The more the merrier, since it’s BYOB. Ask each guest to bring two identical bottles of their favorite wine. You can give guidelines, like whites, reds or bubbly only, set a dollar range or limit, or keep it wide open and see what everyone brings.
When guests arrive, set aside one of each bottle for the swap: Open the second set of bottles and arrange them in a rough tasting order. Start with dry sparkling wine, then lighter, drier whites, progressing to heavier, sweeter whites, lighter reds, and finally, to heavy reds. Dessert wines should be tasted last.
Start the Swap
Write guests’ names on slips of paper and put them in a bowl. Draw a name, and let that person choose a wine from the table of unopened bottles to take home. Draw the next name, and let that person either “steal” the first person’s wine, or choose a new bottle from the table. The third person can “steal” from either of the previous people or choose a new bottle, and so on until all the wine is gone.
Hand out tasting cards and pens to each guest: You want everybody to rate and take notes on each wine. This will be important later during the swap. Pour an ounce or two of each wine for each guest: Give everyone time to swirl, sip and rate each wine before pouring the next. Tip: Put out a spittoon and encourage people to dump wine they don’t enjoy.
Plan to serve a range of hors d’oeuvres after the tasting (wine tasting works up an appetite!): A good rule of thumb is 12 appetizers per person when you’re not serving dinner (six per guest if you do serve dinner). For eight people or less, put out three appetizers; for more than eight, make four or five. Dishes like a spring vegetable tart and stuffed dates wrapped in prosciutto can make for wine-friendly snacks.
Eat, Drink and Be Merry
After the tasting, invite guests to help themselves to appetizers and a glass of whichever wine they liked the best in the tasting.
This cheese-stuffed date with prosciutto dish is a simple but upscale appetizer featured in Williams-Sonoma Rustic Italian: Simple, Authentic Recipes for Everyday Cooking (Weldon Owen, 2011).
24 medjool dates, pitted
3 ounces Cambozola cheese
12 thin slices prosciutto di Parma, cut in half lengthwise
Position an oven rack 4 inches below the heat source. Turn on the broiler to high.
Stuff each date with about ½ teaspoon of the cheese and wrap a strip of prosciutto around each one. Arrange the stuffed dates on a baking sheet, place under the broiler and broil until the prosciutto is crispy and the cheese is bubbling, about 4–5 minutes. Transfer the dates to a serving platter and serve hot. Serves 8–12.
A light-bodied red, such as a Pinot Nero from Alto Adige, complements the sweet dates and salty prosciutto without overwhelming the creamy, pungent cheese.
Spring Vegetable Tart
This recipe is taken from the Pinot Grigio chapter of 100 Perfect Pairings: Small Plates to Enjoy with Wines You Love (Wiley, 2010)—an elegant and easy appetizer thanks to the convenient store-bought puff pastry.
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 leek, white and light-green parts only, cleaned, cut into ¼-inch slices
3 small white or red potatoes (about 4 ounces), cut into ⅛-inch slices
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, to roll out the puff pastry
1 sheet (½ of a 17.3-ounce package) puff pastry, thawed
1¼ cups shredded Gruyère cheese, divided
4 ounces frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and quartered lengthwise
2 thin slices prosciutto (about 1 ounce), cut into ¼-inch strips (optional)
1½ teaspoons chopped parsley
1½ teaspoons mixed chopped fresh mint and tarragon
1 lemon wedge
Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil over medium-high heat and season with salt. Add the leeks and cook until tender, about 1–2 minutes. Remove the leeks with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel-lined plate.
Add the potatoes to the boiling water and cook until tender, about 2–3 minutes. Drain. Set the potatoes and leeks aside. (You can prepare the leeks and potatoes up to 2 days in advance, storing them covered in the refrigerator. Return them to room temperature before proceeding.)
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Lightly flour a countertop with the tablespoon of flour, and roll out the puff pastry to create a 10-inch square. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Using a fork, pierce the pastry all over. Place the baking sheet in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes. (You can refrigerate the pastry, covered, for up to a day.)
Preheat an oven to 400°F.
Sprinkle about ¾ cup of the cheese on the puff pastry, leaving a 1-inch border without cheese. Arrange the leeks, potatoes, artichoke hearts and prosciutto on top, and cover with the remaining ½ cup of cheese. Bake the tart until crisp and golden, about 25 minutes.
To serve: Just before serving, sprinkle the herbs and squeeze the lemon over the tart. Cut into pieces and serve warm or at room temperature. Serves 4–6.
The rich pastry, nutty Gruyère and potatoes call for a medium-bodied white wine like Ponzi’s 2010 Pinot Gris, a fresh, fruity and dry white from Oregon’s Willamette Valley.