Find the perfect wine pairing options — right now!
It’s late at night and your kids are finally asleep. You’re ready to crack open your favorite bottle of red when you realize the unthinkable – you’re out of cheese!
Alas, the struggle is real. But I’m here to say you don’t need to sacrifice style or flavor for practicality. You can still enjoy and even host a fabulous wine pairing party just by raiding your own kitchen cabinets. I recently tested this theory by bringing commonly stocked pantry foods to a local wine tasting event near my house.
We sipped, we sampled, we giggled, we conquered. It was glorious.
Here are 10 tips for hosting your own last-minute wine tasting party. Whether the guest list is a party of one or six is up to you.
1. Raid Your Pantry
You’d be surprised by how many items in your pantry pair well with wine. I’d be remiss to provide blank recommendations without trying a few of these pairings myself.
I was so excited to host a “Pantry Pairing” wine event with my Moms Night Out group because I’m always looking for an excuse to A) plan a party and B) drink good wine.
Our Wine Party Spread:
- Sweet: Fruit by the Foot, vanilla wafers
- Bitter: leftover Easter chocolates
- Sour: green apples, lemon slices, Sour Patch Kids
- Salty: Cheez-Its, cheese puffs, pretzels
- Nutty: Peanut Butter and Jelly Spread on white Wonderbread
- Spicy (aka Piquant): teriyaki beef jerky
- Umami (aka Meaty): original beef jerky, Lunchables with ham & pepperoni
As you can see, our options were extremely sophisticated. We sampled four different wines – one white, one rosé, and two reds. Our favorite pairings mostly happened by accident. They tended to be the most understated options.
- White Knight Viognier → paired best with Vanilla Wafers
- Underwood Rosé Pinot Noir → paired best with PB & J
- Eremitage Du Pic Saint Loup Rouge (50% Syrah, 40% Grenache, 10% Mourvedre) → paired best with Spicy Beef Jerky
- Argiolas Costera Cannonau → paired best with Cheez-Its
Why spend hours laboring over Olive Tapenade Crostini or Béarnaise sauce when Cheez-Its and Vanilla Wafers will do?
2. Pair Your Wines with the Right Flavors
Finding the right yin-yang balance with wine and food is tricky. Foods with a high level of sweetness or acidity overpower milder wines. For example, lemon overpowered the sweetness of our white wine, as did the Sour Patch Kids. Now, if we had sampled a very acidic wine, like a Sangiovese, SPK’s might have been perfect!
The key is matching your food to the same level of sweetness or acidity in your wine.
In addition to strong sweets and strong sours, you’ll want to avoid sticky foods that entirely coat your mouth. These will mask the flavors of your wine (imagine Homer Simpson coating his mouth with candle wax prior to ingesting a hallucinogenic ghost chili pepper). The fruit rollups and the cheese puffs stuck to my teeth, making it difficult to taste the finish and tannins in the wines.
As a general rule, you’ll want to match acidic wine with fatty foods (think chicken, buttery alfredo sauces), tannic wines with red meat, acidic wines with acidic and salty foods, and sweet wines with sweet foods.
Lastly, I know this will require some sacrifice on your part, but you’ll want to avoid any vegetables high in sulfur. This includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower or asparagus. Wine releases natural sulfur compounds and usually contains added sulfites as a preservative, so be prepared to taste something terrible if you add more sulfur to the mix.
3. Taste Your Wine Before You Start Eating
Starting with the wine all by itself, follow these four simple steps:
- Pour a small amount of wine into your glass.
- Swirl or swill the glass a bit.
- Sniff your drink (80% of taste comes from smell!).
- Sip and savor the levels of flavor
While making mental notes of what you like and dislike, consider these general aspects of wine:
Aroma: can you smell flowers, spices, even vegetables? The Syrah blend mentioned earlier literally smelled like pasture. In that moment I would have preferred to channel my inner Juliet Capulet at a rose-strewn balcony over Laura Ingalls prancing through crop circles, but oh well.
Acidity: does your wine taste like apple cider vinegar or more like apples?
Sweetness: wine grapes grown in warm regions will be sweeter and less acidic.
Body: does the wine feel thin, like one percent milk, or thick like chocolate milk with melted marshmallows?
Tannins: this one is harder to distinguish, but think of it as an element of bitterness. Full-bodied red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon are high in tannins.
