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Iberian Cheese and Wine Pairing – Our Writer’s Comment

cheese2Yesterday, a good friend asked for some suggestions on cheese and Spanish wine selections for a party by email. Specifically, he wanted a handful of wines and cheeses that he could find in and around Minnesota. Not having a clue as to what is currently available in the Minnesota market, I thought it would be interesting to get the responses of a few of our writers and friends on what they thought were good choices. I’m glad I did. The following are a few quotes in response to this email:

…What he wants is to go pick up some Spanish wines, and find some cheeses that we would suggest to pair with them. So I thought it might be good to ask our writers, and friends for a few of their favorites…

Wines – Spanish but stick with region/grape/style rather than producer
Cheeses – Looking for general ones, though if there is a particular favorite, let us know. Best though we stick with “strong blues” or “hard Parmesans” etc…

And the responses…

Justin Roberts

Hard, dry, salty goats’ milk cheeses from the villages in the Sierras de Malaga and Cadiz go very well with dry Amontillado or Oloroso.

The Payoyo cheeses from Villalengua del Rosario are probably the best known example but there are many others like the Gazul cheeses from Alcala de los Gazules.

Payoya is a breed of goat by the way as in la raza Payoya. Malagueña goats are similar and make similar cheeses.

Cheese and nutsRicard Giner

OK, I love this question because I am a cheese fanatic. You won’t believe it but only yesterday I flew to Amsterdam specifically to buy cheese at De Kaaskamer, one of Europe’s finest cheese shops. You’re talking to a cheese Taliban here.

Recently I came to the conclusion – deep breath here – that most table wine DOES NOT go well with cheese. I think it is a fallacy to mix wine and cheese indiscriminately. Even the idea of red wine and cheese is based on a complete mistake, and is inexplicably persistent. I learnt this at a seminar with Neal’s Yard tutors. There are good scientific reasons for this, to do with the way the chemical compounds react when combined. Tannin and salt do not go well at all, producing a terrible effect on the palate, so red wines and blue cheeses are a disaster, as are red wines with cheeses high in salt crystal content (such as old manchego). In fact red wines with any cheese, full-stop.
However, those of us who love both things are always seeking solutions to this problem. I offer the following thought:
  • Great Spanish blue cheeses – the only truly great one is Cabrales, and this MUST NOT be had with any wine, but with cider, pref. from Asturias
  • Other significant salty blue cheeses from other countries, such as Roquefort, Stilton, Gorgonzola (not the sweet one) should be had with port (LBV is v. good, or perhaps crusted) – the combination is DIVINE, or a sweet sherry, such as an Amontillado or a Cream
  • Powerful manchegos also go well with port, perhaps a tawny, and can just about be handled with a dry sherry, served cold; serving an old, dry manchego with red wine is foolish and thoughtless
  • The great Catalan goat’s cheeses, such as Montsec, can be had with either a young unoaked red (a Mencía from Bierzo would work well, but not oak-aged), slightly chilled, or a cava – can’t go wrong there
  • Cava also goes well with ewe’s milk cheeses from the Pyrenees
  • Albariño is very good with smoked cheese from the Basque country, such as Idiazábal – the fruit plays off very well against the smoke, delicious
  • And the greatest cheese known to humanity, bar none, Torta del Casar, the “I-want-a-smelly-peasant-to-smear-my-naked-body-with-50-tortas-the-day-before-I-die” cheese, should not be drunk with table wine. It should be had with old vines Monastrell sweet wine. Then you die. Smiling.
Just a few random thoughts.
Have a good hot weekend!!
Rosemary coated cheeseJohn Maher

I also am a cheese lover, though not perhaps in Ricard’s class – what a fantastic email from him. He is not alone in his take on wine and cheese. Michael Broadbent writes on p. 12 of my copy of his “Wine Tasting: New and Revised Edition, 2003” (Mitchell Beazley), “There are two conventions I like to overturn: red and wine and cheese, sweet wines with desserts. Unless the cheese is mild and the red wine is reasonably robust and not of fine quality the cheese spoils the taste of the wine. At all costs avoid pairing good qulaity red wine, burgundy in particular, with a fancy restaurants’s “sélection des fromagges…” I am less sophisticated and am happy to give it a go. Indeed, I all too often opt for the sélection des fromages as an excuse to finish the bottle of wine I’ve been drinking rather move on to pudding.

While deferring to Ricard on all counts, if Sauternes and Roquefort cheese are a classic combination, might it not be fun to try a classy sweet white with Cabrales?

I am devoted to Lancashire cheese (crumbly preferred) as a result of a few years living in Manchester a long time ago. This cheese’s acidity marries surprisingly well with champagne, in my view, and I’d be interested in trying it with Cava.

I was recently at an artisanal fair and was really impressed by the cheeses from Quesería Los Corrales in Castellón. This area has no particular cheese tradition (apart from the not very interesting Tronchón), but these people are bringing a lot of love to the process and are convinced that they are achieving distinc “terroir” characteristics from the wild herbs on the surrounding hills. I bought their whole range of cheeses after sampling at the fair, but unfortunately never got round to matching them with wines, as my dog sniffed them out, pushed the covered tray where I’d left them onto the floor and scoffed the lot – to my mind a far worse crime than the shoes and various other possessions he normally eats.

Again, I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I have been known to enthuse about white Rioja or Viura in general with Manchego, aged Rioja with Wensleydale (apologies also to Wallace and Grommit), Ribera del Duero crianza or resrvawith Brie, and Rioja and Ribera del Duero reservas with Pont L’Evêque.

Happy hunting,


Queso de Obeja BlandaCatavino – Ryan and Gabriella

We are fanatic’s about cheese though like a good block of swiss, our memory is full of holes when the names come into play. That said, we do enjoy almost all cheeses, from the stinkiest to the most delicate and ethereal. We also understand the world of pairing well, and even have some strong thoughts on the subject, but for now we’ll end this post with a small bit of advice for our friend.

For the perfect cheese and wine pairing evening do the following:

  1. Go out and buy a variety of wines by style: a sparkling (cava brut), sweet white (Moscatel, PX), sweet red (Port Wine, or sweet Monastrell from Alicante), big modern red (young Montsant), light aged red (old Rioja), and a bright white (Godello or Albarino), and if you’re like Gabriella and I, at least one good Vermouth!
  2. Then go to your cheese monger and find a wedge of the following cheeses: stinky, mild, blue, gooey, at least one dry and crumbly one, and for sure, something you think you won’t like, as surprises are nice!
  3. Invite friends over, open wines, and lay out the cheeses for all to taste.
  4. By the time the wines are all tasted and the cheeses have started to disappear, you’ll all have a favorite pairing that may, or may not, be “correct”, but I guarantee, you’ll all be happy and smiling! The exploration is so much fun.
Ryan and Gabriella Opaz

BTW this post made me dig up some old articles on Catavino that all cheese lovers must not miss!

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