Dare to Pair: Grilled Cheese

It’s been awhile since I got the daring gang together (and brought enough wine to make the pairingsreally daring), and what’s better on a long President’s day weekend than putting wine with one of America’s most traditional foods? Answer: Nothing

Obviously this wasn’t a turkey pairing, but cheese between bread (specifically Kraft Singles and Wonder bread) is at least as American as turkey at Thanksgiving, and the combination possibilities just never end. We put together our share of fancy pants and decidedly un-fancy sandwiches, and both outcomes were equally mouthwatering. High Brow or Low-Brow, there’s just something about cheese between bread.

Read on for the gooey ins and outs of the Grilled Cheese Extravaganza, and get ready to be hungry.

High Brow: Cheddar+Fried Green tomatoes+Pickled Jalapeños+Wonder bread

Wine: Red Newt Circle Riesling. The hint of sweetness in this Riesling from New York’s Finger Lakes region tempered the heat of pickled jalapenos in this sandwich inspired by Southern cuisine. The wine’s high acid also helped balance the fat of the cheese and slightly greasy fried tomatoes. (This was a hit across the tasting panel!)


You can't go wrong with factory-produced classics.

You can’t go wrong with factory-produced classics.

Low Brow: Velveeta+Bologna+WonderBread

Wine: Poggio Alla Luna Chianti Classico. The tannins and chewy, red cherry flavors in this wine balanced the extreme amount of sodium in this uuber-processed sandwich. Fat and tannins are always friends when it comes to pairing, and this combo had adequate amounts of both.

High Brow: Gruyere+Bacon+Vidalia Onion+Whole Grain Rye

Wine: Vina Daruvar Grasevina.  This Croatian white is amazingly fresh and aromatic, yet has a medium body and chewy texture that helps it stand up to gooey cheese and salty bacon.  Fresh, underripe peach and apricot flavors on the palate and lots of floral aromas stop this combination from being too heavy.


Samples at the Sandwich Building Station.

Samples at the Sandwich Building Station.

Low Brow: Kraft Singles+Mayo+Wonderbread

Wine: Peter Zemmer 2012 Lagrein! Dark, chewy and rich, this was the backbone to an otherwise exceptionally floppy sandwich. Everything good about a cheese platter alongside wine in inexpensive sandwich form.

High Brow: Brie+Mission Fig+Bacon+Whole Wheat

Wine: Lagrein Again! Lagrein is known for being a hefty, super chewy and dark wine that’s hard to pair, but when it comes to grilled cheese, this Northern Italian juice doesn’t disappoint.  Strong tannins in the Peter Zemmer balanced the strong bacon/fig flavor combination. This medley was so good, we didn’t care that this blackberry-infused wine stained our mouths with just one sip.

Low Brow: 1 Slice of everything+ Bacon+Wheat Bread aka  “All the fat you could want plus bread”

Wine: Espirit de Sarrail Cabernet Sauvignon. A messy sandwich needs a strong wine to hold it up, and Cabernet Sauvignon from the South of France did that job quite well. Black currant flavors, fresh black pepper, and a hint of earth on the wine made this a truly hedonistic duo. (Isn’t the essence of grilled cheese throwing lots of things together?)


Choose Bread, Choose Life.

Choose Bread, Choose Life.

High Brow: Mozzarella+ Sweet Italian Sausage+Ciabatta

Wine: Montelvini Prosecco. Experts always say, if it grows together, it goes together and that was the mentality behind this Italian pairing that downright sang. Sweet sausage, stretchy, salty mozzarella and rustic bread were wanting for a light, apple-scented wine to lighten things up and Prosecco did the job. Absolutely refreshing and easygoing wine to accompany a classic panino, ahhhhhhla dolce vita.

Low Brow: Cheddar+Pickles+White

Wine: Sandhi Chardonnay. Salty-sweet pickles and cheddar demanded a wine as rich and full of flavor as themselves, and this Chardonnay from Sonoma did the trick. Aromas of pineapples, butter, yogurt and toast made this a decadent combination. We were happy to be in yoga pants while eating this because bite after bite was just soooooooooo good.

New Rules of Grilled Cheese Pairing:

  1. Think about Texture. Chewy, whole grain breads pair better with stronger, fuller-bodied wines like Cabernet Sauvignon or Lagrein. Likewise, delicate and soft breads pair better with light wines like Gamay or Muscadet.

2.Gooey and buttery/salty cheese wants a light white or a strong red

  1. Sparkling is alwaysan option. Bubbly wines go with nearly every food, and the carbonation keeps flavors light and refreshing as opposed to heavy and greasy. When it doubt, go with the bubbles.
  2. Cheap is OK! Regardless of the ingredients, grilled cheese is hardly a delicate or high brow food, so it certainly doesn’t demand expensive wine! Almost all of our wines ring in at less than $15, and we were thoroughly impressed with their quality and pairing ability.
  3. If you have access to a sandwich maker, especially one like the Snackster, use it! Nothing is better than a grilled cheese that automatically gets cut into Hot Pocket-esque triangles of gooey goodness.


Ready, Set, Snackster.

Ready, Set, Snackster.

Quotes from the venerable tasting panel:

On Experimenting with Basque Ciders: “This cider smells like a perm–burnt hair and chemicals. yum.”

On Chianti: “I think this is what Hannibal Lector drank with the livers and brains.”

On choosing your sandwich: “Go for the big one, the spicy one–it’s what you’ve been waiting for. “

On wines from Eastern Europe: “Here’s to communism. This is definitely a communist wine.”

  • February 19, 2014
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