While science may have explained the reason behind the deliciousness of food and wine pairings, and experience has vouched for the wine and cheese combo, grilled cheese and wine together is pretty uncharted territory. But that’s how The Daily Meal does it: highbrow and lowbrow in one.
So when Jason Sobocinski from The Cooking Channel’s The Big Cheese offered to stop by, cook up some grilled cheese sandwiches, and pour some vino from St. Francis Winery, we figured, why not? Turns out, pairing a grilled cheese and a wine is actually pretty easy. "Because you’re bringing in other components in a sandwich, you can do more with flavors," Sobocinski says. "You actually have a slightly easier time than if you were just doing one cheese and one wine."
Here, Sobocinski shares his tips for pairing wine with grilled cheese.
Use One Cheese
Because there are so many components to a grilled cheese, keep the meal simple with a singular cheese. "You don’t want to make it overly complex," Sobocinski says. "The wine flavors are going to be more complex than say, using a beer."
Taste the Wine First
This one might be obvious, but since every wine is different, trying your wine before creating a sandwich is the best way to form complementary pairings. "If you’re tasting dried fruit, that’s the key to use some dry fruits coming through, and that’s what you’re going to throw in your sandwich," Sobocinski says. "Then think, what cheeses go really well with dried fruit?"
Pair on Parallel and Perpendicular Paths
A recent study in Current Biology concluded that astringent and fatty flavors sit on opposite ends of the taste spectrum, explaining why red wine and fatty meat go so well together (they balance each other out). Sobocinski suggests doing both: Finding similar flavors, like dried fruit, and then bringing in a contrasting flavor to balance the dish out. "Black cherry jam and zinfandel, those are two flavors that run along the same track," Sobocinski says. "The fattiness of the blue cheese and brioche, those maybe fight or mash up against the wine. You can do both, and it elevates the flavors."
Look for Wine That's a Little More Acidic
"There’s so much you can do with a good acidic wine," Sobocinski told us. So when choosing your wine, try to go a little drier. For white, "look for a white that's slightly sweet and really dry," Sobocinski suggests, so it can still work with a really fatty cheese. "Having a really dry, bright acidic white can clean your palate when you’re having something fatty."
When working with red wines, avoid lighter cheeses or flavors that might get overrun by a red. "You want to have a cheese that will stand up to tannin," Sobocinski says. "A bad pairing is when one of the components — the wine, the cheese, or the sandwich — gets lost. So you don’t want to necessarily have a bite of sandwich and when you take a sip of the wine you don’t taste the wine or you don’t taste the sandwich anymore. You want to have it work with one another. You want to have strength of both the cheese and the wine."
If All Else Fails, Grab a Beer
The same concepts still apply, but beers are a bit more forgiving, thanks to the effervescence. "I say, with big bold cheese go with darker, heavier beers like stouts, porters, and really astringent IPAs," Sobocinski suggests. "For light cheese, chevre, or comte, go with lighter beers like pilsners or brown ales."
Make a Party Out of It
Who says you need to preplan your menu? "Open your wines up, have your friends sit around and try them, and talk openly about what flavors they’re trying to pull out," Sobocinski says. "It’s about thinking about your food and being a part of the process." There aren't any wrong answers, unless you’re dealing with American cheese.
Check out Sobocinski's grilled cheese recipes, plus wine pairings, below.