Conventional wisdom maintains that white wine pairs better with cheese than red. There's certainly some validity to that statement, but with the right kind of red wine and cheese, this can be done to elegant effect, as I learned at a seminar taught by experts Laura Werlin and Naomi Smith at the Artisan Cheese Festival.
Much of the issue with pairing red wine with cheese comes down to tannins (the bitter, mouth-drying component present in red wine, tea, coffee, and some fruits like acai), which are notably absent from white wine. When selecting wines, choose a red with integrated tannins — think smooth and velvety, rather than rough and harsh. Wines grown in a cooler climate — think Oregon, Washington State, or Sonoma versus Napa — and particular milder, lighter-bodied wines like Pinot Noir or a restrained Cabernet Sauvignon are safer bets. Look for a wine with an alcohol content of 14 percent or less when pairing with cheese, as these wines are less likely to overpower their cheesy companions.
As far as the cheese component goes, now is not the time to break out mild, creamy ricotta or tangy chèvre. Instead, try a cheese assertive enough to stand up to a red wine, like Barinaga Ranch's Baserri, a gamey, barnyard-y sheep's milk cheese, or Fiscalini, a funky, salty, bandage-wrapped cheddar. Both styles of cheese are so boldly flavored that they have the potential to overpower a subtle white.
A general rule of thumb: consider pairing wines and cheeses with similar intensities. Think Pinot Noir with sheep's milk cheese, or cheddar with a mild Cabernet Sauvignon. Get experimenting; that's half the fun! In the worst-case scenario, you'll still have a delightful cheese and wine to enjoy on their own, even if they don't pair up perfectly.