We all know that cheese and wine are an essential part of the French diet. But you may have noticed that while some French red wines and cheeses are a match made in heaven, others can leave your mouth feeling sticky or even create a weird metallic taste. This is why experts often advise us to stick to sparkling wines or white wines when you’re planning a cheese and wine pairing.
But what if you really like red wines? Well, you can rest assured that the French do drink red wine with cheese. In fact, thanks to a long and noble history of enjoying the pleasures of the table, French red wines are very gastronomic and pair flawlessly with French food. You just need to follow a few simple rules.
- Soften Tannins with Fat
If you love rich reds from the Rhone Valley or a bold red Bordeaux, stick to aged cheeses. Much like what happens when you dry grapes to make raisins, as cheeses age they lose water and become much more concentrated in flavour.
This drying effect also gives an increased fat content which is awesome for soaking up the tannins in heavy red wines and making the wine seem much smoother on your palate. Excellent choices would be aged Comté, Cantal from the Auvergne region of central France or Tomme de Savoie which are all cow milk cheeses. These types of French red wines and cheeses make a beautiful pairing as the cheese softens the wine and the wine balances the strong flavour of the cheese.
2. Think About Regional Pairings
Often wines and cheeses that hail from the same region work exceptionally well together. When you think about it, this shouldn’t come as a surprise given that regional wines and cheeses have been consumed together by local people for generations. It is logical that wine growers and cheesemakers tweaked their recipes over the centuries to create a more satisfying pairing.
Combinations worth trying include fresh Loire Valley goat cheeses paired with Cabernet Franc from Chinon or Bourgueil. Stick to Cabernet Francs with low tannins and freshness to avoid overpowering the delicate, grassy cheese.
Another classic local double act is red Burgundy with the stinky Epoisses cow milk cheese. The rind of this unusual cheese is washed with Marc de Bourgogne brandy and it can be very powerful. In this case it’s best to look for younger cheeses so you don’t overwhelm the wine!
- Try Fruity French Reds with Creamy Cheeses
If you love creamy cheeses like Brie and Camembert, try pairing them with fruity reds like Beaujolais or an elegant red Burgundy. The key here is to choose wines that have a decent acidity or freshness to help cut through the creaminess of the cheese and cleanse your palate ready for the next bite.
Try to avoid very tannic red wines as these can clash with the creamy character of the cheese and leave an unpleasant sticky or grainy sensation in your mouth.
- Think About Intensity
To really appreciate the flavours of the wine and the cheese you’re tasting, you want them to harmonise in your mouth. If you combine a very strong cheese with a light, delicate wine, the powerful character of the cheese will dominate and overwhelm the wine.
To get the right balance, combine lighter wines with less intense cheeses and more intense cheeses with bolder wines. First determine the type of cheese you want to serve; in order of intensity, the four main styles are mild fresh cheeses, semi-soft creamy cheeses, hard cheeses which are often aged and salty blue cheeses which can be very pungent! Then choose a wine that matches your cheese; try lighter, fresher French reds with lower tannins like Beaujolais for young, creamy cheeses and more complex, heavier reds with hard cheeses.
When you’re buying cheese it’s always a good idea to ask to taste before you purchase if possible. That way you can check the intensity and make sure you actually like the taste! For this reason the best places to purchase cheese are markets, dedicated cheese shops or supermarkets with a cheese counter and knowledgeable staff.
- Be Careful with Blue!
French blue cheeses don’t get on very well with red wines. Of all the styles of cheeses, this one is the trickiest to pair due to those pungent, funky flavours. Over in France sommeliers usually recommend accompanying Roquefort or Saint Agur with a rich Sauternes dessert wine as the sweetness provides a sensational contrast to the salty blue cheese.
But don’t despair if you love blue cheese. Do as the French do and stick to bold, fruity reds with enough personality to stand up to the cheese. This probably isn’t the moment to bring out that delicate red Burgundy you’ve been holding in your cellar for years.
For a milder blue like Bleu d’Auvergne, a cow milk cheese from the volcanic Auvergne region of central France, try combining with a powerful Rhone Valley red. If you prefer more pungent blues like a strong Roquefort or Saint Agur, experiment with red Bordeaux which is a traditional partner for blue cheese in France. Or try a regional pairing by combining Roquefort with reds from the Languedoc. By law Roquefort must be made in a tiny village nestled beneath the dramatic rock of Combalou.
According to local legend, the method of making this now world-famous cheese was discovered centuries ago by a local shepherd who hastily left his meal of rye bread and fresh sheep milk curds in a cave as he ran off to pursue a beautiful shepherdess. When he returned a few days later after a fruitless search, everything was covered in mold. Being famished, he ate the cheese anyway and discovered the incredible flavours of Roquefort!
- Break the Rules
And finally, feel free to break the rules! Although these guidelines can help you find satisfying pairings, there’s no substitute for doing your own experimentation with French red wines and cheeses to learn what you like. Just like how some people have an intense hatred for capers or licorice, we all have different preferences and tastes when it comes to pairing wine and cheese.
It may be that you just love to pair stinky blue Roquefort with a bold Chateauneuf-du-Pape while your partner thinks it’s disgusting! A fun way to find out which combinations you like is by holding a wine and cheese evening with friends where you can all experiment and see which work the best for your unique palate.
Has this whetted your appetite to learn more about French wine? We’re here to help! Why not check out our French wine club. Every three months we send direct to your door three or six bottles of boutique French wines which have been carefully selected by wine experts in France along with detailed information about each wine and food pairing ideas to help you really discover French wine. And as if that wasn’t enough, we also have a wine club gift option for that special wine lover in your life!