What’s the best food to serve at a wine tasting?

What’s the best food to serve at a wine tasting?
BEPPI CROSARIOL

The question

What’s the best food to serve at a wine tasting?

The answer

You may not like this answer because it’s going to sound like the menu at a medieval prison: bread and water. I’m taking your term “wine tasting” to heart. In other words, I’m assuming your objective is to assess a few interesting bottles in the company of friends and to draw comparisons between them (the wines, not your friends). As such, it’s an educational exercise first and foremost, and that means approaching the process with discipline even if you’re out to have a good time.
Food aromas and flavours will distort your wine judgment. Yes, the beverage is meant for food, but the two play off each other. A food that flatters one wine – say Indian curry served with floral-spicy gewürztraminer – can slay a tannic red such as cabernet. Taste a wine with food one day and taste the same wine again by itself another day and you might be justified in wondering if they were in fact two different beverages altogether. That’s why wine professionals rarely taste food when they adjudicate a flight of wines.

I suspect that the most popular thing served at informal tastings is cheese. Big mistake. Cheese served with wine is not a wine tasting, it’s a cheese tasting. Heavily salted dairy fat strongly changes the flavour and/or texture of most wines. You may enjoy the cheese (it’s unlikely to be killed by the wine), and you may enjoy the wine, but don’t bother jotting down tasting notes because they will be irrelevant if you ever plan to serve your favourite wine of the evening with something else.

Simple white bread or plain crackers (not barbecue-flavoured Crispers) are best if you’re looking to neutralize your palate between wines. Water is another good thing to have on hand.

But you’re a good host, of course, and don’t want guests to starve or to consume too much alcohol on an empty stomach. My advice is to taste small pours of the wines first and offer spit cups to those who feel comfortable with them. Then, when the nerdy phase of the evening’s completed, bring on some food and let people experiment with what remains in the bottles. It can be enlightening to see whether preferences change. That way you get two tastings for the price of one.