Wine-and-Pairing 101 with Alix Hoylman | Drink | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Wine-and-Pairing 101 with Alix Hoylman

“Think about flavors you put together in your normal life.”

Believe it or not (and I still don’t), the holiday season is right around the corner. With parties that need throwing, menus that need planning, and stress that will surely need alleviating, there’s no better time to learn a bit about wine and cheese.

A well-chosen wine-and-cheese pairing is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. I sat down with Alix Hoylman of Wheel & Wedge to get some pairing pointers.

Match intensities. Balance is crucial to any pairing. “The only goal is to have a cohesive flavor at the end: something new that is created,” says Hoylman. “So you don’t want one to outshine the other.” For instance, a crisp white wine, such as a pinot grigio, would play well with young fresh cheeses like ricotta or chèvre. Cabernets and other full-bodied reds, however, require cheeses with more oomph: Think bold aged cheddars or pungent blues.

Consider the classics. “Think about flavors you put together in your normal life, and apply that to pairings,” advises Hoylman. Classic combinations that work well in the kitchen will also be successful in your pairings. Thinking about berries and cream might lead you to pair a fruity Beaujolais with a buttery brie. Or the allure of sweet and salty could bring you to one of Hoylman’s favorite pairings: Sauternes and blue cheese.

Think regionally. Terroir, the unique way that a region’s climate and soil affect taste, is an important concept in both cheese and wine. Since the wines and cheeses of a particular region have evolved side by side for decades or centuries, choosing both from the same area will often lead to complementary pairings. Chianti, for instance, is a natural fit with an Italian sheep’s-milk cheese. 

Temperature matters. Temperature affects how we taste, and that perfect pairing will fall flat if your cheese is too cold. “Straight out of the fridge, everything is going to be dull,” explains Hoylman. She recommends taking cheese out of the fridge an hour before you serve it. 

If all else fails, reach for the bubbly. Dry sparkling wines like Champagne and Cava are easy go-tos. “No matter how the flavor profiles go, the bubbles help break up the fat in your mouth and kind of clean it up,” explains Hoylman. “If you don’t know what to do, just grab a bottle of Champagne and some cheese and it will be great.” Off-dry Rieslings are similarly cheese-friendly, with a fruitiness and acidity that complement a variety of styles.

There are no “correct” pairings. Of course, the perfect pairing is the one you like, so don’t be afraid to experiment. And think beyond wine: Hoylman has found great pairings with beer and even cocktails.

To learn more, stop by Wheel & Wedge (3337 Penn Ave., Lawrenceville) or attend one of Hoylman’s upcoming classes.