Special thanks to the architects of these extraordinary pairings, Kasey Ramsey and The Vineyard in McLean, VA. Her tasting notes are woven in with ours.
Wine and cheese are a proverbial match made in heaven, but are sadly often thought of as the domain of the snooty, flavor combinations out of reach of the amateur social host. Not so, and our mission here is to help you figure out how with the help of the staff at The Vineyard wine shop in McLean, VA. We've selected five generic pairing combinations, and have made specific wine recommendations with each. Don't worry, though, the idea here is to get you pointed in the right direction so that similar wines available at your local wine shop will do nicely. Shoot for $12 to $20 per bottle range and you'll be hard pressed to go wrong.
Sparkling wine a sweeter yet delicate cubed cheese
Let's start simply. Ask your local cheese purveyor for a medium cheese that's going to be sweeter yet delicate. Pair it with a sparkling wine, in our case the 100% Chenin Blanc "Bove", which was full and frothy with some almond, fig, and pear flavors. We found it to have a nice cool nose that really flowed over you when combined with simply cubed cheese. It was all delightfully soft to make a great appetizer. A bit of knowledge on sparkling wine: All but the very best in the very best years are not blessed with a vintage (year designation), so "NV" for "Non Vintage" is rather common, and not an indicator of subpar quality.
Viognier with Brie
French or Virginia Viognier will work well in this pairing. The 2014 Paradou Viognier was fresh and balanced with notes of citrus lemon and white fruit. We also found a floral nose, pear, and dried mango. It was elegant and creamy with the soft cheese. Nice combination of a classic French wine with a classic French gooey cheese. Serve it on very mild crackers.
Alsatian Pinot Gris with Fondue
The Gewurztraminer from Alsace, France is one of our favorite whites on the planet, but this pairing demands something something else. The Pinot Gris white wine from the same region is often a bit heartier and more flavorful than Pinot Gris from elsewhere, and carries that same "minerality" (literally a slate feeling on your tongue) of the Gewurtz. The 2014 Blanck Pinot Gris that we tried featured notes of apple and pear with a dollup of honey; it was thick, but not viscous. The fondue was a vintage cheddar and Fontina (cow's milk cheese with a mild nutty flavor). Brilliant!
Rioja with Aged Gouda Mac and Cheese
Gouda loves hearty yet not overwhelming reds, and Spain's top tier Rioja winemaking region should do the trick. We paired with the 2011 Izadi Rioja Reserva (previous vintages have been spectacular!), whose smoky nature with hints of vanilla and spice played really well with the cheese. Shave some aged gouda into your mac and taste how nicely it goes with the medium body dark berry notes characteristic of so many bottles coming out of Rioja.
Zinfandel with Grilled Cheese
Make your big splash at the end with a big red California Zinfandel. Zins are great in this pairing because they've got all the body to stand up to the blunt (yet delicious) instrument that is grilled cheese. In this case we tasted the nicely balanced 2012 McCay Cellars from Lodi (sadly we don't have a label picture). Lodi tends to be so hot that the action on the sugar sends the alcohol content through the roof. The cheese of choice here was the Midnight Moon, a dense and smooth goat's milk that is nutty and brown buttery with a long caramel finish. A splendid entree that will mix the nostalgia of childhood with the sophistication that you're seeking in a wine pairing!