Selecting foods that work with wine is key to a successful wine tasting.
If we played a word game, and I asked you to say the first word that popped into your head when your read the word "wine" many of you would say "cheese." That's because cheese is the classical accompaniment to wine. It is also very easy to prepare. This makes it perfect for hosting a wine event.
If you want to keep it simple, just arrange large pieces of two or three different types of cheese on cheeseboards. Add a knife and each guest can carve her own piece. You can cut the cheese into bite size cubes ahead of time and serve on platters with toothpicks.
Along with cheese serve breadsticks, unsalted matzo, melba toast, bread cubes, small slices of bread, or water crackers. Don't use crackers with their own strong flavor. Anything too flavorful will confuse your taste buds and the subtleties of the wines' flavors will be lost.
When selecting cheese, choose mild-flavored cheese, such as Bel Paese, Fontina, Mozzarella, Munster, mild Swiss, or mild Cheddar. Smoky cheeses, sharp Provolone, blue cheese, or Parmesan would be too strong for most wines. If you are tasting hearty red wines you may add one of these cheeses.
When planning food, remember that the more flavors you add, the more the flavors of the wines will be affected. You may opt to serve several hors d'oeuvres that complement the wines. Select appetizers that are not overly strong in flavor. This may not be the time for your killer pepper salsa. Quiche Lorraine and spinach stuffed mushrooms do well with most wines. Avoid anything with a lot of garlic and no vinegar.
You can compromise between food and wine. Have cheese and water crackers available for the first tasting. After everyone has tried each wine, then bring out your hors d'oeuvres. The guests may then compare how the wines taste on their own and when paired with certain foods.
Don't forget the chocolate! Few things go better with red wine than dark chocolate. If you are hosting a red wine tasting, gather together different types of dark chocolate. Try the Zinfandel with 55% cocoa, 70% cocoa, organic dark chocolate, etc. Each type of chocolate will bring out different flavors in the wine.
Experiment a little. This is an exploration of taste.