Perhaps one of the greatest joys of a good Christmas party is a cheese platter with some tasty wines on hand. Sure, you don’t get quite the same thrill from wine as whiskey, but pairing wine and cheese is a party flex we should all be able to pull off at this stage in our lives. It shows thought and refinement and allows you to up your game in two culinary fields.
Plus, you get to eat cheese and drink wine. There are few better gastronomic pairings in the world.
But what makes for great wine and cheese pairings this time of year? If we’re talking about a Christmas party, then it’s important to keep things light and fun. You don’t want to bog people down with too many heavy wines and cheeses sure to lead to a food coma. Think light and fruity wines with sharp and aged cheeses, plus a few funky ones (on both sides of the pairing) thrown in for good measure. Add in some freshly-cracked nuts and citrus fruits and you’ve got a party on your hands.
The ten bottles and cheeses below stretch from whites to rosés to reds. We even threw in one bubbly. We tried to keep the price tag for these wines very affordable, while still making sure they’re highly drinkable. Of course, you can pull more expensive versions of these bottles but … you don’t always need to break the bank. The cheeses are classic pairing options for each varietal. Our suggestion would be to find a local creamery and buy from them.
Support your neighbors. It’s the holiday season after all.
AMITY VINEYARDS 2018 PINOT BLANC (Oregon)
The Wine: Oregon’s Amity Vineyards in the Willamette Valley has been dropping quality bottles of wine since 1974. This bottle was birthed from 100 percent Pinot Blanc grapes grown at the Eola-Amity Hills vineyard. It was cellared in stainless steel (80 percent). The remaining 20 percent was barrel fermented and aged “sur lie” (with leftover yeasts) in the French tradition.
Tasting Notes: This is a bright wine that opens with a rush of fruit. Pear orchards and fresh lemons lead the way. There’s a sense of fresh melon. The lemon leans into a lemon curd fullness as a hint of spice lurks in the background.
The Cheese: AGED GOUDA
This is where you go big. A standard gouda will be creamy to the point of unsalted butter — it’ll disappear pretty quickly against any wine. Aged gouda is a crumbly and yellow sharp counterpoint to anything light and fruity. There’s a clear nutty depth with notes of butterscotch and even caramel. There’s also a fine ripeness at play that’s never pungent.
CHATEAU STE MICHELLE 2017 DRY RIESLING (Washington)
The Wine: This Washington wine from the Columbia Valley has become the standard-bearer for American riesling. The 2017 grapes went through a longer ripening season due to cooler temperatures. This helped preserve the sugars and acids in the fruit, making for a more versatile harvest.
Tasting Notes: The wine opens with a high-desert fruit orchard feel. There’s a sense of orange and even clementine citrus that leans into an acidic note. The dryness of the cool-fermentation comes through with a crisp and fruit-forward finish.
The Cheese: MUNSTER
This soft cow’s milk cheese from Alsace bridges French and German cheese-making skills into a buttery masterpiece. The cheese will have a slightly funky aroma to it that’s never overwhelming. That aroma is a pathway to a savory, buttery, and tangy cheese that works wonders with a sweet citrus pairing.
SONOMA-CUTRER RUSSIAN RIVER RANCH 2017 CHARDONNAY (California)
The Wine: We’re getting into the big leagues with this classic California chardonnay. Sonoma-Cutrer takes its time when growing and fermenting their fruit. This vintage also was the first after years of drought in Sonoma and benefitted from plenty of rain. The hand-harvested grapes of 2017 are considered some of the best in years.
Tasting Notes: You’re greeted with fruits and florals. There’s a rush of fresh and tart apples next to orange blossoms. The oak comes through with a light spice and a hint of hazelnut. There’s a creamy — almost buttery — nature that’s cut by bright citrus in the background tying the sip together.
The Cheese: CAMEMBERT
At times, camembert can feel like a blank canvas that a bottle of great wine can straight-up Jackson Pollack. The soft cow’s milk cheese has a runny texture that leans towards uber creamy with a slight barnyard funk and tang. There’s a sweetness at play here that’s the perfect accompaniment to fruit. Grassy notes carry the cheese along as that runny creaminess creates a luscious mouthfeel.
CHARLES & CHARLES 2017 ROSE (Washington)
The Wine: Charles Bieler and Charles Smith partnered with Trinchero Family Estates to create a very accessible line of wines from Washington state. Their 2017 rose is a Syrah focused wine (67 percent) that blends the best elements of Columbia Valley’s terroir and vines into a quaffable bottle of salmon pink wine.
Tasting Notes: Florals and fruits collide in this bottle. Tart raspberry and ripe cherry mingle with fresh herbs and lavender. Notes of tart citrus cut through the sip as an almost tangy, savory, and creamy sense comes along with a whisper of rose pedals.
The Cheese: AGED PROVOLONE
This aged Italian cow’s milk cheese is covered in wax and then hung in a cellar until it’s just right. The aged nature of the cheese starts to break down a classic provolone’s stringy nature. Instead, you’re left with cheese that amps up its buttery nature with clear hints of fresh herbs, spice, and fatty nuts with a mellow bite.
CHATEAU VIVONNE BANDOL 2017 ROSE (France)
The Wine: This bottle from Château la Vivonne in the Bandol and Provence region ups the rose game with its nuance and depth. The award-winning wine is the perfect pairing bottle to have on hand and speaks to the mastery of old school French wine-making.
Tasting Notes: There’s a lot going on in this sip. Apricots, ripe red berries, peaches, roasted almonds, juicy tangerines, and perfumed florals dance on the palate. The end is rich and textured with more fruit coming forward.
