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Red Wine: A Challenging but Worthwhile Cheese Partner

a close up of a glass of red wine

Most people have the romantic notion of a large goblet of red wine being savored alongside beloved cheeses. Though this provides a lovely visual, in fact, red wine can be a very challenging pair for most cheeses. Why?

1) Red wines have tannins. Tannins are compounds derived from the seeds, skins, and stems of grapes. Through all grapes have tannins, red wines hang out with their skins a lot longer than white wines, so more of the tannins are transferred to the juice. Tannins give red wine extra complexity and texture (they are what create a feeling of dryness on the tongue). However, tannins bind to the same taste receptors as foods like cheese, blocking other flavors instead of enhancing them.

2. Red wines have big flavor. Don't get me wrong—I love big flavor, but when pairing wine with cheeses, some of which can be quite delicate, the last thing I want is "big red wine" to dominate my palate.

3. Red wines have lower acid. No, not ALL red wines (this is why Italian wines, typically higher in acid, are wonderful food wines). But as a whole, red wines have lower acid than "crisp" whites. Acid is what cleanses the palate, making each bite taste like the first. Without much acid, the palate gets "clogged" with other flavors, dulling the overall experience.

Some Tips! Though a bit more challenging to pair with cheese, red wines can be worth the effort. Their added complexity can make for dynamic and surprising combinations, and they do a wonderful job of standing up to bold aged, blue, and washed rind cheeses. My general recommendation is to go for lighter reds with lower tannins and higher acid. Wines like Pinot Noir, Barbera, and Grenache are fantastic food wines.

And remember my biggest piece of pairing advice: Good Cheese + Good Wine = Good Times. Don't get too hung up on the perfect pair and just enjoy the ride!