Wine and cheese are a match because they complement each other well. The natural acidity in many white wines and the acidity and tannin in red wines pair with the lactic and fatty components of cheese. Cheese works with wine for the same reasons half-and-half works with coffee.
Another (maybe more obvious) reason is that there are thousands of different cheeses out there and probably even more wine. The pairing possibilities are just about endless. That being said, there are some common thoughts to be aware of when it comes to pairing wine and cheese.
A well-known one is that red wines often go with hard cheese and whites go with soft cheeses. This is true more often than not.
I have found that Riesling and mold (think of blue cheese) often work well, and Champagne often calls for brie.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that wine-and-cheese pairing is much like wine-and-food pairing. You must always be conscious of the intensity and body of the cheese or wine. For example, I see Gouda as a cheese with a distinct flavor, and it should be coupled with a distinct wine, such as cabernet sauvignon. On the other hand, a tangy cheese, like goat cheese, might go well with a sauvignon blanc.
The best local wine-and-cheese guru I know is Tabitha Stroup. She often does tastings at local wineries, and I have seen her at Skov on multiple occasions. Her displays are beautiful, and I always learn something new about pairing when I see her. Tabitha is available for cheese pairings and events. Her Web site is http://friendincheeses.com.
Just remember, my friends, when it comes to cheese and wine, there is no wrong pairing. Cheers!
Austin Twohig is a certified sommelier and partner in The Santa Cruz Experience, which conducts winery tours in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.