READ Gruyere and Zinfandel: From our American Wines Party (DP1)

Pairing The Uniquely American Zinfandel With Aged Gruyere Cheese

Welcome to tasting notes for pairing Gruyere with Zinfandel. An unusual pair, the heavy hitting Zinfandel somehow lets the gruyere have its full voice, while adding complex jammy notes and rich spice.

Below are tasting notes for the cheese, the wine and then comments on how they pair together. At the bottom of this section, there are more detailed notes for you to explore the cheese and wine more completely.

The Cheese

Your cheese is an aged gruyere of at least 12 months.

BodyFirm even curd with no cracks, but may have “eyes.” May become granular as it ages.
Primary TastesBalanced sweet, salt and savory flavors, with low acidity and no bitterness.
Dairy FlavorsCream, butter. Can be milky when young, savoury caramel when aged.
Introduced FlavorsWashed and brushed rind: sometimes brothy near the rind
Aging FlavorsHerbs: light grassy or floral (meadow) notes
Fruit: dried fruit
Nutty, toasted or roasted notes
Developed dairy: caramelised milk or caramelised onion

The Wine

Your wine is a tannin full Zinfandel style, typical of California.

BodyMedium to full body, depending on tannins
Medium-high alcohol and acidity
Grape FlavorsBlack and red fruits – ripe blackberries, brambly black cherries, and jammy raspberry notes
Black pepper, spice
Occasional wild herbs
Winemaker InterventionsOak: vanilla, baking spices, and cedar
Aged FlavorsDried fruits such as figs and raisins
Leather, tobacco, and earthiness
Smooths tannins and acidity

Why Should It Work?

Remember – everyone is different so you will have your own opinions.

StrengthThe wine and the cheese have balanced moderate profiles, making them compatible partners. Gruyere, even when strong, can can be overwhelmed by wines and beers, so it is best to think of it as having at most a moderate body.
BalanceGruyere with its low acidity and balanced sweet, salty, and savory tastes make it tricky to pair. Zinfandel achieves this by complementing it with rich diverse fruit, alcohol, tannins and spic, without diminishing the cheese.
HarmonyGruyere’s fruity and floral notes harmonise with wine’s rich array of fruits.
TextureThe chewy tannins of the wine match the chewy cheese.
ProvenanceThis combination is a rule breaker as Zinfandel is nothing like the wines Gruyere traditionally pairs with. I hope you enjoy it.

More About Gruyere

Gruyere cheese is an iconic and globally popular Swiss style cheese. Swiss gruyeres are called “Le Gruyere AOP” and most countries (not the USA) respect the term Gruyere as applying to cheeses only made in Switzerland. This was the subject of a US court case in 2023.

Shape & Size

Gruyeres are big cheeses. They are large, firm, cow’s milk cheese carefully aged to develop distinct flavors and textures.

The cheese is typically:

  • a flat wheel
  • 30 to 75cm (12 to 30 inches) across, 7 to 10cm (2.5 to 4 inches) deep
  • 25 to 40 kilograms (55 to 88 pounds) depending on its size

Swiss gruyere becomes recognisable in style and quality around 7 months, but may not reach its full complexity until 14 months or more.

Origins Of Gruyere Cheese

Gruyere cheese hails from the Gruyere region in Switzerland. Its roots can be traced back to the 12th century, making it one of the oldest cheese varieties in Europe.

The cheese is typically made in small dairies within villages of the region by farmers using their own milk. This can change significantly as the cows move up to mountain pastures for the summer, then return to the barns for winter.

Swiss Gruyeres are often matured by specialists, called affineurs, who develop the tastes and flavors of cheeses of many cheesemakers over many months in large maturing houses.

Characteristics Of Gruyere Cheese

Gruyere cheese is celebrated for its unique set of characteristics, which have contributed to its global recognition and popularity.

  1. Body: Gruyere is known for its smooth, creamy texture. It is supple and pliable when young, but becomes firmer and more granular as it ages. The cheese often features small, scattered holes or “eyes” throughout its interior. Gruyere with its careful balance of tastes, even when strong, can can be overwhelmed by wines and beers so it is best to think of it as having at most moderate body.
  2. Taste: Gruyere is identifiable as having balanced sweet, salt and savoury flavors, with low acidity and no bitterness.
  3. Flavors: Gruyere boasts a complex and nutty flavor with hints of tanginess and earthiness. Prized gruyeres show subtle fruity, herby and/or floral notes.

