When choosing food for a wine tasting, the trick is to select unobtrusive but inspiring dishes that complement the wines without competing for the spotlight. This is not the occasion to bring out your signature dishes, but rather to provide light snacks that consolidate aromas or evoke a regional theme.
On a Budget
Supplying an array of quality wines will already make a dent in the budget, so choose simple, dependable snacks to contain the costs. Stock up on some all-important palate-cleansers to transition between bottles. Crackers and unsalted bread, such as baguettes, rarely fail, along with raw carrot and celery sticks. The next step up is the tried-and-tested cheese platter, a traditional pairing noted for its pleasant marriage of tannin and texture. Because not every cheese automatically goes with every wine, serve a variety of cheeses including blue, soft-rinded, goat and hard. Blue cheeses go well with fruity cabernets, goat cheeses match dry whites such as sauvignon blanc, and strong-flavored Roquefort and its imitators pair well with Rhone Valley reds.
For a true connoisseurs’ party, where the focus is on getting to the heart of a wine’s individual notes, whether it be fruity, woody or buttery, go for foods that echo the expected flavors in the glass. For example, delicate slivers of dark chocolate will bring out the best in a merlot, while a bowl of cherries sets off a pinot noir. For a sauvignon blanc, pick out citrusy, acidic bites such as grapefruit. “Food & Wine” magazine recommends serving syrah with a tray of peppercorns. This epicurean approach might leave guests with their senses heightened, but also risks leaving them hungry, so ideally use it in conjunction with some more substantial snacks.
“Forbes” magazine maintains that a wine-tasting should start with Champagne to loosen up the taste buds, in which case a Champagne zabaglione with fresh fruit is “Epicurious”’ suggestion. Otherwise, a simple guiding tactic is to pick wines and foods that share a regional connection, however loose. Italy remains the go-to country for geographical pairing, with the option of a cold cuts platter including salami, Parma ham, prosciutto and mortadella to go with a full-bodied Chianti or Tuscan montepulciano, but even a tray of hard, dry Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese will succeed in bringing out a wine’s character. An Italian-themed tasting is also a great opportunity to serve some simple homemade pizzas, with just a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle of basil over mozzarella and tomato. Alternatively, the acidity of a French muscadet will bring out the flavor of fresh Atlantic oysters, mussels, clams or smoked trout on hot baguette.
The notion that strong flavors don’t belong in a wine tasting runs counter to the logic of serving fine wines at a gourmet dinner. “Food & Wine” magazine recommends a less traditional hors d’oeuvres line-up with bowls of kettle chips, spicy hummus and ricotta-topped crostini oozing thyme and shallot flavors. Red meat, too, effectively grapples with the tannins in red wine, so consider some bread sticks wrapped in bresaola, one of the few Italian cured meats using beef. Chablis and sauvignon blanc are more than a match for oily fish, which unleashes the potential for buttered sardines on toast with a red onion and dill garnish, or a smoked trout pate.
References and ResourcesFood & Wine: 3 Amazing Wine-Tasting Parties
Epicurious: How to Host a Wine-Tasting Party
Delish: How to Pair Wine and Cheese
Forbes: Wine-Tasting Party Tips
ResourcesWhat’s Cooking America: Best Fruit and Cheese Platters
Sonoma County: Wineries with Food Pairings