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<i>PAIRED: Champagne & Sparkling Wines</i> by Fran Flynn and David Stevens-Castro

PAIRED: Champagne & Sparkling Wines by Fran Flynn and David Stevens-Castro

Cheese and wine matching - from <i>PAIRED: Champagne and Sparkling Wines</i>


Fran Flynn and David Stevens Castro ask you to wake up your taste buds and polish up your sense of adventure. They're the first  two things you need to get right into food and wine pairing and the third is their award-winning book, PAIRED: Champagne and Sparkling Wines.

This extract, from their beautifully presented book, will guide you through matching cheeses to wine (and vice versa) and you might be surprised to learn that there are some exceptions to the usual beliefs. There's much to be said for experimentation and personal tastes so get set for your new food and wine journey!

Fran and David write:

Cheese and wine have a very special affinity, particularly due to similarities in the positive effect aging has on flavour. Furthermore, there is huge choice and variety in both wines and cheeses, giving you a broad array of options to try. Experimentation is highly recommended.

The quality and flavour of wine and cheese are both determined by a combination of environmental factors in addition to a cheese or winemaker’s methodology. The old adage ‘what grows together goes together’ is very true for wine and cheese and you will commonly find natural, complementary pairings of wine and cheese from specific regions.

Just like wine, older cheeses have more developed, savoury flavours and younger cheeses tend to be lighter and fresher. There is logic then, in pairing older cheeses with older wines as they are less likely to be overwhelmed by the cheese’s flavour.

Similarly, certain flavours that can be associated with older wines also tend to appear in many aged cheeses, i.e. earthy, nutty, rich and more intense characteristics than their younger counterparts.

When we consider sparkling wines specifically, the lighter, fresher options – such as a youthful champagne or cava, prosecco, and NV sparkling rosé – comfortably complement fresh soft young cheeses. They all match well with creamy brie, chèvre (creamy goat’s cheese) and fresh ricotta. 

A very important consideration with brie and camembert, however, is the rind.

A thicker, slightly fluffy style of white cheese rind doesn’t pair well with sparkling. You are looking for a French-style cheese that is almost rindless and creamy. Mozzarella is also really not a friend of sparkling wine.

When contemplating semi-hard cheeses, overall they will tend to pair well with the more complex flavours of vintage champagnes and vintage New World sparklings; a mild cheddar pairs with all the white sparkling wines except for prosecco. Gouda however is more difficult to match, and is only recommended to pair with prosecco, cava and moscato.

Of course, perfect pairing isn’t as simplistic as this, but it’s a good place to start. To add another element into the equation we can consider the happy affinity between saltiness and sweetness. Some cheeses can be particularly salty, and sweeter wines counterbalance this beautifully. For example, blue cheese can be quite salty and, surprisingly, marries well with a lambrusco or sparkling shiraz.

Another strong pairing opportunity with acidic sparkling wine is the cleansing effect. If you are eating a creamy or flavoursome cheese, selecting a wine that can offer a ‘cleansing’ style of match will mean that your palate will be refreshed and won’t be tired or overwhelmed by the flavour.  Brie is a great example of this.

Of course, the circumstance will eventuate when you would like to offer a variety of cheeses and you only want to open one bottle. In this situation, if you choose your cheeses carefully, a sparkling rosé will be the most versatile. A cava or champagne would be next in line for flexibility.

Take a piece of cheese in your mouth. Chew for long enough to get a good sense of the flavour. Taste the wine. Swish it around your mouth to blend with the cheese and get a full appreciation of the flavour combination. Finally, after swallowing the cheese, take one final mouthful of wine to enjoy the effect with the residue of the cheese.

There are classic pairings for sparkling wine that are universally known and loved for their compatibility, e.g. champagne and oysters. However, sparkling wines are more versatile than they are generally given credit for and can be paired with a surprisingly broad range of flavours.

Sparkling wine can be considered a versatile style of wine for pairing and there is no reason why you can’t enjoy champagne and sparkling wines with every course of a meal.

Probably the most important characteristic to be mindful of when pairing food with sparkling wine is the scale of sweetness to dryness. As a generalisation, brut (dry) examples are going to suit a broader range of flavours than sweet sparkling wines. Dry champagnes and sparklings are best suited to buttery, oily and sometimes creamy partners (like a light, creamy seafood pasta), whereas sweet wines usually work best to complement desserts and fruits. See page 19 for the dry to sweet scale.

The chart opposite is a starting point, but by no means a definitive guide. Pairing isn’t a science, it is an adventure in flavours that can sometimes surprise. Matching food and wine can be perceived as daunting, however, once you can allay concern for making unpalatable mistakes, it’s really fun.

We have created a series of recipes that include many of the ingredients suggested on the facing page for you to experiment with. It’s very important to remember that adding or subtracting one significant component to a dish can change the whole flavour profile, so the best way to be sure that your intended combination is going to sing harmoniously is to taste test. Piccolo-sized (200ml, 7fl oz) bottles can be very useful for trialling new ideas.

Your taste buds are the best judge of what works. You’ll find that everyone has different preferences, but some combinations are just so good they excite everyone.

As a broad guideline:

  • Buttery, lightly creamy and oily dishes are a lovely counterbalance to dry champagne and sparklings, for example, seafood/shellfish with a light cream-based sauce.
  • The acidity of dry champagne or sparkling wine cleanses the palate between mouthfuls, helping to refresh the senses for the next bite.
  • Eggs in most formats are a great companion of champagne and sparklings. Consider quiche, scrambled eggs and even pancakes.
  • Gently spicy food, particularly Asian-style dishes, work well with sparkling wine, especially rosé, because the acidity cools off a mild heat from the spiciness and the rosé accentuates the flavours.
  • Salty foods can be nicely balanced by champagne, for example, salty cheese, popcorn and potato chips.

Avoid sweet desserts with a very dry sparkling. Instead, a sweet sparkling can work well, or even try a mid-level demi-sec.

While pasta is generally a great friend to sparkling wine, tomato sauce is usually a no-no, unless paired with a sparkling red.

Food and wine matching is a very subjective art. One person’s pleasure can be another person’s poison.

We have tasted and tested all the matches and recipes that are suggested in this book, and feel confident suggesting them as great companions.

Having said that, we are also ‘breaking the mould’ with some of our ideas and there will be those that don’t agree with all of our suggestions. We relish the opportunity to create conversation, learn from other opinions, and also to be challenged to try new combinations ourselves.

For example, we enjoy the cleansing effect of a sparkling wine with gently spicy food, but someone else might find the food too dominant.

We consider chocolate to be a beautiful accompaniment to champagne and sparklings but it is not a traditionally accepted pairing.

The most important thing that we’d like to encourage is experimentation. There is no ‘correct’ formula. Taste test as much as possible, try the unexpected and enjoy developing your opinions based on your own experiences.


This extract is from PAIRED: Champagne and Sparkling Wines by Fran Flynn and David Stevens-Castro and is reproduced with the authors' kind permission.

Read more on PAIRED here »

PAIRED: Champagne & Sparkling Wines has also won a number of awards »

PAIRED: Champagne & Sparkling Wines is self published (2016; Qld, HB, pp, RRP A$37.99. It can be be ordered direct from the publishers at It is also available from good book stores nationwide and internationally on



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June 11th, 2017
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