A seasonal guide to matching port with cheese

Whether you are buying port as a gift and want to add a little something extra, or you want to up your dinner party game, explore our guide to pairing port with cheese and chocolate

Updated on • Written By Mark de Wesselow

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A seasonal guide to matching port with cheese

Port and cheese is one of the classic food and wine pairings. It generally marks a moment in the evening when things become more relaxed and conversation flows. Port’s rich fruit and unctuous sweetness is luscious on the palate and provides a perfect counterpoint for the widest possible range of cheeses. Common port flavours include ripe berries, plums, figs, raisins and toasted almonds, while cheese has a savoury and sometimes salty tang that contrasts beautifully with the port’s sweetness or matches its power. But port, particularly in its different guises, is versatile too. This is fortunate given the number of festive pairings it gets asked to complement at Christmas time. Think not just cheese but Christmas cake, apple and chocolate desserts, nuts and dried fruit, as well as that most heavenly of matches, chocolate. Port paired with chocolate is a winning combination that works time and time again and is hard to get wrong. The key tip is the wine should always be sweeter than the chocolate. But port also works as a treat and a bit of theatre for a special occasion whatever time of year, or on holiday when everyone is relaxed and wanting to extend the evening!

As a practical guide to help amplify our enjoyment, we’ve picked a few port styles and readily available ports, from leading port lodges, and matched them with a range of widely available cheeses. To add to the fun, we have suggested some chocolate matches too. But, fear not, remember most ports are very versatile and rules are there to be broken.

Reserve Ruby Port – such as Fonseca Bin 27

Cheese pairing: Goat’s cheese, Camembert, Brie, Red Leicester or Manchego
Chocolate pairing: Chocolate truffles or 70% classic dark chocolate
Why: This port is rich but elegantly smooth, softened and rounded by its aging in large wooden vats, with opulent but vibrant cherry, cassis and plum fruit sweetness, a lovely intensity and subtle spicy tannins. It has a creamy, restrained finish which is particularly good at highlighting the creaminess, richness and saltiness of cheese. Indeed it marries superbly with full flavoured, zingy, yeasty, creamy cheeses like, say, a charcoal-coated goats’ cheese or a nutty but quite sweet artisan Manchego whose complex flavours pair magically with quince jelly or the cherry jam fruit in the port. Brie and Camembert de Normandie are excellent alternatives. When it comes to chocolate matching, chocolate truffles or 70% dark chocolate provides a lovely pairing for this rich, fruity style of port as the fresh, fruit-forward sweetness and the liveliness in the port goes well with the chocolate. 
Buy it: Fonseca Bin 27, RRP £14.50, available at Majestic or Virgin Wines
If you like this you will also love: Fonseca Terra Prima Organic, RRP £19, available at Waitrose or Abel & Cole

LBV Port – such as Fonseca LBV Unfiltered 2015 or 2016

Cheese pairing: Cheddar, Red Leicester or Valencay
Chocolate pairing: High cocoa chocolate or truffles or 58% mint chocolate from Vinte Vinte
Why: Late Bottled Vintage is the classic all-year-round port made from the grapes of a single year, aged in barrel for between four and six years and then released when ready to drink. This port style, with its concentration and silky purity, makes an excellent match for goat’s milk cheeses and full-flavoured Cheddar. The earthy, buttery, tangy flavours of Cheddar matches superbly with the chewy tannins, steely liquorice and chocolate notes of LBV, as well as its big plummy, red berry opulence. The LBV’s richness also merges wonderfully with the rich, tangy flavours of cheese like a crumbly Valencay. For the chocolate match, the bitter intense flavours of a high cocoa chocolate (like Green & Black’s) marries superbly with the sweet, fruit-forward, relatively lively LBV. Dark, bitter chocolate truffles do the trick equally well. Indeed, chocolate and LBV is much celebrated as a classic pairing.
Buy it: Fonseca Unfiltered LBV 2015, RRP £18.00, available at The Secret Bottle ShopSelfridges or Edencroft Fine Wines
If you like this you will also love: Taylor’s Late Bottled Vintage 2017, RRP £17, available at Waitrose and all other supermarkets

