In Spain, they are known as tapas.
In Italy, it is known as antipasti.
In Japan, it is known as yakitori.
In the Middle East, it is known as meze.
And here in the United States, we refer to them as small plates.
Regardless of the name, these are dishes that are meant to be shared, giving your dining mate or mates a few bites.
And they’re perfect for accompanying a glass of wine from the same place — everything from Sherry to one of the finer varietal wines or blends of America.
Tapas are about wine pairing, but even more so, they are about sharing. The people who live in Barcelona, Madrid and other cities of Spain understand this better than most, as an entire culinary culture has been built around tapas. They wander from tapas bar to tapas bar, enjoy a few specialties of the house, wash it down with a glass of wine or sangria, and move on to the next bar — sometimes one right next door.
The late Napa Valley vintner, Robert Mondavi, promoted the concept of great wine, great food and great company constantly. He understood that great food makes wine taste better and great wine makes food taste better. There are scientific reasons for this, but I simply chalk it up to a culinary form of hedonism.
The key is to ensure that the food-and-wine pairing is balanced, whether they share similar intensity or contrast one another.
Three great similar-intensity matches:
* Goat cheese with Sauvignon Blanc.
* Osso buco with fruit-forward Merlot.
* A peach or apple cobbler with a late-harvest sweet wine.
Three pairings that meld contrasting styles:
* Brussels sprouts with jammy (red) Zindandel.
* Blue cheese with fruity (non-oaky) Chardonnay.
* Chile-infused New Mexico cuisine with off-dry Riesling.
These all are safe pairing choices. Have a small-plates party, serve nine or 10 dishes, open several bottles of wine, and discover some pairings you’ll want to experience again and again.