The Cheese: STILTON
It’d be easy to go with the French Blue right now, but we’re juking with a funky English Stilton. The cheese has a fabulous texture that moves from creamy to crumbly in each wedge with deep lines of blue mold creating a wondrous map of goodness. There’s a clear spice to the cheese with a strong funk, stronger nuttiness, and deep creaminess.
DOMAINE LOUBEJAC 2014 ROSE WILLAMETTE (Oregon)
The Wine: This Willamette Valley wine is the marrying of Oregon terroir with traditional French winemaking. The wine is a rare blend of five white grape varietals with Pinot Gris and Chardonnay dominating the pack. The note of rose color comes from a three percent dose from the vineyards Pinot Noir.
Tasting Notes: The dry sip opens with a rush of apples and pears on a sunny day. Notes of lemony citrus help bring depth to the mix. Finally, the aging comes through with a wisp of white pepper spice and oak that helps cement the dryness of the finish.
The Cheese: PARMIGIANO REGGIANO
Parmigiano Reggiano — or just parmesan if you will — is a masterstroke of great Italian cheesemaking. The aged cow’s milk cheese has super-specific specifications for where the cows live, what they eat, and how their milk is handled. This helps create a stellar hard cheese. Expect a crystalline crumbly texture that melts into a creaminess. Notes of rich and fatty nuts sit next to a pure umami bomb that’s cut by a distant note of apple orchards and green grass.
MARTIN RAY 2016 SONOMA COAST PINOT NOIR (California)
The Wine: Martin Ray’s Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir combines pinot grapes from iconic Sonoma vineyards Richioli, Cartan Vineyard, and Tina Marie. The wine is opened fermented and then aged in 35 percent new French oak for 11 months, creating a great pinot that exemplifies the region.
Tasting Notes: Fruity notes of pomegranate, ripe red cherries, and fresh strawberries mingle with sharp notes of sasparilla. Oaky notes mix with hints of tart cranberries and a whisper of spicy mace. The juicy acidity blends with the oak to bring about a big finish.
The Cheese: DRY JACK
To compliment a wine that’s so regional, you need a cheese that also brings a sense of the same region. Dry Jack — an aged Monterey Jack — is a moderately hard cheese that has a nice crumble and yellow texture. There are hints of roasted almonds and even pomegranate. There’s a grassy nature with a mild aromatic backing.
KERLOO CELLARS 2015 SYRAH (Washington)
The Wine: This wine from the north fork of the Walla Walla River in the Columbia Valley of Washington is the bigger hitter on the list. This is a long-aged wine (it spends 18 months in oak) with a big Syrah grape from Resurgent Vineyard.
Tasting Notes: This wine edges away from the fruit and acidic nature of previous wines on the list. Olive brine, fresh stewing herbs, smoked meats, umami, and freshly cracked black pepper dominates. The smoked meat and oak are the throughline with a note of orange zest on the end.
The Cheese: EXTRA SHARP CHEDDAR
All of those big meaty and umami flavors needs a big cheese that can hold up. Extra sharp cheddar is that cheese. The semi-hard cheese has the perfect balance of creamy and crumbly. The flavors ebb between cheesy sharpness, umami, and a bit of smoke. There should be a subtle nutty nature with a little hint of spice. This is the meat lover’s cheese of choice.
NEROORO APPASSIMENTO 2017 NERO D’AVOLA (Italy)
The Wine: Sicily’s Nero d’Avola grape is the star of this show. NeroOro’s grapes go through a regional process called “appassimento” — in which grapes are dried in the sun before pressing and fermentation. This adds a depth to the wine and brings about a heightened sense of fruit to the sip.
Tasting Notes: Dried cherries and violets open this one up. Port-soaked fatty plums, oaky vanilla, and dark cherries dance throughout the palate with a real sense of the Sicilian sun. The oak comes into play with a note of funk and spice as the dark red fruits tie the whole sip together.
The Cheese: FETA
Drawing from that final note of funk, funky soft feta is the way to go. The cheese is a blend of goat and sheep’s cheese from Greece — bringing a sun-kissed element that just works with wines from equally sun-kissed Sicily. This salty cheese has a tang to it that feels like you’re walking along a path halfway between a farm and the sea. There’s a mild nuttiness lurking in the background that’s looking for a bit of fruit to play with.
Cover this one in really good olive oil and you’re good to go.
BOLLINGER BRUT SPECIAL CUVEE (France)
The Wine: When picking a bottle of the fizzy stuff to start or end a night, you can’t go wrong with Bollinger. The Champagne is a stone-cold classic of the style and worth every penny. The wine is a blend of 60 percent Pinot Noir, 25 percent Chardonnay, and 15 percent Meunier grapes, all grown in Champagne of course. The wine is then aged for twice as long as required by French law, adding a masterful depth to the sip.
Tasting Notes: Spicy and tart apples and pears with notes of peaches and apple jam greet you. Dry bubbles carry hints of freshly baked brioche, just cracked walnuts, and spiced pears. There’s a hint of fruit lusciousness on the dry end that’s a delight.
The Cheese: PECORINO ROMANO
Speaking of sheep’s milk cheese, Pecorino Romano — generally from the Lazio region of Italy — is the backbone of any great Carbonara or Cacio e Pepe pasta course. The hard cheese has a crumbly texture that veers towards (real) parmesan with more of a flaky nature than crystalline one. The cheese is sharp on the tongue with bold notes of spice, umami, nuts, and an echo of smoke. It’s kind of like Parmigiano Reggiano turned up to eleven.