These basic pairing rules will elevate any party.
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Charcuterie and its many spinoffs are undoubtedly the star of any party. A board instantly elevates an afternoon gathering with friends and puts that fancy spin on a dinner party. The name alone implies sophistication.

So what is charcuterie, exactly? If you're envisioning a cheese board, that's not quite it. Rather, the word refers to salty, fatty, and sometimes spicy cured meats. We're used to seeing them beautifully arranged on boards next to nibbles and decadent cheeses. This means, of course, that you'll need wine.

For the most delectable charcuterie and cheese wine pairing recommendations, we spoke with Bob Smith, a certified sommelier and the Director of Beverage at Montage Palmetto Bluff in Bluffton, South Carolina. 

The Best Wines to Pair With Charcuterie and Cheese

If you're looking for a straightforward pairing, the truth is that the options are truly endless. However, if you're less inclined towards experimentation, Smith recommends the following three wines to accompany a variety of charcuterie and cheese combinations.

  • Riesling pairs well with meats such as coppa and sopressatta, which have sweet, spicy flavor profiles. Try Dr. Loosen Erdener Treppchen Spatlese from the Mosel.
  • Cru Beaujolais has a lighter body with plenty of red and blue fruits, crunchy acid, and flinty notes that make it a versatile, early-evening sip. Try the Daniel Bouland Morgon Le Corcelette.
  • Barbaresco is a great choice when you serve both cured meat and piquant cheeses. Smith says this wine comes from the Piedmont region of northeastern Italy, and recommends the Marchesi Di Gresy Martinenga Barbaresco DOCG.

However, if you really want to have some fun and expand your palette, have each friend bring a different bottle of wine to the next get-together. You can play with a variety of small bites that go along with each. It's difficult to pick just one wine that would cover the breadth of flavor and texture profiles on your board, so it's best to make a party of it. For example, with cheese, each flavor profile can be quite specific. Smith chooses aged Gouda as an example. As it ages, it forms crunchy salt crystals that shine in a salty/sweet combination, and Viognier or Chenin Blanc would do equally well with it.

Then, with Manchego, it might be a little nutty depending on the age and maker. You would want to lean towards a mid-balanced acid (try a white from Burgundy) or a Spanish wine instead—serving it with your sweet pick for the Gouda would risk overpowering the nutty profile.

Above all, though, Smith affably recommends that you don't agonize over every detail. Just have fun.

"For me, whatever bottle is closest to me when I am closest to a big ham, I'm cool with that," he says. "You make it work; you sacrifice one for the other. It doesn't matter how you achieve that 'oh my gosh' moment. I am just happy that you got there in the first place. You could have Easy Cheese on a Ritz cracker with a bottle of Bogle and if that works for you, that's great."

Salt, Acid, Fat, and Spice

If your gathering calls for a little more than spray cheese, Smith lays down the foundations for picking the right wine(s). It's as easy as knowing how salt, acid, fat, and spice play with each other. Look at your charcuterie and cheese offerings, and you'll have an inkling of what type of wine will pair well.

"When you're looking at wine pairing in general, whether it's a charcuterie board, a 10-course meal, or macaroni and cheese for dinner, you want to go acid versus fat and protein, fruit, and residual sugar versus spice," Smith says. "If you're going to do spicier meats like chorizos and bresaolas, I typically lean towards wines that have a little residual sugar or maybe a little more aromatic and fruit weight to them."

Pair Sweet with Spice

According to Smith, spicier meats and sweeter wines complement each other because the sugar in the wine will counteract capsaicin, the chemical responsible for spice. If you're looking for a white wine, try Viognier from either California or the Rhône, or Chenin Blanc.

"Chenin has a little more acid to it, but if it's harvested a little later or if it's a warm year, that could provide the perfect balance to spice as well," Smith notes. If you're in the market for a red, you'll again want to pick one that is fruiter and lower in acid. Zin from California or a Spanish wine are among Smith's picks.

Acid and Fat

Adding foie gras, pâté, creamy cheese, or Iberian ham to your board? You'll want an acidic wine to balance them out.

"Acid helps cut through fattier foods and give them a little bit of a lift," Smith shares. "In particular, the high-acid wine I would always go to with pâté and these kinds of dishes is bubbles."

A special gathering might call for Champagne, but on a regular day, a sparkling wine from South Africa or California will do.

"For me, Pierre Moncuit Blanc de Blancs is something that is high acid with a beautiful chardonnay expression," he says. "Green apples and toast. It has a little brioche-y toasty note to it in a way. It plays really [well] with richer, fattier flavors of liver and things of that nature."

Additionally, you could instead opt for a Pinot Noir or Merlot. Smith is rather fond of wines from northern and central Italy, in particular wine made from Sangiovese grapes. If the occasion really calls for it, try a Bordeaux wine—Smith says the "penultimate" pairing is foie gras and Sauternes, an acidic, late-harvest dessert wine.

Try pairing these foods with Smith's recommendation:

  • Goose liver
  • Blue cheeses
  • Gorgonzola-style cheese
  • Brie/triple creams
  • Camembert
  • Prosciutto/Iberian ham

Like With Like: A Hedonist's Paradise

There doesn't always have to be a balance between salty and sweet, fat and acid. For the real bon viviants and true hedonists among us, a like-with-like pairing might to just the trick.

"You [could choose] a buttery Chardonnay, and the creaminess of the cheese and the creaminess of the wine would be interesting together," Smith says. However, he maintains that in his opinion, things are more interesting when you do an opposite pairing

"I'm going to want to pair something with some acid with something with the cream, because it plays, on a molecular level for me, more interestingly in my mouth and when I'm dealing with it in my upper palette and tasting all the flavors."

Last Tips

While there is clearly much room for interpretation when drumming up your next charcuterie wine pairing, there are still a couple best practices that will make the experience just that much better. Here's what Smith suggests:

  • Make sure your wine is at the proper temperature. Serve whites at 55 degrees and reds at 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Thinly slice your meats. "There's nothing worse than getting really good cured meat that's cut really thick," he says. "[Then] you're gnawing on it and miss all the nuances of flavor and fat because it's cut too thick."

Keep those in mind, and, as Smith says, everything else is yours to enjoy.