I love wine, but I don't know a lot about it. Sure, I can tell good from terrible, but that doesn't make me a connoisseur. Since I learn best through the immersion method, throwing a wine-tasting party twice a year is the best way for me to get friendly with more labels and add to my short list of reliable table wines.
I'm not talking about an exclusive gathering of sensitive palates, swirling and sniffing ad nauseam. How it works is simple: every couple brings two bottles of wine. One is a wine they already love, something easygoing and affordable but worth introducing to others. The second bottle is a wild card, a wine new to that person -- this is the fun part, branching out into the unknown. I rely on the wine buyer at my local market for suggestions. Sometimes the vino is from an overlooked wine region; other times it's an unusual version of a well-known varietal -- like a drier, crisp Gewurztraminer from California or a funky, effervescent Txakoli from Spain.
Not too cold, not too warm—just right! Discover the proper temperature to serve any wine.
Creating a Menu to Pair with Unknown Wines
Though a wine-tasting gathering technically falls in the "cocktail party" category, which lets the host off the hook for dinner, I always put out enough appetizers to fill up my guests. Instead of going on to dinner, the trend is for friends to linger, talk and sip wine, and a table brimming with lovely appetizers encourages guests to settle in.
- Make a few formal appetizers, and round out the rest of the table with olives, nuts, and cured meats.
- A wide ranges of cheeses, fruit, and perhaps a smoked trout spread will ensure friendly foods for the white wines.
- Heartier dishes, like cocktail meatballs or grilled vegetables, will complement the reds.
- Use edible fall fruit such as pears and champagne grapes to garnish the table.
- Ask a friend to bring an extra bottle opener.
- Have small cards and pens at the ready for jotting down favorites.
- Have friends write reviews of their favorite wines before they arrive and place them near the bottle.
- Leave cards by each wine for guests to make comments and pairing suggestions.
Since this is generally my first party of the fall, I'll make a centerpiece for the table, perhaps even a wreath for the door, and I will have candles burning throughout the room.
Make-Ahead Dilled Onion Cheese Balls
No fall holiday party is complete without a plate of crackers and a cheese ball. As a bonus, you can make and freeze any of these variations up to three months ahead of your party!
Get the recipe: Make-Ahead Dilled Onion Cheese Balls
Of course you can still place a few bowls of olives out for appetizers, but including this spread won't hurt, either. You can make and freeze it up to 3 months in advance, so it's one less appetizer to make the day-of.
Get the recipe: Triple-Olive Tapenade
Baked Brie en Croute
This appetizer might look fancy, but it's ready to serve in an hour. Plus, your guests will love scooping up fresh, gooey brie with apple and pear slices.
Get the recipe: Baked Brie en Croute
Greek Stuffed Meatballs
These rich meatballs have a surprise inside -- gooey feta cheese! Start slow-cooking these meatballs in a thick tomato sauce in the morning so they're ready to eat when your guests arrive.
Get the recipe: Greek Stuffed Meatballs
Mini Souvlaki Skewers with Fennel-Yogurt Dip
Make your appetizer spread a little heartier by including these pork and veggie skewers. If cucumbers and grape tomatoes aren't for you, mix it up and create your own combos.
Get the recipe: Mini Souvlaki Skewers with Fennel-Yogurt Dip
Make your own masterpiece! Click for more inspiration for mix-and-match souvlaki.
Two Tomato Bruschetta
Your guests will love snacking on this fresh, cheesy bruschetta. You'll love that it only takes 15 minutes to prepare and 5 minutes to bake!
Get the recipe: Two Tomato Bruschetta
Up to three months ahead...
- Prepare and freeze the tapenade.
- Prepare and freeze the cheese balls.
Three days ahead...
- Make and chill the hummus.
- Start making your centerpiece.
One day ahead...
- Place the tapenade and the cheese balls in the refrigerator to thaw overnight.
Five hours before guests arrive...
- Prep and start slow-cooking the meatballs.
One hour before guests arrive...
- Prep the baked brie, bruschetta, and souvlaki skewers so they're ready to pop in the oven.
- Assemble the antipasto platter.
15 to 30 minutes before guest arrive...
- Put out the fruit, cheeses, and other appetizers.
- Set out the hummus.
- Place the baked brie in the oven.
- Set out wine glasses, napkins, and wine openers.
15 minutes before guests arrive...
- Take the white wines out of the refrigerator to take the chill off.
- Uncork the reds to let them breathe.
- Place the bruschetta and souvlaki skewers in the oven.
5 minutes before guests arrive...
- Remove the baked brie, bruschetta, and souvlaki skewers from the oven and prepare to party!
More Wine-Worthy Appetizers
These recipes aren't your only options. Mix and match your favorite party appetizers to pair with your glasses of wine. Or invite your guests to bring an appetizer and host a potluck-style party!
- Toothpick Appetizers
- Easy Party Apps
- Easy Slow Cooker Snacks
- Warm and Cheesy Appetizers
- How to Pair Wine & Cheese