Food, Wine

The Cheese Board Challenge

Up your board game: Judging by social media, cheese boards are the newest competitive sport. On Instagram especially, people are posting amazingly artful compositions, with rivers of berries, curls of coppa and ramekins of olives or jam. Cheese is so fun to share and what’s cheese without wine? Less fun, certainly.

cheese and wine

At holiday time, within your friends-and-family bubble, why not try your own hand at creating a cheesy masterpiece? Perk it up with pickles, crackers, nuts, honey, dates or fresh seasonal fruit. Aim for contrasts of flavor, color, shape, pattern, and texture. To make it a virtual party, challenge your friends to do the same, then meet up virtually to show off your genius cheese-board ideas. Everybody’s a winner! Open a compatible bottle of California wine and you can chat, sip, and snack until your cheesy tableau is history.

Artisan cheeses, like fine wines, reflect the place where they are made. Landscape and climate determine which dairy animals will thrive in a region, the diversity of the pasture and that signature “taste of place.” Experts say that you can give the same recipe to four cheesemakers and you will get back four different cheeses. (In fact, three East Coast cheesemakers are exploring this theory in the so-called Cornerstone Project.) Winemakers and cheesemakers are both students of terroir, trying to decipher and then highlight the distinctive flavors of their place. No wonder both products can keep us captivated for a lifetime.

grapes in hands

Helping California Wildfire Recovery

California has experienced a record-setting wildfire season this year. While 20 or so wineries of the 4,200 in California have been damaged by the fires, the lives and livelihoods of many have been disrupted. Humanitarian organizations have stepped up to address immediate needs for food, shelter, and clothing, but the demand is ongoing, and these philanthropies need support. If you are looking for an opportunity to help, please consult these Wine Spectator and Wine Institute lists of charitable organizations that are raising funds to support local winegrowing communities. And don’t forget, you can also support wineries by joining wine clubs and purchasing California wines.

The Pour

Which Wine?

To start a lively debate, ask a group of somms whether white wine or red wine goes better with cheese. As with most matters of taste, it depends. Are you having the cheese at the start of the evening, when you might enjoy it most with sparkling wine, Chardonnay, or Sauvignon Blanc? Or are you serving it at the end of the meal, when a glass of Zinfandel or dessert wine would be more appealing? As a rule of thumb, focus on matching intensities, pairing a young, delicate white wine with a light, fresh cheese and reserving your biggest red wines for mature cheeses with concentrated flavor.

Wine Meets Cheese

Up your cheese board game with these expert suggestions for pairings with some of California’s most popular wines. Not sure what cheeses play well with your favorite Chardonnay, Zinfandel, or Cabernet Sauvignon? Now you know.

Wine Meets Cheese



Wine and cheese pairings

Chardonnay is California’s most popular white wine, for good reason. It has a creamy texture, abundant fruit aromas—think pear and apple, with a squeeze of lemon—and often a toasty or vanilla note from barrel fermentation.



Zinfandel cheese pairing
Zinfandel is zesty, bold, rich in fruit, and long associated with sunny California. The grapes need to be quite ripe before harvest to yield their signature fruit-forward character and spicy aroma, so Zinfandel wines can often be full-bodied.



Cabernet cheese pairing
California Cabernet Sauvignon is renowned for its elegance, tannic structure, and ageability. Most Cabernet Sauvignon is barrel aged, contributing complexity and spice.



  • Triple-cream cheese: These cream-enriched, high-fat cow’s milk cheeses have a texture like whipped frosting and a luxurious richness that work well with Chardonnay’s plush, rounded mouthfeel.


  • Brie: This semisoft cow’s milk cheese has a buttery, spreadable texture and mushroom scent. A velvety Chardonnay complements that supple, spreadable interior and the Brie doesn’t overwhelm the wine.


  • Monterey Jack: California’s iconic table cheese is mild, mellow, and a great melter. Try it on a grilled cheese sandwich with a glass of Chardonnay. The wine’s acidity and minerality help balance the buttery sandwich.


  • Hot pepper jack: An everyday cheese with some sass and spice makes a fun pairing for a peppery Zinfandel. Make quesadillas or mac-and-cheese with hot pepper jack, and Zinfandel will be just the right lively match.


  • Aged Gouda: Matured for six months or more, cow’s milk Gouda develops butterscotch aromas and a salted-caramel flavor (although the cheese doesn’t have a speck of sugar). A powerful Zinfandel with its ripe blackberry jam scent has the strength for that seeming sweetness.


  • Smoked Cheddar: Put a lightly smoked Cheddar on a charcuterie or antipasto platter and open a fruity, medium-weight Zinfandel. Give the wine a quick chill—maybe 15 minutes in the fridge—to brighten its fruity notes and make it a refreshing counterpoint to the smoky Cheddar.


  • Camembert: Similar to Brie but smaller, Camembert is the perfect size for four people to share with a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. A ripe Camembert has a big beefy aroma, with notes of mushroom and garlic. It can stand up to the deep flavor and tannic strength of Cabernet Sauvignon.


  • Cheddar: An aged Cheddar has a creamy-yet-crumbly texture, layers of flavor that unfold slowly, and a vivid tang. Seek out a clothbound (also known as bandage-wrapped) Cheddar for maximum complexity and compatibility with a fine California Cabernet Sauvignon.


  • Dry jack: The extra-aged version of a Monterey jack is firm, complex, and deeply nutty. It needs a concentrated red wine such as Cabernet Sauvignon to match it in strength.

Recommended Pairings

California Chardonnay, California Zinfandel, California Cabernet Sauvignon

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