Cheese and wine go together like you and your valentine—with each bringing unique characteristics to create a shared experience that’s truly magical. For perfect Valentine’s Day wine and cheese pairings, we called on Shanika Hillocks, one of Wine Enthusiast’s 40 Under 40 Tastemakers. Here are Shanika’s picks for what to pour with some of our favorite cheeses to create a delicious date night. She also shares how she got into the industry, why red Gushers are a valid tasting note, and what she’d bring to a dinner party. Plus, more foolproof pairings from the Murray’s team!
SHANIKA’S PAIRING PICKS
Murray’s Cave-Aged Limited Annelies Reserve + Sangiovese Red Blend
“A heavier red wine would have masked the taste of this cheese. Easy and enjoyable, this light-bodied red balanced out the light cocoa notes and sweet flavors of the Annelies.”
Murray’s 18-Month Aged Comté + Champagne
“Fruity with notes of brioche, this beverage held up well against the nutty notes of this cheese. Since both are from France, it made sense they’d go together brilliantly.”
Colston Bassett Stilton + Dry Riesling
“The Finger Lakes region produces some great rieslings. A drier one with a higher mineral content, with the addition of stone fruit, married well with the minerally tang of this buttery blue.”
Q&A WITH SHANIKA
Why did you choose these cheeses for these three wine categories?
Pairing One – SH: The name on the packaging drew me in immediately: Annelies. After finding out that this was a tribute to the cheesemonger’s wife, I had to add it to this Valentine’s Day roster, because how romantic? I found this cheese a bit sweeter, with light cocoa notes that went well with dark chocolate. That said, I opted for a lighter-bodied, quaffable red wine and found that a sangiovese red blend from my favorite local wine shop was balanced enough to carry the cheese’s flavors without masking it as a heavier red wine would do.
Pairing Two – SH: Champagne is my favorite sparkling variety. It’s the bottle of wine I always bring as a host gift or dinner party because it pairs well with everything from the start to the finish of a meal. Champagne can only be classified as such if it’s produced in the Champagne region of France. Comté is an AOC-protected cheese, also from France. There’s even a certification mark on its rind to showcase the authenticity. Standards aside, I chose this pairing because of the full-body mouthfeel experienced after the first bites. Notes of brioche from the wine hold up against the nutty-tasting notes of this beautiful cheese.
Pairing Three – SH: Traditionally, I think blue cheese gets a bad rap. This Stilton Colston Basset changes that. During my first taste of this selection, the salt notes on the tip of the tongue lingered. To balance this out, I enjoyed the cheese on a cracker with a bit of quince paste. I could have gone either way on the wine—dry and minerally or something with higher residual sugar content. I opted for the former and paired it with one of my favorite white varietals: a Finger Lakes. The acidity of this wine and the presence of stone fruit marry well with the tang of this cheese.
When did you get into the wine industry, and what drew you to it?
SH: It has been eight years since I formally entered the wine industry in NYC, but I was a waitress in college and introduced to wine tastings during seasonal menu rollouts and training. For me, it was, and still is, about the ability to center on a moment through the senses. I’m most intrigued by the subjective experience of tasting wine through one’s contextual experience. I’ve never tasted a boysenberry, but I do know what the red Gusher tastes like, and that description is valid in the lexicon too.
Are there any professionals in the industry who have had a big influence on you?
SH: Andre Mack! He was one of the first wine professionals who welcomed my curiosity with open arms. I admire how he has moved and honored the multidimensional person he is—father, partner, businessman, producer, talent—not just a sommelier.
What do you personally look for in a good wine?
SH: If you can’t quite tell, I’m a foodie, so a food-friendly wine—something with light acidity that’s fruit-forward—is always top of mind.
What is your go-to wine style to share with someone who is not necessarily a wine expert or enthusiast?
SH: I love sharing a sparkling wine. Several varieties offer different flavor profiles and price points that make the category super approachable.
MORE PAIRING PICKS FROM MURRAY’S
Murray’s Burrata + Bubbly
Burrata and Champagne are practically made for each other. A bite of burrata coats the mouth in creamy, sweet flavor, but once a sip of bubbly Champagne washes over your palate, you’ll be ready for the next bite. A very popular pairing!
Murray’s Young Manchego + Spanish White
A good policy to keep in mind when pairing is, “What grows together goes together.” Our Young Manchego from Spain has a milder, more buttery flavor than the more aged version. It’s a great pairing for a Spanish white wine like verdejo or albariño.
Appenzeller Extra + Hearty Red
The meaty, mushroomy flavors you experience in an Alpine like Appenzeller beg to be paired with a hearty red. Melt this cheese over roasted potatoes and your date night is complete!
When you show up to your romantic dinner with a curated Valentine’s Day cheese board and some perfectly paired bottles of wine, your date is sure to swoon. All thanks to Shanika! For more of Shanika’s spot-on thoughts about wine, visit her website.