I get the question, “What are some pairings I can do for a happy hour or a small party?” quite a bit. When I went online to see what others have written about I noticed that most ideas were complicated foods that even I, as a chef, wouldn’t want to spend the time making outside of work. Trout with Riesling? Sounds great – but lets be honest. Most of us are not going to want to put all that work (ourselves) into a hosted happy hour. You’re already trying to clean the kitchen, make everything look like it came out of Gourmet and do whatever else it is that you need to do during your time off work. These are pairings that you can put together and still have some time for relaxation and enjoyment with your friends. They’re daring because they are different, but I promise it will be a great conversation starter and none of you will ever forget them. Each has additional items you can include to “sophisticate” the spread if you’d like to. Or, if you would like to have something more and completely hands-off — hire me for your next happy hour and I can do the trout and Riesling (or whatever else).
Totinos Pizza Rolls & Chianti Classico
I did this for a bachelorette party and it was a hit with seasoned wine tasters and newbies alike. It’s a combination of a salty, cheesy, satisfying bite with a refreshing, savory, mouthwatering wine. One of my top picks is Tenuta Di Renieri Chianti Classico ($20). Banfi has a great affordable Classico Riserva as well. This casual, easy-drinking wine has old world flavors (non-fruit driven i.e. more savory) that increase sophistication. Furthermore, I’ve found it’s a great compromise for those who only drink the “big, bold cabs” and those who… don’t. The pizza rolls are just as easy to eat as they are for you to make – no plates necessary!
Add On’s: For wine, add in a white, Pinot Grigio – it’s a great palette cleanser with the pizza rolls and will be a nice component to the Chianti. If you’d like to jazz up the pairing, get some Italian cheeses to keep with the “theme” of Italy (yes, Totinos are American, stay with me). Pecorino Toscano, Mozzarella Di Bufala Campania, or Fontina Val D’Aosta are all great options that are easy to find in a grocery store if a cheese shop is out of the question. Dried cherries are great with chianti. The sourness can actually help mellow some of the acidity in the wine to bring out the fruitier flavors. Add in some marcona almonds and you’ve got a table that looks more attractive than the next bachelor.
Fried Chicken Strips and Champagne
The very first person who said, “winner, winner chicken dinner” had a bottle of Champagne in his/her hand. This pairing is a reason for America – a melting pot of cultures, right?
Make Thomas Keller’s from Ad Hoc (shameless self-promotion, photo here is my version), buy some KFC., Churches, or Popeyes. Make it easy to grab a bit at a time with strips or “poppers.” This pairing will be the talk of all your guests for weeks on end.
I say Champagne, but most types of Sparkling will do – especially when made in the style of Champagne, also known as the traditional method. Examples are: Cava, Franciacorta, and Crémant.. Since you’re getting such a deal on the fried chicken, you could probably boost the price of the bottle (my husband says this is “rationalizing” but I say this is “compromising”). However – don’t feel like you need to buy expensive bottles. I recommend, Drappier Carte d’Or Brut, it’s 75% Pinot Noir grapes which are going to stand up beautifully to that juicy, crispy, melt-in-your-mouth chicken. It costs about $45/bottle so if you’d like to spend less, think about leaving Champagne for another occasion and look to Cava or a Crémant de Bourgogne instead.
Add On’s: Fun French or American Cheeses and crackers are always great with a protein. Don’t be afraid to play with the fried chicken. Add some biscuits, coleslaw and potato chips. If you’re up for cooking, simply roasted brussels with apple would be exceptional for this pairing. As for other wines, try some heavier Pinot Noir (Sonoma/Napa), or a lighter Zinfandel (Santa Barbara/Monterey) from California. They will be great contrasts to the Champagne and still stand up nicely to the chicken.
Pesto & Potato Chips with Sauvignon Blanc
Like peanut butter, potato chips go well with nearly everything. Why did I pair them with pesto here though, and, why did I pick Sauvignon Blanc specifically? The salty quality of the chips added to the herbaceous quality of the pesto is a wonderful compliment to a grassy, crisp, and herbal sauvignon blanc. Notice I said herbaceous with the pesto and herbal with the wine? This is a complimentary pairing.
In order for this to happen properly, you need to do your homework. Few regions do this grape real justice. New Zealand is one. Sancerre, the other, has historically been dubbed “the most cerebral wine in the world.” Sancerre or the neighboring village, Pouilly-Fume have a special soil called Silex which has flint in it creating a slightly smokey character. From Sancerre, Salmon Sancerre Vieilles Vignes (about $26). So Sancerre is very mineral driven, a little Smokey but very tight. If you want something more grassy and herbal, go to Marlborough. Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc ($17) is a great value and going to be more herbal, Cloudy Bay ($24) is a consistent performer with grassy elements.
Add On’s: There is a classic saying that goat cheese goes incredibly well with Sauvignon blanc. Why? Because the acid in the goat cheese plus the acid in the wine cancel out and make the goat cheese actually taste creamier. You should also try some sheep’s cheese. That also has a tang to it and would go wonderfully well with the Marlborough. For wines, both Sancerre region and Marlborough (or close by, Martinborough) make fabulous Pinot Noirs that would compliment all the components of this theme.
So there you have it! Three pairings that require minimal preparation (and money!) to make. I hope they will engage your friends and guests in a whole new way. If you have any favorites (wines or foods) that you love to pair, I’d love to hear them! Comment below to let me know what you think.
Curious about more pairings? Or wish you could have someone explain it all? That’s me! Fill out the contact form on my contact page or send me an e-mail and lets start talking about your ideas.
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