The olive may be a small fruit, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in variety and flavor, which makes the topic of olives and wine pairing especially complex and interesting. All the different flavors are due to a number of factors: from how the olives thrive in many climates and soils (from Morocco to California) to how they’re cured.
And when it comes to curing, there really is a wide range of ways to turn this bitter fruit into something that we at The International Kitchen love to snack on, particularly when they’re paired with some wine and cheese.
Depending on the olive producer, after the olives are plucked from the trees, they are cured, marinated, or fermented with either water, brine, oil, or lye. Some methods even include curing the olives out in the sun. These different methods can have an impact on olives and wine pairing, and on which wines pair best with which olives. However, most olives have a pungent or salty taste that needs to be accounted for when choosing a wine. And no matter how the olives have been prepared, you’re going to want a wine that balances out that intense flavor.
One rule of thumb with olives and wine pairing is that if the olives you’re enjoying are particularly briny, sip on a dry sherry or other dry wine, or on a very light and crisp white wine to balance the olives’ flavor. (This is a practice the Spanish have perfected!)
Learn to cook authentic Spanish food in Spain’s olive country.
Wine, Cheese, and Olive Combinations
Olive and wine pairings can become more complicated when you also consider what cheese you’ll be serving with your olive and wine tasting. If you’re serving a Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for instance, go with a Pinot Grigio along with Cerignola olives or Castelvetrano. Cheddar cheese? Think more along the lines of Sevillano olives with tawny ports as well as Barolos.
What’s inside the olives matters too. If they’re stuffed with, say, blue cheese, go for a full-bodied red. On the other hand kalamata olives, no surprise here, go with feta cheese, as well as a range of dry Greek wines, light reds, and Pinot Noir. Alternatively, if they’re stuffed with gorgonzola, opt for full-bodied and robust reds like Chiantis and Bordeaux.
Discover French olives on a culinary tour of Provence.
Wine Cheese Combination
As you can see, what cheese you serve with your olives and wine will definitely impact the wine pairings you choose. There are general rules of thumb that you can follow.
For instance, when in doubt, white wines are best, as they pair more easily with cheeses and olives than red wine. Similarly, “pressed” or hard cheeses are easier to pair than soft cheeses, although a strong, sharp hard cheese and a tannic red wine will stand up to each other.
For goat cheeses and for other soft cheeses, whether with a natural or washed rind, consider refreshing white wines, as the acidity will help cleanse your palate or sparkling white wine. Similarly, if you choose sweeter cheeses and olives to serve, don’t pick too aggressively of red wine, as it will taste too tart in comparison. Instead opt for a semi-dry wine, or even a dessert wine.
Perfect Pairings for Wine, Cheese & Olives
Here are some examples of classic combinations we like, employing varieties of olives that are available in the U.S. You might find different olives available where you live!
These French olives are salt-brine cured, slightly citrusy, and crisp.
Pair them with: Brie and Provolone cheeses; Sauvignon blanc.
This large, Spanish olive is light and meaty, and often found stuffed.
Pair them with: Swiss, Manchego, or Gouda cheese; dry Spanish Cava or Fino.
Or, if the olives are stuffed with a creamy blue cheese, pimentos, or garlic cloves, serve it with a semi-dry Rosé or a Zinfindel.
These are a popular buttery, sweet olive from the Puglia region.
Pair them with: hard cheeses like a Parmigiano-Reggiano, or soft cheeses like a fresh burrata; apperitivo cocktails, sparkling wines like Prosecco, or refreshing whites like Pinot Grigio.
These buttery, sweet, crisp Sicilian olives are also called Nocellara del Belice.
Pair them with: sharp Italian cheese like an aged Pecorino or Asiago; crisp white wine like a Pinot Grigio.
These olives originally hail from Spain but are also cultivated in the U.S. They can be green to black, but are usually picked green and salt-brine cured.
Pair them with tangy cheeses such as goat cheese, or a sharp cheddar; spirits like gin, sparkling wines, Chardonnay, or Cabernet Franc, Barolo, or Port.
This olive is a black, salt-brine cured variety with a vibrant flavor, similar to a Niçoise (below).
Pair them with: mild cheeses like Brie or fresh Mozzarella; Chardonnay or Pinot Noir.
This famed Greek variety is harvested fully ripe and brine cured. Oblong in shape and ranging in color from purple to black.
Pair them with: feta or ricotta cheeses; Pinot Noir or a dry Greek wine.
These purplish-brown olives have a high pit-to-flesh ratio and a nutty, slightly sour flavor.
Pair them with: Brousse or Camembert cheese; Chardonnay.
A jet black, dry-cured olive then aged in brine, it is wrinkly and slightly bitter.
Pair them with: a nutty Picodon goats-milk cheese; Chablis or a Tavel Rosé.
These olives are purplish when salt-cured, or darker and wrinkly when dry-cured and rubbed with oil, and are often packed with herbs.
Pair them with: Provolone or a milk Pecorino cheese; a Lazio wine like Trebbiano (white) or Cesanese (red).
These olives have a rich, salty flavor.
Pair them with: an intense sweet blue like a Dolcelatte, or a washed rind soft cheese like Epoisses; semi-sweet Riesling or other sweet wines.
Enjoy an authentic southern Italian fish recipe featuring olives.
What are your favorite wines to drink while you savor the flavors of an antipasto of olives?
You can explore olives by traveling to many of our destinations. Some even offer the possibility of joining in the olive harvest, such as our Farm-to-Beach Gourmet Getaway in Greece and Living the Real Tuscan Dream!
By Peg Kern
Sign up to receive our newsletter, which includes travel tips, recipes, promotions, and information on our best vacation packages.