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Cheese, Bread, Wine

Bring on the Grilled Cheese

Red or White, Does it Matter?


Consider all the ingredients when choosing a wine.

Buen Provecho!

Cheese, Bread, Wine

Article by James Beard Award-winning author Laura Werlin @cheezelady

Few things in life are as soul-satisfying as biting into an oozy grilled cheese sandwich – you know, the kind where the filling is barely contained, and the bread is buttery and crackling crisp? On equal par is a grilled cheese sandwich paired with wine. Yes, you read that right: grilled cheese and wine pairing. It’s a “task” that’s always fun but made better with a little know-how.

What follows is a pairing roadmap that includes secrets for creating your own perfect grilled cheese and wine pairing. Surprising though this may be, it all starts with the wine. For that, look no further than these two quintessential grilled cheese wines: Ribera del Duero Tempranillo and Rueda Verdejo. Paired with delectable sandwiches  – Grilled Salami and Cheese and an old-fashioned Crab Swiss Melt done in a totally modern way –  you will never look at grilled cheese and wine pairing the same way again.

Making “sense”

A grilled cheese sandwich is a full-on sensory experience – the very sight of it is mouth-watering; the sound that comes from taking a crispy bite removes all hindrances; the rich, buttery flavors coat the taste buds; and really, there’s nothing like holding this sandwich in your hands, feeling its warmth followed by the trickle of cheese and butter that slip down your fingers. No napkin in the world can intervene.

As kids, our grilled cheese sandwiches were usually accompanied by a cup of tomato soup and usually a glass of milk. As adults, we can drink pretty much anything we want alongside. For many, it is beer and for some, whiskey. But for those in the know, wine is the secret match. The fruit of the vine loves melted cheese. Think about it. Citrusy whites cut right through the richness of the cheese, and light- to medium-bodied reds love heartier sandwiches especially with smoked ingredients like bacon and ham. 

Tempranillo and Verdejo ️ grilled cheese

There are two grapes that absolutely, unequivocally love grilled cheese: Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero and Verdejo from Rueda. These two wine regions in Spain’s Castilla y León grow the gold standard of each varietal. Add to that the fact the wines made here are fashioned in many styles, and you’re already miles ahead in the wine and food pairing universe – grilled cheese especially. 

Among the wines made in Ribera del Duero and Rueda, many are value-oriented, some are special-occasion, and most fall in the middle. All, however, can get down with a grilled cheese sandwich. This is what makes Ribera del Duero and Rueda so special. Plain and simple, the wines from these areas love food. Still, understanding the how-to details of pairing Tempranillo and Verdejo from Ribera y Rueda will take the humble sandwich and do it one better. 

Verdejo and grilled cheese pairing guide

In general, melted cheese loves white wine. To find the best pairings, it’s helpful to keep in mind the styles of wines you’re pairing. A recap of the three main styles of Verdejo is a great place to start.  

Those styles include joven or young, which are citrusy, high-acid, and some, with pronounced stone fruit flavors. Lees-aged Verdejos are creamier and because of that, provide a mouth-filling texture. Finally, there is oak-aged, which is just as it sounds. Sometimes the latter two are combined to create great tasting, often age-worthy wines. When matching any Verdejo with grilled cheese the main food and wine pairing rules of thumb apply: 

  • Pair like with like. A youthful, bright citrusy wine goes happily with grilled cheese sandwiches that have similar ingredients – lighter style cheeses like mozzarella and tangy goat cheese; fruits and veggies like tomatoes, green apples, asparagus, marinated artichokes, arugula, spinach; shellfish like crab and shrimp.
  • Pair wines and foods with similar body. A lees-aged Verdejo can stand up to richer grilled cheese sandwiches. These include ones with two or three cheeses for a super cheesy, melty experience and more mouthfeel. So too sandwiches with slightly richer ingredients like triple-crème Brie-like cheeses, some blue cheeses, ripe stone fruit, and spreads like pesto and tapenade.
  • Consider all the ingredients when choosing a wine. This includes the bread in the grilled cheese sandwich. Does it have olives? Herbs? Is it sour? Sweet? Is the cheese rich and buttery or tangy and light? Is it a combination of both? Does it have vegetables? Fruit? Spices? You get the idea. Think about all the components of the sandwich and choose the wine accordingly.

