Why You Should Drink White Wine with Cheese

white wine & cheese

Some time last year, I pretty much stopped buying red wine. France was always la France, feminine, and I find white wines much more nuanced and interesting, like women. Whereas (depending upon where you live) men are tough and brutal. And in my own special way of reasoning the unreasonable, the longer I lived here the more I found myself gravitating toward the lighter, cleaner flavors of the vins blancs of la France. I also realized that I felt better when I woke up the next day if I stuck to whites. And since I have to wake at least once a day, that’s a reasonable consideration.

white wine bleu cheese

There’s the old adage about “if it grows together it goes together” and keeping in line with the French concept of terroir (roughly: shared territory), something like a Selles-sur-Cher, a tangy, yet delicate goat cheese from the Loire goes quite nicely with brisk Sancerre, Muscadet, or a Sauvignon blanc. Which, by no coincidence, come from the same region. Slightly pungent Langres from Burgundy partners well with bracing Chablis or unoaked French chardonnay. The milky-creamy cheese is rich enough; no need to blast your palate with a full-on red. (Although I’m wondering if my argument reached its first hole since some people are more concerned with the wine rather than the cheese. So I guess I’m not one of them.)

I’ll also concede that some of it depends on personal preference, yet I’m weary of the dogma that only red wine goes with cheese—and that’s that. If you like red wine with your cheese. Well then, by all means, drink red wine.

Yet try a strong blue cheese, including musty Bleu de Termignon, and you’ll find a spot-on pairing is a slightly fruity or spicy wines from Alsace, such as Riesling or Gewürtztraminer, or Graves, from Bordeaux. A droopy round Mont d’Or? An abrupt red wine would kill any of the sublime milkiness of this very special cheese. So I reason with you, please, give white a chance.

Even if you don’t eat much French cheese, think about it: What kind of twisted mind serves a grilled cheese sandwich with anything but Fumé blanc or Pinot grigio? (Or beer, and that’s not red either.) But lest you think I’m some sort of reverse snob—although I’ve been accused of worse—a gorgeous, syrupy Sauternes with Roquefort? Holy mother-of-all-the-most-amazing food-and-wine combinations.

goat cheese

There’s an odd prejudice globally I encounter that red wine is somehow more sophisticated than white wine. Phooey. Some of that probably has to do with all the swirling in oversized glasses and people tossing out names like Burgundy and Bordeaux. And while there are a lot of very fine wines from those places, just because the bottle says “Bordeaux”, doesn’t mean the wine is any good. You can get a cheap bottle of wine labeled Bordeaux for around 2 bucks in any French supermarket and they’re undrinkable. Even for a snob renversé like me.

tomme white wine

I was in a café the other day and talking to the waiter who scoffed when I said that white wine went better with cheese. He shook his head, wagged his finger, and said, “Pas de tout! Le vin rouge est obligatoire avec le fromage..” So I responded with an inquiry; “Alors…what about vin de Jura (white wine) with Comté?” which is the most natural pairing in the world, and one that even the most assured French waiter can’t talk himself out of.

“Mais oui!…Bien sûr, monsieur…” he eagerly concurred.

Selles-sur-Cher cheese

If I can convince a Parisian waiter, you should be convinced as well. And any final hold-outs would agree that Champagne goes with everything. So next time a waiter or someone else tries to foist a hearty, viscous glass of red at you with a cheese course, feel free to ask for white instead. You have my permission. Now pass the Sauvignon blanc…


101 comments

  • Such a refreshing read. I’ve always been a fan of the white wine pairing, especially with cheese, when the rest of the world tends to pair red. Especially when white wine is served at the correct temperature (i.e. not too cold as in most restaurants in the states), the nuances really complement and enhance various cheese selections. White wine and cheese, a perfect starter, entrée and dessert. Fantastic post, as per usual.