

If you’re anywhere near Woodinville next Saturday (Nov. 14), please stop by William Church Winery to meet me and to taste the new release of their fabulous Bishop’s Blend, along with delicious appetizers from Preservation Kitchen restaurant. You’ll also find holiday gift packs, 20% discounts, and William Church gear for holiday gifts.

The 2007 Bishop’s Blend is bound to be as popular as its predecessor, and at $19, you just can’t miss. As my friends Rod and Leslie at the William Church say, “Our goal with Bishop’s Blend is always to deliver flavors and complexity way beyond the $19 price.” I’ve tasted a pre-release and I can vouch for their success! Here are the tasting notes:

“Rich aromas of strawberry preserves are followed by tons of bright red fruit in this next vintage of Bishop’s Blend making it every bit as much of a bargain as the very popular 2006 vintage. With flavor and complexity found in much more expensive wines, it displays deep wild raspberry and cherry flavors along with smokey oak and mild tannins. Crafted to go with many different types of food, we’ve carefully blended 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot & 5% Syrah to create this all occasion wine.”

The release party is from noon to 5 p.m. – and I’ll be there from 2-4 p.m. to talk about Twitter, blogs and social media. So please stop by and say hi on Nov. 14 at the William Church Winery in Woodinville!

Hope to see you there!

Knockin’ at Heaven’s Cave

Whenever we visit Heaven’s Cave Cellars in Prosser, I start singing Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” because the wines are to die for. Yes, I know that sounds cheesy but seriously, Heaven’s Cave 2007 Two Degrees Barbera  is the best we have tasted in a long, long time. Besides, the grapes were grown in Horse Heaven Hills, after all.

Unlike its light-bodied Italian counterparts, this 100% Barbera is a warm, earthy, medium-bodied and well-balanced wine that is also rich and smooth. Heaven’s Cave Barbera is good enough to drink on its own, but it also pairs well with pizza, pasta, meaty tomato-based sauces or spicy sauces, and chicken parmesan.

When we were at the Prosser tasting room last month, we also enjoyed the smoky 2007 Purple Diamonds Tempranillo and 2003 Angel’s Blend – a well-balanced Bordeaux-style red table wine.

Keep your eye on Heaven’s Cave – it’s located near Alexandria Nicole Cellars, just as most of the grapes come from ANC’s Destiny Ridge Vineyard. This vineyard was recently reviewed (Oct. 13, 2009) by Wine Press Northwest

“There doesn’t seem to be a grape that Jarrod Boyle and Jose Luiz Yanez can’t grow on the [Destiny Ridge] slopes overlooking Crow Butte Park and the Columbia River.”

Must go drink some of that awesome Heaven’s Cave Barbera now!