Taking all this into account, one of the best Verdejo-paired grilled cheese sandwiches is here
the Crab Swiss Melt. The ingredients include crab, asparagus, goat cheese, Swiss cheese, lemon zest, and mayonnaise. These lighter-style components bathed in the richer mayonnaise love the high notes that Verdejo’s acidity brings to the table, but they also take to the medium- to full-bodied texture that a lees-aged Verdejo offers. Together? ¡Fantastico!

A note on bubbles

A category on the rise in Rueda is sparkling Verdejo, a new classification in the D.O. They’re only now making their way to this side of the Atlantic, but your local retailer should be able to hook you up. Sparkling wines are great with grilled cheese because the bubbles cut right through the richness of the cheesy sandwich and clear the palate for another bite. And really, who doesn’t want another bite of grilled cheese?

Red meets grilled

Pairing Ribera del Duero Tempranillo with grilled cheese opens up a whole different world. Here you have a range of red and black fruits – raspberry, cranberry, cherry, blueberry, blackberry and more. You also have light to heavy tannins, light to full-bodied texture, and in some cases, forest floor, earthy, tar, and leather components. 

The same rules that apply to Verdejo also apply to Ribera del Duero Tempranillo. The main difference is that Tempranillo can handle bigger, meatier flavors without being overwhelmed. This translates to sandwiches that might include smoked components like ham and bacon as well as heartier cheeses like aged Gruyère and Manchego. With that, here’s how to bring grilled cheese and Tempranillo together.

  • Pair like with like. Because younger Tempranillos known as Crianzas don’t have pronounced tannins, they are great go-to wines with grilled cheese sandwiches. They’re smooth and fruity but have a bright undercurrent of acidity and structure. Ingredients like cheddar, younger-aged Manchego, plum, red pepper, tomato, pancetta, and mild chorizo are perfect for these lighter style Tempranillos.  
  • Pair wines and foods with similar body. Like the lees-aged Verdejos, longer-aged Tempranillos, known as Reservas, can stand up to richer grilled cheese sandwiches. They’ve spent years in the barrel and bottle developing texture and flavor. In turn, the cheese possibilities expand. Meaty cheeses like aged Gruyère, longer-aged cheddars, Italian Fontina, aged sheep’s milk cheeses, parmesan, aged goudas, and creamier style blue cheeses are great places to start. Each of these have deep flavor and sport a variety of textures. Reservas and even Gran Reservas – Ribera del Duero Tempranillos that have spent a total of at least five years in barrel and in bottle – will stand up to these cheeses but not dominate them.
  • Consider all the ingredients when choosing a wine. This includes the bread in the grilled cheese sandwich. Does it have olives? Herbs? Is it sour? Sweet? Is the cheese rich and buttery or tangy and light? Is it a combination of both? Does it have vegetables? Fruit? Spices? You get the idea. Think about all the components of the sandwich and choose the wine accordingly. Other ingredients could include mushrooms, roasted peppers (mild to medium, not hot), black olives, grilled tomatoes (not raw slices), grilled onions, Serrano ham, sausages, smoked ham, bacon, prosciutto, and even salami. In fact, take a look at this Grilled Salami and Cheese recipe. Made with salami and Fontina on olive bread, it’s pretty much perfect with Tempranillo.

Grilled Salami and Cheese and an old-fashioned Crab Swiss Melt


About Cosecha

Another official wine style category in the Ribera del Duero Denomination of Origin (DO) is Cosecha. As with the other Ribera del Duero Tempranillos, Cosecha must be made with at least 75 percent Tempranillo grown with the DO. Most Cosechas are made with a far greater percentage than that – usually closer to 100 percent – but there aren’t aging specifications applied to Cosechas. In that sense, it often speaks to the renegade nature of the winemakers making it. Rather than being confined by aging rules, the winemakers will age their wine as they see fit. 

For consumers, this means that Cosechas are a bit of a wild card ranging from light to full-bodied. What’s more, some of the most expensive wines from the region are categorized as Cosechas. This translates to all kinds of fun when pairing them with grilled cheese since it’s hard to know exactly what the bottle will be (without research).  Still, the main Tempranillo and grilled cheese rules apply. Choose medium to hearty cheeses and other ingredients, and you’ll have a great grilled cheese and wine pairing experience no matter what.  

Get grillin’

A grilled cheese sandwich is usually thought of as humble – and it is. But magic happens when it’s put side by side with a Rueda Verdejo or Ribera del Duero Tempranillo. Now that you know how to do it, go fire up the pan, pour some wine, and dig into the best adult-meets-kid pairing you may ever have. Say cheese!