We're no stranger to a good drop of vino, but when it comes to knowing how to pair wine with cheese, fruit, or cured meats, it can be an absolute minefield. Those with discerning palettes know that smooth and creamy ricotta pairs perfectly with a fruity champagne, and that a light and floral rosé is dreamy with prosciutto, but if you're not blessed with the nose of a sommelier, it's easy to feel a little lost. To boost your wine and cheese IQ, we dropped by Anfora wine bar in New York City to chat with beverage director Tara Hammond and discover her foolproof formulas.
If you're new to the pairing game, Hammond has one top tip: Taste each element before mixing them. "Pairings can also be done on instinct, but you ruin that if you cover the cheese in condiments right off the bat," she says. "Taste each cheese or meat, and think about what it reminds you of and how it is balanced between fat, salt, and acid. [Then] you can probably make an educated guess about what it would go with." Not ready to go it alone? Follow these easy three-step combinations to create winning wine, cheese, and meat pairings that'll impress even the most discerning guest.
The Wine: Hammond's top pick for this combination is Champagne Geoffrey Expression Brut NV, which has a "fresh fruitiness and soft vanilla notes," she says. Substitute it for a sparkling chenin blanc from the Loire Valley or a cava from Spain.
The Cheese: Anfora is known among locals for its house-made ricotta, a smooth, thick, and creamy textured cheese used in this pairing. Looking for a similar cheese for your platter? Opt for a variety with a mild taste and a low sodium content.
The Meat: Mangalitsa hot coppa is exactly as the name suggests—a spicy, flavor-packed cured meat that'll liven up your dish. "Cured with salt and Calabrian chili, and then dry-aged, this coppa has a good balance of spice and fat, so the flavors are not passed over for spice," says Hammond.
Why It Works: Wine and spicy foods are difficult to pair, but this combination is perfectly balanced. "It is best to avoid high alcohol and/or tannins; instead, look for something off-dry," she says. "Champagne is always a great option, and the acidity holds up to the spice! The cheese will also act as a buffer for the spicy meat."
The Wine: G.B. Burlotto Elatis Vino Rosato 2015. Alternatively, substitute this vino for a light and refreshing rosé with "red berry and floral notes, and a mild, peppery spice," says Hammond.
The Cheese: Mahón reserva. "The reserva wheels are extra aged, and rubbed with butter and pimentón during the curing process," she says. "The resulting texture is granular and crystalline, while the flavor is bold and sharp with notes of buttered popcorn and tropical fruit with a tongue-tingling finish."
The Meat: Anfora sources its prosciutto from a family that has been curing the meat for 30 years. "It's aged for a minimum of 450 days!" muses Hammond. Don't stress—your store-bought variety will still work in this pairing.
Why It Works: "This rosé in particular is great for the prosciutto because the soft, sweet berries will match up with the slight sweetness of the meat, and the acidity will balance out the fat," she says. When in doubt, seek out wine and cheese from the same region. "In this case, we have an Italian rosé with an Italian meat and a cheese from a Mediterranean island."
The Wine: Hammond's expert pick is a tongue twister: Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese. If you struggle to find this wine, try a crisp, medium-bodied riesling with peach notes. "Don't be afraid to get a riesling with some residual sugar—it will seem a little sweet on its own, but it will be magical with the cheese," she recommends.
The Cheese: Mycella blue cheese, a Danish favorite, is "rich, fudgy, and mildly salty, with occasional cherry and blueberry notes." Drizzle with honey for a sweet twist.
The Extras: Ditch meat for this pairing—the sweetness of dried mango slices balances the rich and creamy blue cheese.
Why It Works: If you only try one combination, it should be this one, says Hammond, noting that it's her personal favorite. "The acid of the riesling will cut the fat and salt of the cheese and match the aromatics," she says. "Blue cheese is pungent, fatty, and salty, and it does best with a wine that can match its richness and slight sweetness."
The Wine: This unique orange-tinted wine is from Umbria, Italy. If you can't find Paolo Bea Bianco Santa Chiara 2012, search for a similar blend with grechetto, malvasia, chardonnay, sauvignon, and garganega.
The Cheese: Délice du Poitou comes in an oval shape that "provides maximum surface area so that each bite contains as much runny, buttery goat milk as possible, all balanced by the slightly chalky and tangy center," Hammond explains.
The Extras: There's no cheese in this combination. Substitute charcuterie for membrillo, also known as quince jelly.
Why It Works: While orange wines vary a lot in flavor, Hammond says fruity varieties work well with goat cheese. Her top tip: "When serving orange wine as a pairing, store it in the refrigerator, but take it out about 15 to 20 minutes before you want to drink it."
The Wine: "Beaujolais is one of my favorite wine regions ever," says Hammond of this Jean-Paul Brun Terres Dorées L'Ancien Beaujolais Vieilles Vignes 2013. "This one is light and fresh, with red and black fruits, great structure, minerality, earth, and spice."
The Meat: Soppressata is a "coarsely ground Berkshire shoulder, mixed with some fat to give the desired marbling. After it is seasoned, cured, and dried, the result is a sweet-tasting cured salami," she explains.
The Extras: Olives! Serve with a generous handful of green olives to balance the cured meat.
Why it Works: "Beaujolais, in general, is a go-to for cured meats," says Hammond. "Serve it chilled for an exciting experience, because the wine will express itself differently as the temperature changes."