Tawny Port – such as Croft 10 Year Old Tawny

Cheese pairing: Farmhouse Cheddar, Gruyère Premier Cru or a creamy blue cheese
Chocolate pairing: Praline chocolates, plain milk chocolate, walnut studded brownies or nutty truffles
Why: 10 Year Old Tawnies, which are matured in big oak casks and distinguished by an attractive russet colour, rich dried fruit aromas and a smooth, silky, dry fruit palate, are a must for Christmas, though they’re equally delicious whatever the season. Croft 10yo shows off a nice balance of concentrated, developed, sweet dried fruits at the same time as nutty, spicy, Christmas-like flavours, with well-integrated alcohol. And the finish is long and intense but, importantly, it finishes delightfully fresh. Aged Tawny is a mellow, harmonious match with the fruity, nutty character of, say, a high quality Gruyère or alpine cheese like Appenzeller. The salty, nutty, slightly crystalline qualities of these cheeses amplify the toffee, burnt sugar notes in the wine. For the chocolate match, it’s the nuttier notes of the 10 Year Old that are the key. Hence things like brownies, chocolate containing nuts work a treat, but straightforward milk chocolate, which demands fruit-forward, lively styles of port, or salted caramel chocolate, which echoes the port, both match well. 
Buy it: Croft 10 Year Old Tawny, £25 at Majestic
If you like this you will also love: Taylor’s 10 Year Old Tawny, RRP £23, available at Sainsburys or Waitrose 

Older Aged Tawny Ports including the Taylor's Golden Age 50 Year Old

Aged port pairing with cheese

Cheese pairing: Mature farmhouse Cheddar, blue cheese or aged Gouda.
Chocolate pairing: Walnut-studded brownies or nutty truffles
Why: Older Tawnies add further layers of complexity and are perfect for sipping and savouring. Lighter in colour than the 10yo, you’ll find dried figs, dates and honey aromas alongside nutty, caramel and developed Christmas cake notes in the 20, 30 and 40 Year Olds. This collector’s edition 50 Year Old with half a century of ageing in seasoned oak casks is a rare beast. Even more concentrated on the palate, it boasts a perfect balance of complexity, density and smoothness with an awesomely long, lingering finish. Match it with complex aged cheeses like nutty, creamy aged Gouda to maximize the umami hit; and serve it slightly chilled. Also good are a mature farmhouse Cheddar or a soft sensual blue cheese like Beauvale. When it comes to matching with chocolate, it’s the nuttier notes of this old Tawny that are the key. This means sweet treats like walnut-studded brownies or nutty truffles are perfect pairings. Keep the chocolate-coated raisins away.
Buy it: Taylor's Golden Age 50 Year Old, RRP £180, available at Fenwick or Cotswold Port Company
If you like this you will also love: Taylor’s 40 Year Old Tawny, RRP £135, available at The Whisky Exchange or Waitrose Cellar

