At cheese tastings in Paris, you’ll often find artisanal butters amidst the spread because butter’s creaminess can enhance the plushness and/or sharpness of certain cheeses. The same goes with wines like Chardonnay, whose aromas and flavors can range from merely hinting at cream and butter to downright dripping with it. Whether you’re choosing an unoaked, moderately-oaked or full-on-oak Chard, there’s a wine style for every style of cheese.
If you haven’t been paying attention to Chardonnay for a while because it’s “too oaky,” you’ll be happy to learn that producers have heard you and are now creating many Chards with only minimal-oak (barrel) contact, or none at all, using terms like “unoaked” or “virgin” on the label. Chablis, from France’s Burgundy region, is the standard bearer of unoaked Chards. Sonoma-Cutrer’s Russian River Ranches Chardonnay is an example of restrained oak, allowing assertive acidity to balance minimal creaminess. Best cheeses to pair with these fruity, crisp, minerally Chards tend to be young, semi-soft cheeses, like Gouda, Asiago, Fontina, Jack and, why not, Ossau-Iraty (a nutty goat cheese from Spain).
Moderately-oaked Chards dance the fine line between elegance and richness; their creamy roundness is balanced with bright, mouthwatering acidity, and highlighted with aromas and flavors of apple, pear and lemon zest. Sonoma-Cutrer’s Sonoma Coast Chardonnay is a fine example of this style, fusing aromas of Golden Delicious apple, Bosc pear and white peach with toasted nuts, oak spice, and a hint of butter. A cheese-pairing strategy with these medium-bodied wines is to offer contrast, by way of decadent, creamy triple-crèmes, like Camembert, Brie and Explorateur. A hint of pungency is an attractive nuance to pair with these wines, too.
When it comes to choosing Chardonnays that are fermented and aged in oak barrels that offer balance and elegance, you get what you pay for. While everyone loves an everyday $10 Chard, they can’t hold a candle to a great Grand Cru white Burgundy, or a Burgundian-style Chardonnay from the New World. Sonoma-Cutrer’s Les Pierres Chardonnay possesses the best of both worlds, with classic stony minerality, caramelized oak, and toasted spice aromas and flavors that integrate beautifully with refreshing, citrus flavors. Cheeses that pair well with these powerful, elegant wines tend to be the most powerful, pungent cheeses, specifically the “blues,” like Roquefort, Gorgonzola and Stilton, whose profound creaminess, unctuousness and distinct, pronounced flavors pay the perfect complement to these Chards.