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Does white wine go with mac and cheese?

Mac and cheese is a classic comfort food that is beloved by many. Its rich, cheesy flavor pairs well with a variety of wines, but a crisp white wine is often considered one of the best options. In this article, we’ll examine whether white wine is a good pairing for mac and cheese and look at the factors that impact this combination.

The flavor profiles of mac and cheese and white wine

First, let’s look at the dominant flavors in mac and cheese and white wine individually to understand how they may interact when paired together.

Mac and cheese

The hallmarks of mac and cheese are its rich, indulgent cheese sauce and tender pasta. The cheese sauce is often made with cheddar, colby, gruyere or similar melted cheeses that have a creamy, nutty flavor. The pasta soaks up this velvety sauce as it cooks, resulting in a satisfying dish with a rich mouthfeel.

Depending on the recipe, mac and cheese can also have accent flavors like:

  • Smokiness from smoked gouda or bacon
  • Pungency from mustard or hot sauce
  • Savoriness from Worchestershire sauce or Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • Herbaceousness from parsley, chives or other fresh herbs

But the predominant taste is the indulgent combination of cheese and carbs.

White wine

In contrast to the heavy, creamy flavor of mac and cheese, white wines are defined by their crisp, bright acidity. They tend to be lower in tannins than reds.

Some of the most popular white wine varieties include:

  • Chardonnay: Known for its complex butter and oak flavors from barrel aging.
  • Sauvignon Blanc: Crisp and herbaceous with grassy or tropical fruit notes.
  • Riesling: Ranges from dry to sweet with prominent stone fruit and citrus notes.
  • Pinot Grigio: Light-bodied with green apple and lemon flavors.
  • Moscato: Sweet and floral with intense apricot, peach and orange blossom aromas.

In general, white wines have a lighter body and intensity of flavor than reds. They tend to emphasize acidity, fruitiness, and floral or herbal notes rather than heavy tannins or oak influences. The crispness balances out rich foods.

Factors that impact the mac and cheese – white wine pairing

Now that we’ve looked at the dominant taste components in each, we can start to see how mac and cheese and white wine can complement each other from a flavor perspective. Here are some key considerations when pairing them:

Cheese choice

The specific cheeses used in the mac and cheese have an impact on which white wines pair best. Aged cheddar and gruyere have nutty, earthy flavors that match well with oaky Chardonnay or herbal Sauvignon Blanc. In contrast, a mac and cheese with mild fresh cheeses like mozzarella or Brie could clash with those bolder wines but pair nicely with a bright, citrusy Pinot Grigio or unoaked Chardonnay.

Other ingredients

Add-ins like smoked gouda, bacon, mustard or hot sauce introduce new flavors that could shift the wine pairing. For example, if the mac and cheese has a smoky profile from the addition of bacon, a lightly oaked Chardonnay would complement that flavor. Spicy mac and cheese may pair better with a sweeter Riesling to temper the heat.

Preparation method

Stovetop mac and cheese often has a homier, subtler flavor than mac baked in the oven which can concentrate and intensify the cheese taste. The bolder cheesy flavor of baked mac may demand a wine with more oak or body to match its intensity. Delicate stovetop mac and cheese could be overpowered by the same wine.

Pairing principles

Some guidelines that can help match white wine with mac and cheese include:

  • Cutting richness: Crisp, acidic white wines slice through the indulgent cheese sauce.
  • Matching weight: Light-bodied whites work with simple preparations; fuller-bodied for heavier recipes.
  • Complementing flavors: Nutty oaky wines accent cheeses like aged cheddar; citrusy wines offset fresh mozzarella.
  • Considering aromas: Match aromas like an herbal Sauvignon Blanc with herbed breadcrumb topping.

Popular white wines to pair with mac and cheese

Given the information above, here are some versatile white wines to consider pairing with mac and cheese:

Unoaked Chardonnay

Unoaked Chardonnay delivers pure apple, citrus and melon flavors along with crisp acidity to balance the richness of mac and cheese. It works with most cheese choices.

Sauvignon Blanc

The herbaceousness of Sauvignon Blanc contrasts nicely with the cheesy decadence of mac and cheese. Its grassy, green pepper profile matches well with sharp cheddar.

Dry Riesling

Dry Riesling has piercing acidity but also stone fruit flavors that complement aged cheeses. The aromas align nicely with herbs often used in mac and cheese recipes.

Pinot Grigio

Pinot Grigio is light, citrusy and easy-drinking. It pairs well with mac and cheese dishes with mild fresh cheeses and vegetable additions like peas or broccoli.

Wine Key Flavors Cheese Pairings
Unoaked Chardonnay Citrus, green apple, melon Aged cheddar, Gruyere, Havarti
Sauvignon Blanc Grassy, herbaceous, green pepper Sharp cheddar, Parmesan
Dry Riesling Stone fruit, citrus, floral Aged gouda, Swiss, Pecorino
Pinot Grigio Green apple, lemon, lime Mozzarella, Brie, goat cheese

Serving suggestions

Here are some tips for serving white wine with mac and cheese:

  • Chill the white wine to 46-52°F to maximize refreshment and contrast with the hot mac and cheese.
  • Select wine glasses that concentrate aromas like a tapered white wine glass or flute for sparkling wines.
  • Pour a 2-3 oz tasting portion to allow the wine to be savored with each bite.
  • Cleanse the palate between bites with sips of wine to refresh the mouth.
  • Enjoy the pairing during a relaxed meal to appreciate how the flavors interact.

In terms of order, serve the wine after serving the mac and cheese to avoid the food overpowering the wine’s subtler flavors.

Food pairing ideas

Mac and cheese isn’t usually served alone – extend the pairing by including sides that also complement the selected white wine. Some ideas:

  • Green salad with vinaigrette dressing. The veggies and acid in the vinaigrette align with white wine.
  • Buttered breadcrumbs or garlic bread. The richness matches oaky, buttery Chardonnay.
  • Sauteed veggies like green beans, broccoli or spinach. Mirrors green notes in Sauvignon Blanc or herb aromas.
  • Pesto with fresh basil has herbal qualities that pair nicely with white wines like Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc or Albariño.

Dessert pairing ideas

For an ultimate indulgence, you can also pair a sweeter dessert wine with a mac and cheese recipe:

  • Moscato d’Asti – The peach, apricot and orange blossom flavors align with rich cheeses.
  • Late harvest Riesling – Notes of pear, apricot and honey complement the cheese.
  • Sauternes – Luscious and concentrated with apricot, honey and floral notes.
  • Ice wine – Intense tropical fruit and citrus flavors with bracing acidity.

For an informal gathering, serve small pours along with the mac and cheese for a fun dessert course.


White wine can be an excellent pairing for mac and cheese. The crisp acidity and fruity flavors of whites provide contrast to the rich cheese sauce. Lighter whites like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and dry Riesling complement simple preparations, while full-bodied oaky Chardonnay stands up to intense baked macaroni and cheese.

Consider the cheese, additional ingredients, cooking method and flavor profiles when selecting a white wine to serve. Chilling the wine and serving appropriate sides and portion sizes can further enhance the pairing experience. With a little forethought, white wine and mac and cheese can be a match made in comfort food heaven.