Vintage Port – such as Fonseca Quinta do Panascal 2004

Cheese pairing: Stilton, Roquefort or Shropshire Blue
Chocolate pairing: 85% cocoa chocolate, dark chocolate desserts and dark chocolate containing walnuts or hazelnuts
Why: The completely harmonious pairing of powerful, complex vintage port and mature, strong blue cheeses such as Stilton is one of the classic food and wine combinations. The soft buttery texture, mellow character and piquancy of the cheese, together with a slightly sweet aftertaste, matches perfectly with the dark berry fruit, depth and the powerful, majestic flavours of Vintage port. We love the warm, jammy, red fruit notes (with hints of violets and spice) in this Fonseca Vintage Port which is made in the years when the wines are more supple and ready to drink earlier. The mouth-filling richness, bursting with plums and cherries, accentuate the tangy salt flavours in the cheese superbly. Alternative cheese matches include Cashel Blue and Roquefort, which was apparently Julius Caesar’s favourite cheese. For chocolate matching, pair with dense, rich dark chocolate dishes like flourless chocolate cake or chocolate pots. With high cocoa (85%) chocolate, dried fruit, walnuts or even chocolate-coated almonds, the integrated tannins, rich fruit, spice and chocolate palate of vintage port will simply add even more dimension to the experience. 
Buy it: Fonseca Quinta do Panascal 2004, RRP £30, available at Master of Malt or Majestic
If you like this you will also love: Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas 2013, RRP £32, available at Waitrose or Coop

White Port – such as Taylor’s Chip Dry (or pre-mixed Chip Dry and Tonic in a can)

chocolate and cheese pairings

Cheese pairing: Hard ewe’s milk cheese or Manchego Curado PDO
Chocolate (or nut) pairing: Peanut butter dark chocolate cups, marzipan chocolates or salted Macademia nuts
Why: For something completely different but truly delicious. Good white port delivers a wonderful balance of ripe fruit, delicate citric acidity and a delightful nuttiness and nutty, light oxidation from ageing in oak vats. Best of all, this port boasts a crisp, dry finish. Serve chilled or as a longer refreshing drink over ice, with tonic and a slice of orange or sprig of mint. Handy, pre-mixed cans of Chip Dry with Tonic are also readily available and a nice, refreshing touch. And for something to match it with, look no further than a beautiful hard goats’ cheese like Manchego Curado – aged for nine months which sees its sweet grassy notes develop into nuttiness. Matching chocolate is a bit tougher but any dark chocolate with peanut butter or marzipan would work.
Buy it: Taylor’s Chip Dry, RRP £16.50 (750ml bottle), available at Waitrose or Virgin Wines. For the cans, RRP £2.50, available at Ocado or Amazon
If you like this you will also love: Fonseca Siroco White Port, RRP £18.50, available at The Secret Bottle Shop

Pink Port – such as Croft Pink Port

pairing pink port and cheese

Cheese pairing: Goat’s or ewe’s milk cheese or Manchego
Chocolate pairing: Chocolate-coated strawberries or raisins
Why: Packed with crunchy cherry and aromatic raspberry fruitiness and layered with secondary nuances of grapefruit and honey, this port is a sweet, playful, crowd-pleaser. But, importantly, like the best rosé wines, it finishes reassuringly dry. Sip it on its own or, for a longer drink, in a cocktail or with tonic. Pink port is a refreshing, lighter style of port which would go nicely with hard goat’s or ewe’s milk cheeses or a slice of grassy Manchego. Any number of different nuts, including walnuts and almonds, are a good option too. For the chocolate match, chocolate-covered strawberries or those popular chocolate-coated raisins would work a treat with the lively, fruit-forward flavours of this perfect afternoon wine.
Buy it: Croft Pink Port, RRP £12, available at The Whisky Exchange and Virgin Wines

Food pairing with port - Tips and advice

  • Try the port first before the cheese. Your palate will be cleaner and more receptive to the port before it is coated with a creamy cheese.

  • Room temperature nowadays is generally too warm for port. Port will often benefit from a short time in the fridge (particularly tawnies). But don’t forget to take the cheese out of the fridge in advance!

  • While you can keep a decanted bottle of vintage port a few days, the aromas are far more expressive on day one.
  • A Tawny port can be served by the glass for several weeks after the cork is pulled.

  • A wine that matches well with chocolate should exceed the chocolate’s sweetness.
  • The bittersweet nature of a high cocoa chocolate really brings out the sweetness in a vintage port.
  • Although Vintage Ports can be enjoyed when young, they will improve for many decades in the cellar and are among the most long-lasting of all wines
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