Pairing wines with appetizers is an art grounded in science. As a general rule, white wines, like chardonnay, pinot grigio and sparkling wines, are best served with before-dinner meals, as they aren't overly heavy on the palate. When choosing a wine to accompany an hors d'oeuvre, consider the level of saltiness or sweetness of the dish, and match accordingly. Salty dishes tend to complement sparkling wines, while sweeter dishes are enhanced by sweet wines, like Rieslings.
Onion and Olive Tart
Made with a buttery crust, olives, capers, anchovies and Gruyere cheese, an onion and olive tart appetizer is deliciously salty, making a pairing with a sparkling wine ideal, because its acidity amplifies the flavor of the onion and olive tart. Acidity in wines (mostly white and rose) also helps to cleanse the palate. Champagne and sparling wine glasses, with their thin, long shape, make carrying the drink less cumbersome for guests, which is a plus if you're having a cocktail party.
Fried Oysters and Tartar Sauce
This decadent dish, also salty, adds crunchiness, another layer sensation. When pairing a wine to an appetizer, remember that the food must take center stage. The wine is meant to enhance the taste of the dish, not overrun it. Again, a high-acid, dry wine, like an oak-aged California chardonnay, is an excellent choice, because it counters the flavor of the deep-fried oysters and creamy mayonnaise-based tartar sauce. Avoid bitter wines high in tannins and alcohol, such as a cabernet and pinot noir.
Corn Cakes and Smoked Salmon
Combine the naturally sweet taste of cornmeal with the salty bite of salmon and you have a perfect combination for a German Riesling, one of the sweetest wines available. Riesling is typically considered a "dessert wine," and is often served with cakes and tarts. However, the cornbread lends enough sweetness to warrant a sweet wine while not being overpowering, and the smoked salmon added over the cakes creates a nice, salty counterbalance.
Deviled Crab Cakes with Aioli
Deviled crab cakes are often seasoned with spicy red pepper, giving you a prime opportunity to showcase a California brut sparkling wine. Brut is an extremely dry, unsweetened wine, but when showcased against the crispiness of the crab cakes and the richness of the aioli (made from mayonnaise, lemon juice and red bell pepper), it will cleanse the palate of the dish's oiliness while allowing your guests to savor the appetizer's flavors.
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