Getting ready to host your own DIY red wine tasting and wondering what small bites you should serve?
The best red wine tasting foods have protein and fat. These two elements help bind with the tannins in red wine keeping your palate fresh while you sip. Great snacks to eat with red wine include black olives, roast beef, cheddar cheese, and even french fries.
Here are 12 easy finger foods that will keep your taste buds happy at your next red wine tasting event.
Helpful Tip: Doing a white wine tasting? Head over to this post for ideas to pair food with a white wine tasting.
Helpful Tip: Check out this post for ultimate list of finger foods for wine tasting (for red and white wines).
The Importance of Pairing Red Wine with Protein and Fat-rich Foods
Unlike white wine, red wine has tannins. Tannins are compounds found in the skins, stems, and seeds of grapes that give red wine its astringent taste. Red wine flavor profiles vary depending on the grape (some lighter, some heavier), but you’ll always have tannins.
Foods that have protein and fat can help balance the tannins and enhance the wine’s flavor.
The protein and fat molecules bind to the wine’s tannins and help lift them from your mouth.
Helpful Tip: Tannins can be a bit of a mystery for wine lovers, so I put together these two useful posts: How to Taste Tannins – 30 Second Tasting Tip, and Is Your Wine Bitter or Astringent? (spoiler alert: one is a flavor, and the other is a texture).
So, if you want to get the most out of your red wine tasting, make sure to include foods with both protein and fat on your tasting menu.
Helpful Tip: If you’re just getting started with wine, here’s a rundown of how wine and food pairing works – I wrote this simple post just for you.
Ready for the list of red wine snacks? Here they are!
1. Roast Beef Sandwich Meat
Nothing goes better with a brash red wine than a savory bite of roast beef. The meat pairs perfectly with the tannins in the wine thanks to a combination of fat and protein. You don’t need to make an entire roast beef to pull off this pairing. Grab some meat from the deli section of your local grocer and you’re all set.
Fun Wine Fact: Wine judges regularly use roast beef to cleanse their palate between tastings because of the fat/protein combo.
You don’t have stick to roast beef. Consider other red wine and meat combos, like ham, turkey, salami, or prosciutto.
2. Sliders (Mini Hamburgers)
Sliders are a fun and delicious pairing for red wine. Their juicy meat and savory toppings make them an ideal match for those tannins. Plus, their small size makes them perfect for sharing and trying different wine and food combinations.
If you can find a local restaurant to make you a selection of sliders to go, then this is an easy way to host your red wine tasting.
Helpful Tip: Check out this list of super easy appetizers for wine tasting.
Think about adding some cheese or a side salad for a more substantial food and wine pairing.
3. Black Olives in Water
Black olives are another classic pairing for red wine. They have oil (fat) and a nutty flavor that complement the wine’s tannins and give it a boost of fruitiness. Serve them as a snack on their own, or add them to a charcuterie board. Black olives make and easy appetizer for red wine tasting.
Helpful Tip: Check out this post on cold appetizers that will work for your next red wine tasting.
Tapenade has a more distinctive flavor profile than just straight black olives, but can be a delicious addition to your red wine snack tray. Tapenade is a classic French spread made with olives, capers, and anchovies. It has a salty, briny flavor. Add a side of bread or crackers and you’re ready to go.
5. Stuffed Mushrooms
Mushrooms bring an interesting twist to red wine. They have protein, but also an umami earthy quality. Try stuffing them with some cheese, herbs, and breadcrumbs for an extra decadent treat. Elegance and decadence in a bite-size package.
Grab a fresh baguette anytime you’re thinking about red wine tasting foods. Their crisp crust and soft interior make them ideal for soaking up the wine’s flavors. Serve them plain or with a smear of some of that tapenade on top for added layers of flavor.
Most red wine tastings include crackers of some sort. Their neutral flavor allows the wine to shine. Recommend getting salted crackers. Salt will make the wine seem fruitier (always a plus). What else do I love about crackers for my red wine tasting? They’re versatile and shelf-stable. It’s easy to keep them on hand for a last-minute tasting. Try adding some soft cheese as a way to balance out the tannins.
Pizza and wine? Easy. Delicious. Done. Savory pizza toppings like pepperoni, sausage, and mushrooms, and even the cheese balance out red wine tannins. What I love about pizza and red wine tasting is that it’s more substantial than small bites, helping to soften the alcohol. It’s also painless to pick up a pizza for your tasting (okay, if you love cooking, this one’s for you, too!).
9. French Fries
French Fries are another quickie idea if you’re looking for a casual pairing for your red wine tasting. French fries have fat and salt, the two flavor combos that enhance wine fruitiness and soften red wine tannins. French fries are an especially good choice if you’re going for bold reds, like Syrah, Shiraz, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, or even Tannat.
Added Bonus: Who doesn’t love french fries??
Careful! Some foodies like having mayonnaise with their french fries. Mayo can be a tricky wine food. Take this as a great opportunity to experiment.
10. Potato Chips
Potato chips are the shelf-stable counterpart to french fries. Like fries, they have salt and fat. I keep a bag of potato chips in my pantry for last-minute tasting parties because that’s what wine people do.
11. White Cheddar Cheese
You can never go wrong with a regular white cheddar cheese for your red wine tasting. It’s relatively neutral, but has that fat, salt, and a tangy nuttiness to help balance out your red wine. You can always experiment with different styles of cheese, but keep in mind your red wine style will impact your flavor combinations. White cheddar is always a winner.
Here are some other quick red wine and cheese combos:
- Pinot Noir: Soft cheeses like chevre, and brie
- Cabernet Sauvignon: blue cheese, Gouda
- Zinfandel: Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino Romano
- Syrah: Manchego, Roquefort, Asiago
If finding all of these different cheeses is one-too-many steps, then stick to your white cheddar and you’ll be fine.
12. Salted Nuts
Almonds, peanuts, cashews, and walnuts all make great nutty red wine food options. Like french fries and potato chips, they have salt and fat, but also protein, to balance out your wine and enhance perceptions of fruitness and sweetness. Nuts are shelf stable, so easy to keep on hand.
Personal Note: I always have salted almonds in my pantry for tastings. And did you know that nuts make a fabulous inexpensive gift for wine lovers?
What Not to Serve at a Red Wine Tasting
A good rule of thumb is to avoid serving spicy foods – as in chili spice. This can exacerbate the tannins, alcohol, and astringency in red wine, making for an unpleasant experience. Save your curries and favorite Szechuan dishes for another time!
Final Thoughts – What to Pair with a Red Wine Tasting?
Protein. Fat. Salt. Red wine needs balance. If you’re drinking the wine all on its own, you’re missing out on the beauty of the interplay between wine and food.
Texture, flavor, and aroma meld together when paired well.
Remember: Food for your red wine tasting needs to have fat, protein, and salt. Once you’ve covered those basics, you’re guaranteed to have a delicious time. And your taste buds will thank you!
Thirsty for More?
Head over to this post for more general wine tasting food ideas if you’re looking for inspiration.
Doing a white wine tasting? Head over to this post for ideas to pair food with a white wine tasting.
You should absolutely host your own wine tasting parties at home. This is probably the best way to learn about wine. Check out how to host a blind tasting at home.
Wine tasting with a twist? Here’s how to host a wine tasting for beginners.
If you’re doing different types of wine, then here’s a helpful how-to guide that will tell you what order to drink your wines in every time.
Love foods with spice? Check out how to pair spicy foods with wine.