Many of today’s beverage alcohol retailers are emphasizing the time-honored pairing of wine and cheese. At Gary’s Wine & Marketplace—which has four stores in New Jersey and one in California—the retailer pairs wines and cheeses on a regular basis, but also hosts special occasions like monthly wine seminars and educational wine dinners for employees and guests. “We love to engage in conversation that allows us to get to know our guests’ wants, and with 350 different selections of fresh cut cheeses we’re sure to find the perfect match,” says corporate gourmet and giftware manager and buyer Alexis Wein. “While pairings have definitely offered an increase in the average ticket in our stores, the elevated engagement between our team members and guests is what truly has us excited.”
In October, wine seminars at Gary’s highlighted wine and cuisine from northwest Italy. Antica Fratta Franciacorta Brut ($26 a 750-ml.) and Broglia Il Doge Gavi ($15) wines were paired with Robiola Bosina cheeses, while Heredis Nebbiolo Langhe DOC ($19 a 750-ml.) and Natale Verga Barbera d’Alba ($12) wines were paired with Trufa Seca, a dry cured black truffle salami, and Piave Vecchio cheese from the Veneto region. “We also put out a bowl of Torres Black Truffle potato chips for the whole tasting because, in our opinion, it goes with everything,” Wein says.
At Cheese Plus in San Francisco, the wine and cheese sales complement each other. “It’s great having a fantastic cheese and wine selection under one roof,” says Ryan Saccomano, wine specialist at the store. “The cheese sales really help drive the wine sales, and wine does the same for cheese. Regular customers know they can come to me with help finding a wine to pair with a certain cheese, but also they can get help from our cheese monger finding a cheese to go with a specific wine.”
A successful pairing requires equilibrium. “The main detail is making sure the guest will enjoy the pairing as a whole based on what they’re looking for,” Wein says. “Knowing your guest and ensuring balance is the most important things. One item can’t over power the other. Wine and cheese should work together in perfect harmony.”
A big part of Saccomano’s job is helping customers select wines that will complement the cheeses they’ve picked, but there aren’t in-store tastings. “Here, the cheese is usually the first part of the equation as the customer is usually familiar with the cheese or has tasted it at the store,” Saccomano explains. “There are some classic cheese and wine pairings that are really tried and true, such as sparkling wine with triple crème or Port wine and blue cheese. And as with food and wine pairing, I believe you really want a wine that complements or contrasts with the cheese.”
One of Saccomano’s highly recommended wine and cheese pairings is triple crème Brillat-Savarin or Cowgirl Creamery’s Mt Tam with Pierre Gimonnet et Fils Brut Extra ($39 a 750-ml.) or Onward Rosé of Pinot Noir Petillant Naturel ($29). “A creamy, high-fat brie works really well with sparkling or high-acid white wines because of the contrasting flavors,” he notes.
Saccomano is also fond of pairing Epoisses or Foxglove washed rind cheese with Domaine Courbet Savagnin Sous Voile ($36) and Rogue River Blue Cheese with Quinta de la Rosa 20 year Tawny port ($42). “A strong flavored or pungent cheese works with a wine that’s rich and full to complement the flavor profile of the cheese,” Saccomano says.
Pairings are not limited to wine—beer and spirits also benefit from retailers’ search for the right flavor combinations. “As a company, we do not stop at wine in regards to pairings,” Wein of Gary’s says. “We also hold very successful tastings that pair gourmet food and cheese with spirits and beer. It’s amazing how the right food can enhance the flavor and balance of the alcohol it’s being paired with.”