Local Flavors: Ohio Wines and Cheeses Offer Options for Holiday Pairings

An Ohio wine expert says determining which wine to serve with which cheese is really about finding out what pairs well for your senses. Photo: Thinkstock.

WOOSTER, Ohio — Want to try local fare to serve for your holiday seasonal celebrations but are unsure of what Ohio wines best complement which cheeses?

An Ohio wine expert says determining which wine to serve with which cheese is really about finding out what pairs well for your senses.

“There really is no right or wrong when it comes to appropriately pairing wine to food or cheese,” said Todd Steiner, who leads The Ohio State University’s enology program, the science of winemaking, part of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

The goal, he says, is to move away from the notion of wines being intimidating and for people not to feel daunted when being introduced to a new wine or when choosing a wine to enjoy with food or, specifically in this case, cheese.

“Instead, people can have fun with it,” Steiner said. “If people find a pairing that they like, they should go with it.

“Try different pairings and you may find something that you like that isn’t typically recommended. There may be some surprise that people like that they didn’t think to put together.”

Steiner, who works with Ohio wineries across the state offering insight on varietal recommendations, best practices involved with winemaking techniques, sensory evaluation, research and troubleshooting, said consumers have many options available when looking for Ohio wines.

“Some of the smaller boutique and medium-sized wineries in Ohio offer onsite retail sales, while others have strong distribution chains that allow them to be sold in many larger retail stores,” he said. “The good thing is that Ohio wineries are doing some really good wines statewide and are winning national and international awards.”

For those who would like some initial guidance as a starting point, Steiner offers the following:

  • Typically, fruit-forward white wines tend to go with soft, young and mild cheeses such as goat cheese, mozzarella, Muenster, feta, Monterey Jack and mild cheddar. “The fruit-forward wines found in Ohio that fit this description could include (not in any particular order) riesling, Gewurztraminer, Traminette, Valvin Muscat, Aromella, Vidal blanc, unoaked chardonnay, Chardonel, pinot grigio, Gruner Veltliner and sauvignon blanc,” he said.
  • Lighter-style and -bodied red wines can nicely pair with some of these cheeses as well as a young gouda or brie. Some good examples of light red Ohio wine selections are pinot noir, Dolcetto, Chambourcin, Marquette, Chancellor, Noiret, Foch, Dechaunac and Frontenac, among several other varietals and proprietal blends.
  • Full-bodied white wines such as an oaked chardonnay, Chardonel and pinot gris (not grigio) may be better served with a slightly sharper cheese such as asiago, cheddar and Camembert.
  • Heavier-bodied reds with oaked aging would typically be recommended to go with more bolder and harder cheeses. Good cheeses to include in these tastings would include strong cheddar, many smoked cheeses, Parmesan Reggiano, Parano, havarti and Danish Blue to name a few good potential choices. “Excellent heavy-bodied reds in this category would include merlot, Cabernet Franc, cabernet sauvignon and syrah.”
  • Dessert wines such as port and sherry typically pair well with cheeses such as Stilton, blue and Roquefort. “Other Ohio wines containing residual sugar such as Niagara, Concord, Catawba (pink or white) and Delaware, for example, would also fit nicely in this category. Traminette, Gewurztraminer and Valvin muscat could also pair well with these cheeses.”
  • Sparkling wines and high-acid wines such as LaCrescent and Frontenac gris might pair well with creamy Brie.

“Most wine suggestions recommended above are varieties that we are currently growing or have the ability to grow in Ohio,” Steiner said.

Other varieties, which may be purchased as grapes or juice and produced into wine, would be recommended to pair in the appropriate wine category with the corresponding cheese of interest, he said.

More information on Ohio wines and the work that Ohio State University Extension and Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center specialists, educators and researchers offer can be found on the Buckeye Appellation website at ohiograpeweb.cfaes.ohio-state.edu/.  OSU Extension and OARDC are the outreach and research arms, respectively, of the college. 

Tracy Turner
For more information, contact: 

Todd Steiner