Thursday, January 13, 2011

Wine Tasting Appetizer Ideas

So you want to host a wine tasting party? And you want your event to be as fun and educational as possible, right? Well as much as some people like to focus just on wine alone, food and wine are a match made in heaven. Besides, when people start drinking wine and the fun discussion begins, people tend to get hungry. So even if you are not hosting a full wine dinner party, your wine tasting will be much more of a success if you have fun and delicious foods available for your guests to snack on. While simple crackers and/or bread may be enough just to cleanse your palate between flights of wines, even a small selection of more interesting wine tasting appetizers can really bring your humble event to a whole new level.

Tip 1: Try to pair your wine tasting appetizers to the theme of the wine tasting. In other words, don't pair heavy sausage stuffed mushrooms if you and your guests are tasting light, delicate white wines. Try to pair the food to the wine theme. If you are tasting several types of wine, then provide a selection of appetizers.

Tip 2: Don't get too formal. Unless you love to cook, try not to overwhelm yourself with complicated foods. Start with simple snacks that are easy to prepare or take no preparation. If you are not serving a full dinner, then try to keep it simple. Put out several plates of finger foods and encourage guests to help themselves.

Some specific wine tasting appetizer ideas: Below is a list of some classic finger food appetizers which are perfect for a wine tasting event. They are generally easy to prepare and can be simply placed on the table for guests to help themselves. They are also pretty versatile, pairing well with many types of wine. Beyond these, get creative. There are no rules so if you have a favorite appetizer that you like to make, throw that out for your guests to enjoy as well. The only tip I have about choosing dishes is to avoid very spicy foods or odd, pungent flavors which may clash with many wines. The ideas below start with the most simple and easy to prepare and continue through some more involved appetizers that require a small amount of preparation.

Bread and/or Crackers: Sliced bread, such as a French Baguette or Batard, and/or simple crackers are a great basic food to have available at every wine tasting. Besides being necessary to serve some soft cheeses or other spreads, they are filling and a good neutral snack to cleanse your palate between wines.

Cured Olives: Most fine supermarkets now carry excellent selections of cured olives. These are extremely easy. Simply serve them in some bowl or dish and be sure to supply an empty bowl for discarded pits. There are several varieties to choose from. Try to avoid very spicy or salty ones as these can interfere with the tasting of wine.

Nuts and Dried Fruit: It is very common to see a selection of dried nuts and/or dried fruit slices as wine tasting appetizers, served alone or alongside olives or a cheese plate. In fact, many nuts accompany cheeses beautifully and are neutral flavored enough to accompany many wines. Spanish Marcona almonds and walnuts are great choices, as are dried apricot slices. Try to avoid very sweet fruits, particularly if you are drinking dry table wines.

Cheese Plate: Cheese and wine can be absolutely delicious. You can provide a selection of fine cheeses on a cheese plate, accompanied by knives or forks for firm cheeses and a spreading knife and bread for softer cheeses. Try to pair the cheese with the types of wines you are serving. If you can, find cheeses from the same regions as the wines. Short of that, try to choose more mild flavored cheeses with lighter wines and richer, more pungent cheeses with more full-flavored wines. While very rich, pungent or stinky cheeses can be delicious with rich wines, their strong aroma may detract from being able to appreciate the subtleties of the wines at the tasting.

Sliced Cured Sausages and Meats: Dried sausages and other charcuterie can be another easy and delicious accompaniment to a wine tasting. There are dozens to choose from. French saucisson sec, Italian salami, Pâté, terrines, Prosciutto, and many others are all delicious, easy to serve and a fine appetizer to accompany a wine tasting.

Bruschetta: Bruschetta is a simple Italian finger food appetizer usually consisting of slices of toasted bread topped with various chopped accompaniments such as tomatoes, shallots, cheese, garlic, and/or olive oil. There are many variations but most recipes are quite simple and quick to make. To make it a bit richer to accompany heavier red wines, add sautéed mushrooms or meats such as Prosciutto or bacon to kick up the flavor a notch.

Tapenade: Tapenade is a puréed olive dish usually consisting of olives, herbs, anchovies, garlic and olive oil. Because it is made by blending the ingredients in a food processor, this spread is quite easy and quick. It's also delicious! Make a big batch and serve in a big serving bowl along with bread or crackers to spread it on.

Josh Dusick is the editor of the Wine Tastings Guide at where you can get information about how to host a wine tasting party, how to serve and taste wine and even about pairing wine and food.

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