The Perfect Match: Chardonnay And Cheese

Chardonnay and cheese. Chardonnay is a natural match for so many styles of cheese, because there are so many faces of chardonnay. From the racy unoaked melon-mouths to the oak-slathered butter bombs, let’s explore. And let’s not be afraid. Chardonnay can be confusing, with so many unfamiliar terms (Whole bunch? Wild ferment? Barrel size, cooper, toast level, new or old… or maybe stainless steel or even concrete egg? Malolactic fermen-WHAT? Sulphur or no sulphur. Fine lees, gross lees, lees stirring). Holy moly. That would be a panoply of things even if ‘panoply’ wasn’t my word of the week. Let’s keep it simple, because it doesn’t have to be that hard.

First question: are you going chardy first, or cheese first? Was it the brand spanking or well-cellared chardonnay you pulled out for the occasion that you’re trying to find a cheese for, or the gruyère you bought at a whim that you need to match with wine? If it was the wine first, here’s where to begin (you cheese-first people have to wait, today we’re just dealing with those who plan ahead).

WINE FIRST: I’ve got a chardonnay - now what?

So, you’ve got a chardonnay. Firstly, congrats. The ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) Club long since disbanded due to poor turnout, and it’s back in “farshun” for reasons that supercede trends. Chardonnay starts with the cheap and cheerful but generally still balanced and palatable. Let’s begin there. For real.

Chardonnay with little to no oak

This stuff’s made to be drunk fresh. It will be all citrus and melons (asparagus if you’re lucky) and there should be none of that butter flavour. The good ones (let’s hope that’s all you’re drinking) will be high acid and lots of fruit, or at least balanced by some richness. The key here’s the acid. Due to the crisp mouthwatering quality, you can do high acid cheeses.

WHAT?! “High acid cheese”? Don’t think of it like that. Think bitey, sharp cheese. See? 

Crumbly cheddar, cheshire, raclette or parmesan. Even gruyère (hello, Heidi, if you haven’t tried it - no commissions here, just my fave), although this can stretch into the next category.

This stuff’s your ticket to unoaked chardy heaven. The acid meets acid and says, “hey, let’s just make out while these chardonnay fruits and the cheese flavours do a little dance on this mofo’s palate.” Mmm. You had me at “hey”. Did someone say fondue?

Modern chardonnay - the balanced, nutty and complex style

This is our jam. You’re right in the thick of a glorious (panoply? Just kidding) battle of chardonnay mano-a-mano. Everyone is trying to make the MOST balanced, MOST complex, cool climate, mid-weight chardonnay out there at the moment. Reap the rewards. You get loads of perfectly ripe fruit, a bit of nuttiness, a lick of butter, finesse, excellent length (thanks to well-judged vineyard placement and picking times). Basically, you got it all. All you need is the right cheese to bring it home.

Alright, so you’ve got a modicum of all the good things. Basically, the cheese you want will be the same.

Creamy cheese is your friend here. From oozy brie and camembert to Pont l’Eveque, you’re in white mould heaven. Enjoy.

Big, bad chardonnay

Great, you’ve got something old skool. You are in for a treat. You have a wine that has oak, butter, asparagus, tropicals probably, but is more about ridiculous richness and texture than forward fruitiness. 

The world of cheese is your oyster. You can have the creamy, the funky, and even the salty. Tallegio, Roquefort, Gorgonzola… all the washed rinds, blues. You’ve got savoury to match the salt; acid to match the sweet; body to match the cheese’s acidity. You’ve got it all.