Most of the wine and cheese pairing tips I’ve shared so far may make it sound as though lovers of full-bodied red wines are out of luck when it comes to cheese. However, the longer a cheese ages and ripens, the higher its concentration of butterfat, the stronger its flavors become, and the greater likelihood it can hold its own against a robust red.
Hard cheeses, such as gruyère, cheddar, beaufort, and parmigiano become not just stronger but also more balanced in terms of their flavors, salt, and acidity. Their flavors even mimic some of those in mature, full-bodied reds, such as notes of earth, nuts, and coffee.
In fact, the harder the cheese, the more tannic the wine can be. Bordeaux, for instance, is the classic match for British-born cheddar. The wine’s aromas of dried herbs, cassis, and blackcurrants, is a traditional pairing for cheddar with its bracing tang and earthy notes.
Another cheese that can take a mature red is Parmigianino Reggiano, often dubbed “the king of cheeses.” It’s based on a recipe more than 700 years old, and is still made from unpasteurized skimmed milk, coaxed from cows grazing on the sweet grass and hay of the Italian Alps.
The stamp on the rind is a badge of authenticity: the premium grade of parmigiano is called stravecchio. The traditional match is Italian amarone. It’s dry wine but it has a concentrated raisiny, almost porty character because of the way it’s made: the grapes are dried in well-ventilated barns before fermentation. Also try Australian shiraz, with its peppery and black fruit aromas.
Other mature reds, such as Spanish rioja, Italian chianti or well-aged New World cabernets, have the necessary mellow aromas of leather, spice, dried herbs, coffee, and nutty aromas to complement robust hard cheeses like parmigiano and asiago.
And don’t forget the bubbly: both cheeses pair delightfully with a full-bodied sparkling wine, especially one that has toasty, yeasty aromas. For extra depth and richness, choose a bubbly that’s made mostly from pinot noir grapes (blanc de noirs) rather than chardonnay grapes.
Here are my reviews of wines to pair with cheddar and other hard cheeses.