The Perfect Wine and Cheese Party takes some Planning.
Wine and Cheese parties are so much fun! Pairing wine and cheese together is one of the great culinary pleasures. And making the pairing a party of a party with loved ones and friends adds up to one special evening. In my mind, nothing goes together quite like a full bodied wine and a bite of deliciously aged cheese. But just uncorking a bottle and opening a pack of cheese does not a wine and cheese party make (or at least not an amazing one!) I have put together some of my tips for making sure that your next wine and cheese party will be one that your guests will remember for a long time. It does not take a lot of effort, but does involve some planning on your part for a good success.
In order to have a stress free party, do as much of the prep work as you can ahead of time. The focus of this party will be on the wine choices and cheeses to go with them. The choice is up to you. If you plan to focus on the cheese, choose those first and then decide what to add for the wines. If the wines will be the star, make those choices first and then add the cheese. Since cheese is fairly heavy, make any other food items fairly light. Fruits, veggies and some light crackers or bread is really all that is needed.
Take the cheese out of the fridge at least 30 minutes before the quests arrive. They are best served at room temperature. Red wines should be opened so they can breathe, and white wines should be chilled ahead of time.
Bring out the other food about 10 minutes before arrival time and start your favorite playlist to set a nice mood when the guests arrive. A few well placed unscented candles are also nice. (you don’t want competing aromas since you will be judging the aroma of the wine.
The Shopping List
You will need wine and cheese of course. But cheese alone won’t be enough to offset the alcohol that goes with wine tasting, so some other foods will be needed too.
Keep the list simple. Grapes, strawberries and other fruits go well with this combination. You will also want a basket of crackers or some crusty bread to add to the cheese choices. Be sure to choose good quality crackers, or bread, since you will be serving the cheese with them.
Tomatoes, strips of fresh basil and mozzarella cheese bits makes a nice plate to add to the mix as well. You can drizzle it with a bit of olive oil and season with Kosher salt and cracked black pepper. Figs and olives are also a good item to add to the shopping list.
If you want some protein too, a few sliced meats such as salami or pepperoni is a nice choice. My recipes for asparagus wrapped in prosciutto would be a great choice. Another light appetizer choice are my gluten free vegetable spring rolls. Very light and so tasty.
Send the invites
A good number of people for a wine and cheese party is the number that can fit comfortably around your table. This is not the type of party for a huge gathering. 6-12 people is plenty. It also helps if the guests have at least a similar experience with wines. Wine connoisseurs and “wine in a box” people may not mix that well. You don’t want inexperienced wine drinkers to feel awkward and no one really needs a “wine know it all” educating them at a party! Use a nice inviteto let people know it will be a special evening.
Choose the Wines
There are two ways to do this part. You could have a blind wine tasting where each person brings a bottle and then you try to pair it with the cheeses you have on hand. Or you could do some research, and choose and purchase all of the wines and cheeses yourself. The main thing to remember is to start with the white wines, and progress from light to full-bodied when you get to the red wines. Ports and dessert wines would be last pairings.
How much to buy?
The general rule of thumb is to purchase 1-2 ounces of wine per glass, of each wine for each tasting. Multiply that by your number of guests and you will know how many ounces of wine of each type to buy. A standard bottle of wine contains about 25 ounces.
Choose the Cheese
There are endless ways to pair wines and cheese but, basically, cheeses fall into 4 categories:
- Creamy, decadent cheese with soft rinds
- Hard cheeses that are often sharp. (can be aged)
- Blue cheeses. These are often salty and have blue veining
- Fresh Cheeses: these are not usually ages and can be either tangy or mild and are often spreadable
When pairing the wine and cheese, try to think of complimentary flavors. Lush wines work well with creamy flavors. Blue cheeses work well with slightly sweeter wines, Fresh cheeses are great paired with slightly fruity wines, and so on. You can test ahead of time to see how you like a taste of the cheese and a sip of the wine, or play it by ear on the night and find out when your friends do! The internet is a wonderful source of information about pairings. Just search wine and cheese pairings to get some ideas. It is best to start with the lightest pairings and move through to the heavier ones.
Some common pairings are:
- Camembert with Champagne
- Gouda with Merlot
- Sharp Cheddar with Cabernet Sauvignon
- Gorgonzola with Port
- Feta Cheese with Beaujolais
- Parmesan Cheese with Chianti
- Brie with Chardonnay.
