For those who truly cherish wine and cheese, pairing the two is not as easy as it may appear. Choosing a random wine to go with a random cheese will produce the same kind of compatibility as peanut butter and jelly, a textural compliment but no chemistry. And wine and cheese should never be treated like peanut butter and jelly!
But if you really want to savor both, some basic insights go a long way. Then, the smells, taste and texture of the wine and cheese are in harmony rather than crowding the other out. And when it truly works, you will notice how quickly the cheese leaves the plate and the wine disappears from the bottle.
1. Regional Pairings
When you are talking about cheese and wine from the old world (Europe), a good strategy is matching the wine regions with their cheeses. Lo and behold, people have been eating wine and cheese together for centuries. Because of this, wines and cheeses have evolved together.
For centuries, any family that could afford it enjoyed wine at almost every meal in large swaths of continental Europe. The local cheeses therefore almost always fit a well-establish local wine varietal and style. So Machego works with Rioja. French Brie goes with acidic French white wines like Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
2. Enough Acidity
Cheese come in varying degrees of softness, and softness plays a role how the cheese interacts with the wine. A general principle is that the softer the cheese the longer it sticks around in the mouth. In fact, soft cheeses, especially spreadable ones, coat the mouth with fat and just like grease, most things slip right over oily surfaces. So for soft cheeses, you almost always need an acidic white to cut through the cheese and clear the mouth. With soft cheeses, you often have a white wine because many red wines (which tend toward the tannic side rather than acidic) are dulled by the cheeses.
Hard cheeses are more friendly to red wines. It is all relative however. You do not have to go all the way to Parmigiano-Reggiano to enjoy a range of red wines. In fact, Shropshire Blue, which is somewhere in between hard and soft, does well with a host of red wines.
3. Sweeter Wine than Cheese
Just like we advices in pairing chocolate and wine, wine should be sweeter than the cheese it is partnered with. With decadent chocolate desserts, this present problems but cheeses you have more versatility and do not have to break out the dessert wines and ports in most cases. But the same thing happens when you have a sweet cheese with a dry wine. No matter how you try to avoid it, the wine becomes suddenly sour and unpleasant to drink. The alcohol in the wine becomes more pronounced than it would otherwise (and you may even wrongly assume it just is a poor wine). But when the wine is on the right side of the sweetness divide, you rarely if ever have this issue. This sweetness issue is why my favorite varietal with French Brie is Champagne.
Without going into the individual interactions between varietals, this is what you should think about before you go to the wine cellar or pull cheese out of the fridge. You may even consider these combinations while you are at the store. But remember, your own preferences are the best judge and you will develop a system once you have paired enough wine and cheese.
Also, you should understand that cheeses and wine have variations inside the varietals, so Pinot Noir could work with a certain type of cheese or not. It all depends, but it is good to have the odds in your favor. So apply these three principle and you will be off to a good start.