What could be better than throwing your own California style wine and cheese party? Especially at this time of year - when the cold weather starts rolling in and we begin bracing ourselves for the long retreat indoors - it’s the ideal way to make those summertime vibes stretch out just a little longer.
Before we get stuck into the details, let’s face facts. Nobody could deny that wine and cheese is one of those marriages that was undoubtedly made in gastro-heaven. These two components (both perfectly delicious on their own) come together to create something more than the sum of their parts, and offer a fast-track route to flavour perfection. In every wine producing country, you’ll find wine and cheese being served and enjoyed with real enthusiasm, but over on the West Coast, they’ve managed to nail this iconic pairing down to a fine art.
The best part? Unlike many other food and wine pairings, matching up a great wine and a top quality cheese is relatively simple, and you don’t need to be a certified sommelier or seasoned wine pro to bring about great results. Sure, some combinations work better than others, but part of the fun of hosting a California style wine and cheese party is in the experimentation, the innovation, and figuring out what works best for you and your mates. We’ve put together a handful of top tips to make sure your gastronomic get-together really goes off with a bang. Read on to find out more!
Choosing Your Wine Glasses
It goes without saying that in order to throw a successful California style wine and cheese party, you’re going to need to get yourself some quality wine glasses. When it comes to this particular issue, there are two clear schools of thought.
Some people will say that no wine drinking session would be complete without a set of classic stemmed glasses. Some would even suggest that you’ll be needing different styles of stemmed glasses for each of your wines; one for the reds, one for the whites, another for sparkling wine, and yet another for dessert wines. While there’s undoubtedly a charm to the formality and ceremonial aspects of offering your guests a range of glasses (and stemmed glasses definitely have their appeal for other reasons, too), we reckon that in order to hit that West Coast vibe, it’s always best to take a much more laid back, casual, and relaxed approach.
That’s why we particularly love stemless glasses when it comes to cheese and wine parties. They’re attractive yet unpretentious, totally flexible for all kinds of wine styles, and provide a much more chilled out and contemporary look to your party. This is all about experiencing new taste sensations, having fun with your friends, and enjoying some quality food and drink together… so do away with the formality and Old World wine rules, and focus on the flavours first and foremost.
Choosing Your Wines
Surprise, surprise. If you’re hosting a wine and cheese party, you’re going to need to get hold of some decent wine. Here are our go-to tips for picking out the bottles that will make your gathering one to remember:
- Steer clear of the big-name brands
They aren’t necessarily going to be bad, but the big-name wines tend to come from massive conglomerate companies, whose main goal is to shift units rather than take you on any kind of journey. Sure, they might be more affordable than most (although this is far from a given), but they aren’t going to stick in your memory or widen your eyes with delight on that first sip. Independent, regional, and quirky is definitely the way forward.
- Make sure you cover your basics
You want a fairly even spread between red wines, white wines, and rosé. All three pair brilliantly with a wide range of cheeses (more about that in a minute), and everyone’s got their favourites.
- Ask your guests to bring a bottle
More wine = more fun. What’s more, your guests might have their own favourite bottles they want to share, or might have something particularly interesting or unique in their wine rack just waiting for the right opportunity to be uncorked.
- Talk to your wine merchant
Thankfully, the days of intimidating, stuffy, and arrogant wine shop assistants are long behind us. The chances are, the people working at your local wine store are passionate about their products, and will be more than happy to help you choose bottles which are sure to impress and pair fantastically with your cheeses.
Classic Wine and Cheese Combos
Before we start looking at some classic wine and cheese combinations, there are a few tips to share that will give your California style wine and cheese party a real sense of variety and sophistication.
As we all know, cheeses come in all shapes, sizes, flavours, and textures. If you really want to blow your guests away with your sophistication, it’s important to ensure you’re providing a real variety. Try offering plates which feature cheeses made from different types of milk (cow, goat, and sheep cheeses should all be available from your local supermarket), which boast different textures, and which come from different parts of the world. You could even arrange them thematically, for example, with one platter featuring classic French cheeses, another filled with English cheese, Italian cheese, Spanish varieties etc. This way, you really can share a whole world of flavour with your guests… something which is sure to be appreciated!
Now let’s take a look at some popular cheeses that are sure to be a hit at your party, and the wines which most successfully pair with them. Naturally, you don’t have to take this list as gospel (and there’s plenty of room for experimentation so long as you remember that stronger cheeses prefer red wines, and milder, creamier cheeses work well with whites), but if you want to stick with the classics, these are some great starting points to work from.
- Red Wine and Cheese
Malbec and mature Cheddar
Cabernet Sauvignon and aged Gouda
Rioja and Manchego
Pinot Noir and Brie
Merlot and Monterey Jack
- White Wine and Cheese
Chardonnay and Gruyere
Riesling and fresh cheeses (e.g. Ricotta)
Viognier and Edam
Sauvignon Blanc and goats’ cheese
Pinot Grigio and Mozzarella
- Rosé wine and Cheese
Rosé pairs well with salty cheeses like feta, but also works nicely with Swiss cheeses, creamy goats’ cheese, and milder Cheddar, too.
Enhance the Tasting Experience
Even the world’s biggest cheese and wine fans would argue that every great pairing party needs some other foods on the table, in order to freshen the palate, bring in some variation, and generally enhance the tasting experience. Be sure to remember to include favourite additions like fresh and dried fruits (figs, grapes, and apple slices work especially well), a range of crackers and crispbreads, and nuts, olives, and pastries, too.
Don’t Forget Dessert
All too many people steer clear of the dessert wine aisle, assuming that the often overpoweringly sweet bottles in this part of the wine store simply aren’t for them. It’s an understandable position to take, but a little dessert wine goes a long way, and these wines provide some fascinating opportunities for wine and cheese pairings that can really take your party to the next level.
Try pairing classic Old World dessert wines like Sauternes and Royal Tokaji (an amazing Hungarian wine that tastes like honeyed nuts and candied fruit) with a strong blue cheese, and we reckon you’ll become instant converts. It really is that good!
California Style Wine and Cheese Party: The Perfect Excuse for a Get-Together
Well, there you have it - our top tips for throwing a wine and cheese party that’s full of California charm, laid-back sophistication, and flavour combinations that won’t be forgotten in a hurry. With the right wine glasses, a range of quality wines, and a variety of delicious cheeses, you can really treat your guests to something spectacular!