West Coast Home Editor:
As the Summer season nears, the call of the BBQ and impromptu get-togethers beckon. And on beautiful, sunny day, a wine and cheese party is a great way to gather your friends, offer savory delectables with zero cook time, and of course – some yummy wine selections!
Feeling a little daunted about getting the party started? No sweat. Here at SLH, we’ve put together 7 quick tips to help you pull off a casual but sophisticated, palate-pleasing wine and cheese party.
Step 1: Set the Mood
No matter the size of your abode, you want to make sure you have a proper designated area where guests can congregate to gather their needed supplies such as glasses, small plates, napkins, etc. This area can be close by to your food/wine presentation area, or if you’re short on space you can have it at a separate location (just be sure to instruct your guests on the locations of both). Being that you’ll want to enjoy the fabulous sunshine (well, yes!) you should consider a quick-set outdoor folding table, covered by a festive tablecloth (or in a pinch, use the fitted sheet of a Twin bed set, it fits perfectly over a 6 foot table). Here are some sturdy fellows
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Step 2: Set the Table
Like a good wine tasting, there should be a defined start, middle and end to your table. Most folks tend towards left-to-right, so use that natural inclination and set up your lightest wine & cheese pair far left, advancing in flavor until your last paired group on the far right contains your most robust, and/or dessert finishing wine and cheese. Here are some great ideas for displaying your cheeses elegantly that we hope inspire you
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Step 3: Be Temper-mental
Remember, cheese is best served at room temperature, so if you’ve been storing yours in the frig (as so many of us do) make sure to take it out 2-3 hours ahead of time. As well, if you’re serving Whites or Rosé they are best served between 49-55 degrees. Since most refrigerators are set around 36 degrees, you should take your bottles out about 30 minutes before guests arrive. If the day of your event is particularly hot (over 70 degrees) you may also want to think about putting your Reds into your frig for about 30 minutes before serving it. Is Mother Nature really turning things up? Consider a few wine buckets to place on the table to keep your vino from tasting anything less than ideal (hint – for Whites use ice, for Reds use cold water). Here’s a few examples
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Step 4: Remember to Breathe
You’ve heard the saying to open your Red to “let it breathe”. This is absolutely true. How long, you ask? Standard rule of thumb states that if the Red is younger (under 8 years old) it will need around 1-2 hours to aerate. Mature Reds contain less tannins and usually only require a good 30 minutes. So what about Whites? Generally most don’t really need it, however if you’re serving something such as a White Bordeaux or Alsace, experts say you should aerate it for 20 minutes or so. Another alternative is to invest in a few bottle stopper aerators. This will allow the wines to breathe as the guest is pouring his/her glass without over-exposing the bottles to the air. Here’s a few good ones we found…
Step 5: No Glass Mix Ups
A smart host knows that at some point, folks will be putting their glasses down. This is especially true if you plan on doing a white to red combo with accompanying stemware for each. Help your guests by proactively giving them a means of ensuring they know which glass (or glasses) are theirs. Here are 3 great ideas we love…
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Step 6: Mix & Match Textures & Flavors
You want your pairings to be a journey of the senses. Two rules to keep in mind are Texture should be harmonious but Flavor should be opposite. Think of lush Chardonnay and creamy Brie, or rich Cabernet Sauvingnon and aged Cheddar. These classic pairings work because both cheese and wine have a similar mouth feel, but diverse flavors. Not sure if you have a good match? The Internet is a virtual treasure trove of wine-friendly sites to help you out. One of our favs is Wine Folly
Step 7: Consider a few good Wingmen
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a traditional wine and cheese pairing. But if you’re thinking of taking things up a notch, consider adding a few additional players. Grapes, Raspberries and Blueberries go wonderfully with Whites while Apples, Pears and dried fruits such as Figs offer sweet complement to your richer Reds. Leaning more charcuterie? Rich chicken pâté is perfect with most Whites, Cava plays very well with Rosé and most dry-cured Salumi will pair well with any Red. Lastly, don’t forget the nuts! Cashews are great nibbly bits with lighter Whites while Almonds pair up nicely with Chardonnay. Fatter flavored nuts like Pecans, Walnuts and Chestnuts go amazing with a variety of Reds.
Remember the idea of having any get-together is to connect with friends and share new things. Don’t get too bogged down in the idea of trying to present the “absolute” pairing because frankly it doesn’t really exist. Everyone’s palate is different, and that’s exciting! Start with what you like, experiment with ideas and go from there. And have fun!!