How to perfectly match cheese with wine (or beer or cider)

The famous combination is not necessarily a match made in heaven

T wo of my favourite things in life, as demonstrated by my figure, are dairy and drink. Being a little more specific, cheese and wine, although there is little I won’t drink or eat. On a Saturday or Sunday evening, I love nothing better than sitting down after dinner with the day’s newspapers, a glass of wine, a few morsels (actually a lot of morsels) of cheese, and possibly a few crackers. Sound familiar? Many readers have told me they do exactly the same. Yet the wine and cheese are certainly not always a match made in heaven. On my computer database, I still have the results of extensive tastings done back in 2009, when I worked my way through just about every Irish cheese available, and tried them out against nearly every style of wine, beer and cider. In some cases, beer and cider were far better, in others wine won out.

Soft creamy cheeses tend to go with acidic wines, and that really means white wines. Tannic red wines tend to go better with hard cheeses. Very powerful cheeses will kill most red wine; sweet or acidic whites are better, and fortified wines better still. For beers, the idea is similar; lighter more acidic beers go better with soft cheeses and more powerful cheeses need something more substantial.

Young goat’s cheese, either in salad or by itself, does go really well with Sauvignon Blanc and other crisp dry aromatic white wines. You can include most soft creamy cheeses, such as mozzarella, Toonsbridge, Triskel and Knockdrinna soft goat’s cheese in this category. You could try out any Sauvignon Blanc, including Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, as well as many other fresh crisp dry white wines; from Spain, think of Rueda, Albariño (or Alvarinho from Portugal) any of the southern Italian whites (Fiano, Verdicchio etc) or a Grüner Veltliner from Austria. If you don’t like white wines, try a rosé or a very light fruity red such as Beaujolais.

We instinctively think hard cheeses such as cheddar, manchego and parmesan go with red wine. Many times they do, but it can be a lot more complicated than that. Parmesan biscuits and gougères go brilliantly with Champagne and white burgundy. At a wine dinner in Ballymaloe House recently, I tried out the wonderful award-winning Coolatin with a glass of the dry madeira below. It worked really well, as would an LBV port or dry Oloroso sherry. Ploughman’s style lunches generally include cheddar with pickles or a relish, and here a cider (apples and cheddar are a great match) or an ale are certainly a better bet than any wine. I love sheep’s cheese, and buy either Ossau-Iraty, Cratloe Hills or Cáis na Tíre on a weekly basis. Happily, they all go really well with a huge variety of wines, red white and fortified, so my evening treat is always to hand. Blue cheese can be sublime with sweet wines and Oloroso sherry. Stout or porter work very well with blue cheese too; ramp up the power of the beer to match more pungent cheeses.


Brie, Camembert and other smellies, as they are known in my house, do cause problems. Avoid eating runny ripe cheeses with tannic reds such as Bordeaux – they really clash horribly. A fruitier wine, such as a Pinot Noir is a better bet, provided it has sufficient power. But I would go for a white wine, such as Chardonnay, Viognier, Pinot Gris or Alsace Riesling. Cider (camembert and cider both hail from Normandy) can work really well.

A plate of three or four different styles of cheese, accompanied by chutney, dried and fresh fruits, as served in most restaurants, is pretty well guaranteed to kill any wine other than the most powerful or fortified. Those clubby gentlemen sitting around the table with a glass of port, sherry or madeira to accompany their cheeses were onto something. In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy my sheep’s cheese or parmesan with whatever wine is left over from dinner.

Wilson on Wine 2016 by John Wilson is now available to buy from


Hunky Dory Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Marlborough
13%, €18.99
An enticing floral nose with plump green fruits. Goodwith fresh goat's cheese .
Stockists: Ardkeen; Carpenters; Blackrock Cellar; La Touche; No.21; O'Driscoll's; The Wine Centre

Libido 2013, Navarra

13.5%, €14.50

Gluggable and rounded but powerful enough to take on most cheeses and win. Lovely wine too.


Quintessential Wines, Drogheda

Gérard Bertrand Banyuls 2011

16.5%, €19.99

Delicious Christmas cake spice, orange zest and damsons. Perfect with all kinds of cheese.

Stockists: O’Briens