Looking for a unique twist on the standard cocktail or dinner party? Invite friends over for a low-key “Wine and Small Plates Tasting” party. With just a little advance planning and minimal cooking, this party leaves you more time to enjoy your friends during the holiday rush—and sample some fun new wines too.
Your Party Plan
First, choose a theme. We cover classic wine and small plate pairings below, but if you and your friends are really into wine you can definitely get creative: You could take a wine “tour” of a country or region (think Italy, Spain, France, South America, or the US), or compare a favorite type of wine from a variety of regions.
Next, choose your wine. The rule of thumb is to include a mix of whites and reds, and stick with 5-6 varieties so your guests won’t be overwhelmed. Experts generally recommend one or two bottles of each wine for a party of eight to ten guests. (Personally I’d go for a third bottle to avoid running out and to be sure guests can have as much as they want of their favs!) If you’re not sure what to pick or how to pair ask at your local wine shop; they’ll be happy to make recommendations and may have write-ups about specific bottles.
Now, set the scene. You have two options for the party’s layout. You could designate a tasting station for each pairing, or set up several pairings on a long counter or table and swap them midway through the party. Once you know how you’ll set up, make sure each area is stocked with the gear you’ll need. Pick up a box of inexpensive all-purpose wine glasses (great to have on hand for all your parties) or if you’re inviting a crowd, you might consider renting a rack of glasses from a caterer. You’ll also need tasting plates and napkins, and don’t forget water glasses for cleansing palates between tastings…and to keep everyone hydrated!
Store your white and sparkling wines in the refrigerator in advance of the party and have ice buckets at the ready to keep them chilled. Red wine can be served at room temperature.
Note: This is definitely the time to break out those cute wine charms to help guests keep their glasses straight! Check out our video on Wine Tools and Gadgets for other gear that may come in handy.
On the Menu
The idea here is to serve a simple, small dish to complement each wine. Go for a mix of pre-made frozen apps, easy things that can be ordered in (and placed on pretty platters), and just a few homemade dishes. Here are some great pairings to get you started; moving from light whites to robust reds and ending on a sweet note:
- Start with Champagne with smoked salmon and cucumber canapés or any tasty puff pastry appetizer that catches your eye. For an Italian twist serve Prosecco with simple skewers of prosciutto wrapped melon chunks.
- Sauvingon Blanc shares a bright grassy flavor (and is delicious with) simple herbed goat cheese and crackers
- Dry Rieslings are tasty and cooling paired with spicy Asian dishes. Try it with our Crispy Sesame Crab Cakes with Spicy Ginger Ailoi or even spicy tuna rolls.
- Pinot Noir pairs well with just about anything–really! For major impact go for seared lamb chops with fruit chutney
- Merlot is amazing with lighter pork dishes; think pork potstickers or babyback ribs or our Grilled Thai Pork Meatballs.
- A bold Cabernet is a natural with beef. Serve with simple grilled beef tenderloin skewers or medallions of filet mignon topped with blue cheese.
- Easiest dessert pairing ever? Go for Port with dark chocolate covered strawberries or rich brownies from your local bakery
Tip: If you’re doing a tour of a particular country an easy trick is to pair your wines with dishes from that region. When in doubt? Keep it simple and offer a varied cheese plate, baguettes, some charcuterie, and grapes.
Let the Fun Begin!
When everyone arrives, take a moment to go over your theme and the pairings you’ll be sampling. For a fun touch put together a Tasting Menu to display on the table in a picture frame. As you go through each of your selections encourage guests to jot down tasting notes – there are clever downloadable grids available online. Leave out bottles and wine write-ups for guests to peruse.
Take your time and savor each pour before moving on to the next. Once you’ve gone through the pairings guests can mingle and revisit their favorite wines and small plates (that’s what those extra bottles are for!) Just for fun, have everyone vote for favorite wine and favorite pairing and announce the crowd winners at the end. Send everyone home with a copy of the Tasting Menu including each wine’s winemaker, varietal, and vintage as a memento and for their own wine shopping.
Now tell us: What’s your favorite wine & small plate food pairing?