Melting Qualities: Gruyere is renowned for its excellent melting properties. It is a popular choice for fondue and gratin dishes due to its ability to melt smoothly and create a creamy, luscious texture.

Coming To America

The journey of Gruyere cheese to the United States can be traced back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries with Swiss immigrants. They established dairy farms particularly in regions like Wisconsin, which have became synonymous with cheese production in the U.S.

Free from the tradition of Swiss Gruyere, American interpretations can be diverse. Finding Gruyeres more than 12 months rich in flavor can be difficult.

Gruyere Today

Swiss Gruyere is a huge and important export for Switzerland, as it combines artisan cheesemaking with a globally successful business model. It also continues to be one of the most successful cheese styles in cheese competitions in the world due to its easily enjoyable taste profile and huge capacity for flavor complexity when aged well.

Zinfandel, The American Dream Wine

The roots of Californian Zinfandel, like so many grapes, can be traced back to the early 1800’s when it was introduced by European immigrants. The grape’s exact origins are debatable, but it is widely believed to be related to Primitivo in Italy or the Croatian grape Crljenak Kaštelanski, also known as Tribidrag.

Zinfandel gained popularity during the Gold Rush era of the mid-1800s. Miners enjoyed its robust character and adaptability to California’s climate. Vineyards sprang up throughout the state, with a particular concentration in the Sierra Foothills and the Central Valley. By the late 1800’s Zinfandel was the most widely planted grape variety in California.

Evolution, Set Backs & Innovation

Prohibition posed a significant challenge to the wine industry. Many vineyards were uprooted or converted to other crops. However, some “resourceful” winemakers continued to produce Zinfandel for sacramental and medicinal purposes, preserving the grape’s heritage, and from 1933 after Prohibition Zinfandel experienced a resurgence in popularity. The grape found its way into countless backyard vineyards and became a staple in California’s wine culture.

  • Old Vine Zinfandel, some dating back over a century, became a particular point of pride for California winemakers. These gnarled, low-yielding vines produce intensely flavored grapes that contribute to some of the state’s most sought-after Zinfandel wines.
  • The concept of “terroir” gained prominence in Californian Zinfandel production, with winemakers experimenting with different soil types, microclimates, and vineyard practices to showcase the grape’s versatility. Single-vineyard Zinfandels, or “crus,” became highly prized for their distinct expressions of terroir.


Winemakers had a 19th century history of producing a range of styles, from sweet, fortified Zinfandel wines to lighter, table wines. In the 1990’s and early 2000’s this innovation was built upon as producers started employing smaller oak barrel aging and stricter vineyard selection, resulting in wines of greater depth and finesse. This marked a turning point for Zinfandel, as winemakers and consumers alike began to appreciate the grape’s potential for crafting complex, age-worthy wines.


Another strength of this Californian staple is its ability to blend with varieties like Syrah and Grenache, producing new wine profiles or styles associated with France’s Rhône Valley.

It remains a quintessential American wine, celebrated for its diverse range of styles, from the jammy and fruit-forward to the more elegant and structured.

Tasting Notes For Californian Zinfandel

Californian Zinfandel wines are known for their fuller body, higher alcohol and ripe fruit flavors, primarily blackberries and cherries with a touch of black pepper and spice.

  1. Body: Medium to full body. Dry with moderate to medium-high alcohol and acidity. Tannins from younger vineyards can be softer, while old-vine Zinfandels are more pronounced and chewable.
  2. Grape Flavors: Zinfandel can have black and red fruits – ripe blackberries, brambly black cherries, and jammy raspberry notes. Black pepper, spice, and sometimes wild herbs.
  3. Winemaker Interventions
    • Oak: Oak aging is a common creating vanilla, baking spices, and cedar notes.
    • Malolactic conversion and less aging are less common
  4. Aging: Primary fruit flavors remain prominent, but new flavors of dried fruits such as figs and raisins plus leather, tobacco, and earthiness emerge.

Two Feet In The Past, Two Feet In The Future

Zinfandel and Gruyere are both global brands. They are rooted in a rich history, and both have adopted modern tools and skills to make themselves taste more interesting, more commercial and travel further. Having the same attitude doesn’t make them a taste match, that’s just happy serendipity.