Hosting a wine tasting this summer is a great way to catch up with friends and learn about food and wine.
Discover personal wine preferences and get acquainted with different brands and wine varietals such as chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot. At the same time, pair foods with the wines you have selected.
Now the purists will tell you that food should be kept to a minimum during the wine-tasting portion of your party because it clouds your palate. Water and unsalted, unflavored crackers or bread help to clear the palate between wines. Once the tasting is over, a variety of cheeses, breads or crackers, and fruits can complement the wines you have been drinking.
But for those who want to send their company out the door with more sustenance than that, there's a wonderful selection of foods fit for the post-wine tasting table.
Before you can determine the menu, decide on the wines you will serve.
The rule of thumb when tasting multiple wines is to taste white wines before reds, and within each group start with the wines that are light in body before going on to fuller-bodied wines, according to Gallo of Sonoma.
White wines, from lighter to fuller: pinot gris, reisling, sauvignon blanc, and chardonnay.
Red wines, from lighter to fuller: pinot noir, sangiovese, syrah, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and zinfandel.
Another option is to set a price range for wines, or you can taste wines from a specific region or variety.
When tasting the wine, guests should note its appearance, aroma, taste, and finish and balance. An out-of-balance wine can have too much sugar, acid, alcohol, or tannin.
Once you have selected the wines, think about the foods that will follow.
Because cheese is the classic pairing with either white wine or red wine, I can't resist including a selection with either for guests to munch on while dinner is in the making.
Following a white-wine tasting, serve mildly flavored Camembert with fresh fruit such as berries or peaches and crusty bread. Stronger-flavored cheeses such as Parmigiano-Reggiano richly melt on a crostini in a hot oven and are delicious following red wines.
Three or four hot hors d'oeuvres followed by a sweet dessert make a nice finish. For example, sliced chicken on mini-rounds of French bread topped with an orange walnut sauce; stuffed mushroom caps, and sun-dried tomato filled red-skinned new potatoes. For dessert, a delectable chocolate cake with mocha cream frosting or a fresh fruit tart served with coffee or hot tea is irresistible.
If the wine tasting is pre-dinner, there are simple menus that can be quickly prepared while guests are munching on the cheeses.
Following a white-wine tasting, an entree of grilled salmon with a pineapple pecan salsa, asparagus spears, and grilled new red potatoes is an easy meal to prepare quickly. For dessert, serve fresh strawberries dipped in chocolate, made earlier in the day.
For a heartier entree to complement those red wines, seasoned steak and vegetable kabobs marinated in one of the wines from the tasting need only be placed on a pre-heated grill while rice simmers on the stove top. Follow with dessert of homemade brownies.
Think out of the box when serving the food. Use platters or serving pieces that are made of different materials such as glass or wood. Mix and match different sizes and shapes of plates and saucers. Try using square plates instead of round. Use festive paper products if you like.
Best of all, enjoy your company.
Kathie Smith is The Blade's food editor. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.