But there are dozens of other choices. A bit of research will allow you to find pairings that will suit you and your guests.
The Right tools
The tools are really a minimum. You will need wine glasses (champagne flutes too, if that is one of the choices). A good corkscrew is a must. Special platters for the cheese, baskets for the bread or crackers set the mood, and special cheese knives are nice but not necessary. A wine bucket and ice for the white wines helps to keep them at the right temperature once you open them.
Get the right wine glasses
The shape and size of red and wine glasses are quite different. And of course, champagne flutes have a very different shape. On this occasion, one size does not fit all. If you are serving red, white and sparkling wines, you will want three different glasses to serve them. The glasses should also have stems (so the guests don’t warm the wine with their hands) and be clear, so the color of the wine is visible.
By nature, a wine and cheese party is not overly formal. Stay casual. Wooden cutting boards and small basket for crackers sets an informal mood. Even brown paper or parchment paper to hold the cheese will give the table a rustic, informal look.
And if you want so add a touch of whimsy to the party, how about using these Owltopper bottle stoppers? (affiliate link) These owl shaped silicone bottle stoppers are so cute and the earthy colors would suit the casual nature of this type of party. They will also keep the remaining wine, if you have it after tasting that variety, fresh for another time. They will also be a great conversation point. Who doesn’t like owls?
Label the cheese
Serving several varieties of cheese in one party means that labels might be needed so that guests know what the cheese is. I don’t care for stinky type cheeses, so I would want to know if one were on the platter before I tasted it! The labels can be very simple. Just some toothpicks, colored card stock, a glue stick and a sharpie pen and you have them done!
Display the menu
When I am serving several rounds of food over the course of the night, I like to let guests know what to expect. A great idea for keeping with the informal nature is a chalk board menu with the pairings or other food choices. The guests will be able to pace themselves and not outdo the drinking part if they know what to expect for the food.
Choose the right time
Since food is not going to be a huge part of the occasion, you can opt for an early start like 4 p.m, when they are not ready for dinner, or a later one such as 9 p.m. when they have already eaten. Too much food can alter the perception of the wine and a big part of this party is a wine tasting, so you will want clean palates.
Wine Tasting Techniques
Part of the fun of a wine tasting party is to look a bit like an expert. Hold the glass and swirl it around a few seconds. Smell the wine to get a better sense of the flavor and then take a small sip and swirl it around in your mouth for several seconds. The choice of what to do next is up to you. Some people spit the wine out after tasting and others swallow. A few well placed spittoons (small plastic cups are fine) would be good if some guest like to do this. (and will allow you to keep a rein on the amount of alcohol consumed!)
It is also a good idea to have water on hand to temper the alcohol and clean the palate.
Rate the wine Free Printable
Many of these wines and cheeses may be varieties that the guests may not have had before and they may want to make notes of this. Rating the wines is one of the fun parts of a wine tasting party too. Wines are often rate on appearance, aroma, body, taste and finish, in that order. This printable will allow guests to rate their choices and then everyone can compare to see who liked what. Click here (or click on the printable) to print the Wine rating sheet on your computer.When to serve the extra food
If you plan to serve food other than the cheese with the wine, it is best to serve it between the tasting sessions. This also lets the alcohol have a chance to settle down so that no one overindulges.
Don’t get Wine “Wasted”
There are plenty of other times to drink to get high if that is what floats your boat. A wine tasting party is not the time to gulp down the last of the wine after every tasting. This is a party about experiences, not a chance to drink like a college newbie. Spit out more than you swallow and you will be fine!
These seem like a long list of tips, but really, there is nothing much easier to host than a wine and cheese party. Everything is ready ahead of time. Very little cooking is required and you can spend your time at the party with your friends, instead of being in the kitchen all night. It is a perfect choice for a small dinner party, a girl’s (or guy’s night) and a special night for just you and your significant other. You really can’t go wrong with wine and cheese.
Want to watch the ideas on YouTube?
Note: I received a set of these wine stoppers for free in exchange for mentioning them in my blog post. I only recommend items that I feel are useful to my readers. I love these and would recommend them to anyone who wants to add a fun bar tool accessory.
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive a small commission from the sale, but the price is the same for you. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."