Whether they’re served hot or cold, small bites and tapas make for excellent party fare, and are best paired with good company and a great bottle of wine. But what wine will you choose? With multiple flavor combinations and trays of different hors d’oeuvres circulating through the room, wine pairings become a little like Russian roulette.
Here is a simple wine and appetizer pairing guide to help you find the perfect accompaniment to several popular starters:
This classic Italian appetizer is made from fresh tomato and onion mixed with raw garlic and olive oil, all piled atop a nice slice of toasty bread. In order for a wine to stand toe-to-toe with bruschetta, it will need crisp acidity to balance the tomatoes, as well as medium-bodied structure and full flavors to keep the raw garlic in check. Chianti, Barbera, or Sangiovese – all Italian favorites – make excellent matches.
Olives offer formidable flavor combinations – salt, acidity, pungent flavors, and maybe a little bit of spice, all in a single nibble. Dry sherry and briny green olives are a classic pairing across Spain, though many foodies prefer wines with lower alcohol content. If that’s the case, try a crisp Old World white wine, such as a Spanish Verdejo (which offers steely acidity and a slight minerality), or a brut sparkling wine. Either one can taste quite nice alongside a variety of olives.
Pairing wine and cheese is a tricky business, particularly because varietal wines will either complement or clash with a variety of different cheeses – it’s never a one-to-one match. Aged cheeses, which tend to be rich and savory, pair well with full-bodied, complex wines. Young cheese, often with high moisture content, are more delicate in flavor. Pair them with fruit-forward, young wines with crisp acidity such as sparkling wines and dry rosés.
Sparkling wines and mimosas are natural companions for egg dishes, but a variety of other wine pairings are also possible. Unoaked, light-bodied white wines tend to bring out the best in the incredible, edible egg – whether the egg dish is served hot or at room temperature. Dry sparkling wines, dry rosés, and even a light-bodied red such as Pinot Noir or Beaujolais can also be worthy companions.
A bottle of young merlot, with lush fresh fruit, medium body, and silky finish, can exquisitely complement a variety of cold meats and deli cuts. High fat content meat lends itself well to more acidic merlot wines, while smoked meats play well against oaked wines (particularly those with a slight smokiness on the finish).
If you’re planning a multi-course soirée and want one wine to go the distance from appetizers through desserts, sparkling wines are your best bet. The typical rule of thumb is that if you’re planning a diverse appetizer menu, plan a diverse wine bar to go with it. Uncork a white, red, sparkling, and rosé – and let your guests decide. Guests will gravitate to their personal preference and may even play around a bit see which flavors complement each wine.
Madeline Blasberg is a Certified Wine Consultant currently working for Etching Expressions as Official Wine Commentator & Reviewer. She has spent time living in Mendoza, Argentina where she was surrounded by wine, both personally and professionally.