Once you’ve gotten a feel for how the wine tastes, choose a food you feel will match its level of intensity. Take a few bites and chase it with a small sip of wine.
Now sit back and let the magic unfold.
4. Have Enough Wine for Everyone
The standard guest will consume half a bottle of wine. My friends are a bit on the lushy side, so to be safe I’d go with one bottle per person. Have each friend bring a bottle to share, and try to have each person bring a different type of wine to keep things interesting.
If you’re drinking alone (and there’s absolutely no shame in having a few glasses alone), planning your bottle count is a lot easier.
5. Offer a Variety of Wines
The key here is variety. At the very least, you’ll want a few light-bodied white wines (Muscadet, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay) and light-bodied red wines (Gamay, Pinot Noir) since the light-bodied wines will have a higher acidity and pair well with high acidity foods. Follow the pairing infographic above if you have a more elaborate meal planned and want thoughtful, complementary flavors on display.
6. Plan the Tasting Order
You’ll typically want to start with lighter, white wines and work your way up to the heavier, dessert wines. For example:
Prosecco → Sauvignon Blanc → Riesling → Rosé → Pinot Noir → Merlot → Syrah → Port
7. Keep Your Wines at the Correct Temperatures
- Sparkling and light wines: 38-45℉
- Full-bodied whites and rosés: 45-55℉
- Light and medium reds: 55-60℉
- Full-bodied reds and dessert wines: 60-68℉
8. Set Out Your Necessary Wine Tasting Supplies
A bottle opener, wine glasses and plates. It doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that. Of course, if you have a wedding registry decanter collecting dust somewhere, use it!
Decanters facilitate aeration and the settling of sediment. This will enhance the flavor of your wine. If you don’t have a decanter, consider pouring yourself a glass and leaving it out to aerate on the counter for 30 minutes. I’m a relatively impatient person, so this isn’t an option for me.
To keep track of your pairings, I created this pairing sheet for your next wine party. It lives with many other handy dandy worksheets in my password-protected printables library. You can also download it here.
Want to get really crafty? Make a chalkboard sign for your wine tasting event by following my step-by-step transfer process.
9. Don’t Sweat Your Type of Drinking Vessel
A lot of people wonder if they can serve red wine in a white wine glass, or vice versa. This is a matter of personal preference. Using a glass with a stem will prevent the warmth of your hands from changing the temperature of your chilled wine. However, if this is an intimate gathering and you’re planning on setting your glass down, don’t worry about preserving temperature.
Keep in mind a stemmed glass is more likely to be tipped over accidentally as the night progresses 🙂
A bulbous red wine glass will help the wine “breathe” to release its aromas. A champagne glass has a much smaller glass rim diameter, which helps to minimize the loss of carbonation. If you’re a stickler for these nuances, then use your designated glasses for maximum effect.
Personally, I’ve enjoyed wine from red solo cups, coffee mugs and mason jars without any problems.
10. Keep Your Party Fun, Safe, and Low Key
What happens at a wine party? The real question here should be, “What doesn’t happen at a wine party?”
Socialize, play trivia, discuss literature, watch a foreign flick, whatever floats your boat. You may want to experiment with a theme for your party, such as pairing French cheeses with French wines, as foods and wines from the same region usually go well together.
If this is too much planning for you, just keep it simple and keep the wine flowing; I guarantee no one will even notice how dirty your floors are or the fact that you’re eating beef jerky for dinner.
As the name might suggest, a blind wine party entails having your guests rate wines without knowing what they’re drinking. This is a fun idea for seasoned wine drinkers who may be biased toward certain grape varietals based on the label.
Ideally, every bottle of wine should be slightly different from the next, so your last experience with one brand of Chardonnay should be different from the brand your friend brought. Covering the label with a paper bag or aluminum foil allows you to focus on taste and smell.
If you’re having a themed wine tasting party, provide some background on the location where the wine was made to give your drinkers a frame of reference.
Lastly, if your friends have gotten to the point of full-on inebriation, be a responsible host and offer them your couch, guest bed, or sober husband driver sitting in the adjoining room.
At the end of the day your party should be a reflection of your personal style. Good friends will be more focused on good company than little details like what finger foods were served and the temperature of their Prosecco.
If you happen to be like me and enjoy your pairings alone in the comfort of your home, hop to it!
Are you ready to plan a fabulous wine pairing event? Do you think you can pull it off with what you have in your pantry? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.