Matching Alsace Wine With Cheese

Jean Meyer (far right) with his daughters Celine and Isabelle and MD & viticulturist Christophe Ehrhart Jean Meyer (far right) with his daughters Celine and Isabelle and MD & viticulturist Christophe Ehrhart

Some advice for members from Jean Meyer of Josmeyer

In January 2016, Alsace mourned the loss of a great ambassador in Jean Meyer, head of the house of Josmeyer. A true gastronome, he made wines that positively shine with food, and the precision he brought to matching the two was legendary. Not for him the 'great with chicken' route, and when it came to pairing the classic grapes of his beloved region with the hundreds of cheeses France has to offer, he was inspirational.

When we lose friends, it's a great comfort to turn to their letters and to read them again, so here is the one he sent us some years ago, packed with friendly advice for Society members. Even down to the bread!

Dear Friends

Many people believe that all wines and cheeses make easy partners, but that reds are best with the cheeseboard. I'd like to start by challenging those prejudices!

The fact is that very few things are more delicately balanced than the rapport between wine and cheese, because:

  • They are both natural products, one animal-based, the other vegetable
  • Both are defined by varietal influences, whether grape, cow, sheep or goat
  • Both bear the stamp of their terroir
  • Both are the products of fermentation
  • Both are complex personalities, which can harmonise or clash with each other
  • Both change with ageing, so that a young fromage frais is best with a wine of recent vintage while older, stronger varieties demand the complexity of bottle age

Josmeyer Riesling with cheese board

What is more, it has been independently established – not only by white wine producers such as ourselves! – that in 75% of cases, cheeses respond better to white wines than reds.

In terms of serving, I suggest that you limit your selection to just one cheese, or one "family" of cheeses with your chosen bottle, in order to appreciate to the full the cheese, the wine and the effect of the one upon the other.

The choice of bread should follow one simple rule – to accompany, rather than dominate the cheese and the wine. With young, fresh, soft or delicate cheeses, select plain, tasty, country breads like sourdough. A wholegrain bread, or oil-based loaf like ciabatta is better suited to sheep and goat's milk cheeses, while stronger cheeses call for fruit or nut breads.

Fondues of all kinds, and the charcuterie served with them, need a light, fresh, thirst-quenching wine, since its job is to lighten up this rustic dish, and make it more digestible.

Having said all that, let's now consider some possible pairings between our Alsace wines and cheeses:

Auxerrois/Pinot Blanc

Try a young, concentrated old-vine style from a ripe vintage like 1997 or 1998 with triple-crème cheeses (Brillat-Savarin, Explorateur or Vignotte). A tasty Saint-Nectaire will love a pinot blanc with bottle age, say a 1995 or 1993.

Muscat d'Alsace

A grand cru makes a superb match with young, fruity Comté.

Munster Cheese

Gewurztraminer

Choose a vendange tardive, from a great vintage, rich rather than very sweet, with Bleu de Bresse or Fourme d'Ambert for "un gout du paradis". A mature vintage like 1988 or 1989 makes a rich and sensual match with Epoisses and Munster, of course, is unthinkable without this great Alsace grape: a grand cru with some bottle-age would be unforgettable.

Pinot Gris

The drier styles work best here. Serve young, concentrated wines with soft, garlic or herb-flavoured cheeses like Boursin, and more mature wines with Gruyère or mature Gouda. Uncork a special ten-year old grand cru with Reblochon.

Riesling

A marvellous partner for goat's milk cheese. Match age with age, serving young, fruity wine with soft, fresh cheeses, and more mature, grander botttles with harder cheeses like an aged Crottin de Chavignol. A rich grand cru is recommended with a rustic brébis or sheep's milk cheese, while a drier version of the same, with Comté and Beaufort, is perfection. A ten-year-old, late-harvest riesling sings with young, whole Parmesan.

Pinot Noir

Try a really ripe, well-bred example with Brie de Meaux, and a younger, delicately fruity wine with Camembert. Both these cheeses adore pinot noir.

Bon Appétit!

Jean Meyer - 2011

View Josmeyer Wines >

More thoughts on cheese and wine matching, from:

Society buyer Marcel Orford-Williams >

Food for Thought columnist Janet Wynne Evans >

Journalist and cheese connoisseur, Terry Kirby >

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