Appetizers or hors d’oeuvres are small dishes designed to be appreciated before dinner. They awaken the appetite and build anticipation for the main event. It is customary to have an ample array of appetizers in a formal setting; however, these can be as simple as pigs in a blanket or as lavish as imperial Russian caviar.
The French have always been well-versed in the art of arousal, so it’s no surprise the appetizer has long been a feature of French cuisine. Cocktail parties, prominent since the end of Prohibition, helped promote this custom in the US. Today, it is de rigueur for formal dinners to start with a parade of delectable treats.
Of course, you would expect any committed host to have a selection of drinks ready to pair these finger-sized treats. Cocktails are always festive, but wine, if selected correctly, can amplify the tastiness of the dish.
Let’s look at some stellar wine styles and popular appetizers that go well with them.
This one is easy. A glass of sparkling wine, or even better, Champagne, is an elegant before-dinner refreshment. It enlivens the whole scene. Taught acidity, universal in sparkling wine, will refresh the palate after each bite.
Champagne-method sparkling wines are great with fried food: anything from crisps to calamari will shine with sparkling bubbles.
Fruit-forward styles of sparkling wine, like Prosecco, will do well, too, especially with light appetizers like tomato flatbread or seared halloumi. One of our favorite pairings with Prosecco is spring rolls.
Its mouthwatering acidity and subtle red fruit aromas work well with many different appetizers without stealing the show. Try a dry, high-elevation Italian rosé or a classic Provençal salmon-hued wine.
Dryness is key: any hint of sweetness will spoil a savory dish. Beef carpaccio, smoked salmon, mushroom quesadillas, and bacon-wrapped dates provide a beautiful foil to the charming aromas of an acidic rosé.
White wine is a very popular apéritif to combine with appetizers. A small glass of dry Riesling or Chablis opens the appetite and provides a fresh minerality to any starter.
Start on a high note and go for high-quality producers. Whites such as Pouilly Fumé, Austrian Rieslings, top quality Sancerre, or Domaine-owned Chablis are best.
Raw fish, crudités, scallops, spanakopita, and deviled eggs will go well with a clean white wine. Avoid full-bodied whites with lactic tones and oak influence; these elements are too heavy for light-bites.
The world of wine offers more than regular table wine. Dry fortified wines like Sherry are great before dinner. Sharp and bone dry, Fino Sherry or its cousin Manzanilla go very well with pickled appetizers, olives, cured meats, and fried foods. Salty appetizers like goat cheese balls or smoked trout also benefit from the sea-infused wine.
We might not think of vermouth as wine, but it is. It’s just been fortified and aromatized with all kinds of herbs and spices. Dry vermouth is a classic apéritif that pairs well with various canapes and raw seafood dishes.
Red wine is not commonly seen as an apéritif; it has a hard time being subtle. But if the wine is acidic enough and has round tannins with subtle earth aromas, it can work well with cured meats and aged hard cheeses.
Appetizers and wine pairings are designed to be fun and playful; the goal is simply to set the mood for the rest of the evening. What is your approach for pairing appetizers? Want to take the next step? Check out a local wine school and start on your path to becoming a master sommelier!