There is a notion that wine and cheese make perfect partners. The truth is that many cheeses, especially strong and creamy cheese, can kill the taste of wine. A rule of thumb – the harder the cheese the more it can cope with the tannins of red wine, the creamier the cheese the more it needs acidity to cut through.
Cheeses can be grouped into five categories:
1. Hard cheeses (Cheddar, Gruyère, Parmesan, Manchego, Gouda, Cantal etc...)
These go well with reds (Cheddars and Gouda especially). Cheddar is the perfect foil for good Claret. Cantal from the Auvergne would also go well with Claret, St. Emilion rather than Médoc, or alternatively young Burgundy or Rhône. Manchego goes well with Sherry especially a dry Amontillado or Oloroso while the Gruyère style is better with white wine from Savoy or the Jura; old Comté or better still Beaufort, the most aristocratic cheeses from the Jura are at their best with the rare and expensive Château Chalon or other Vins Jaunes. Parmesan also goes well with a nutty Sherry or a full-flavoured Italian red.
2. Blue cheeses
These go well with fortified wines like Tawny Port, old Oloroso or Amontillado Sherry or Madeira. Roquefort works with mature Sauternes; some young, gutsy fruity reds can go well – Marcillac for example goes well with Roquefort. But for the most part, good red wine is killed stone dead by blue cheeses.
3. Goat's cheese and soft crumbly cheese such as Feta, Lancashire, Caerphilly
Sauvignons from the Loire Valley (Sancerre, Cheverny, Pouilly-Fumé), or a top New Zealand, South American or South African version. Loire Chenin, Chablis, dry white Bordeaux, English dry white, e.g. Midsummer Hill.
4. Brie and Camembert
Mâcon-Villages, Chablis or Sauvignon for young cheese. More mature versions might go better with earthy Burgundy like Santenay or Côtes Chalonnaise reds or unoaked sweet whites like Loire Côteaux du Layon, Vouvray or sweet Jurançon.
5. Orange-skinned, soft cheeses such as Epoisses, Maroilles, Carré de l'Est, Livarot, Pont l'Eveque, Reblochon, St.Nectaire, Tomme de Savoie, Munster
In other words a standard French cheeseboard and death to any fine red that may be left. These are all relatively creamy and rich and tending towards the powerful! Young acidic reds from the South West, the Loire, Portugal or Gamay from the Ardèche or Côtes Roannaises might work, otherwise these wines are best served with strong whites. Try Côte d'Or whites, Rioja or maybe an old Vouvray or Montlouis moelleux or Quarts de Chaume. Best of all is Alsace Gewurztraminer up to Vendange Tardive level (especially with Munster).