Menu and Wines for a French Wine-Tasting Party

Here’s how to organize an easy French wine-tasting party, including:

• What wines to serve at a French wine-tasting party.
• Five inexpensive French wines to serve at a French wine-tasting party.

• My menu for a French wine-tasting party.
• Easy recipes for a French wine-tasting party.

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Let me tell you about a wee problem when you’re a cookbook author, restaurant reviewer, food writer, etc.: Friends and relatives think that you can, off the top of your head, come up with perfect recipes, menus, wine pairings, restaurant recommendations, etc. for just about any occasion.

It’s not that easy. Sure, I know what I like, and I’m very happy to give recommendations based on where I’ve dined and what I’ve eaten, done, cooked, served, etc. But when someone asks for something very specific (e.g., “a great vegetarian restaurant for a birthday party for a five-year-old who loves princesses!”), I’m often at a loss. If I haven’t done it myself, I don’t know what to recommend. My brain is not Google.

The hostess requested bottles priced around $25, on average. A truly good bottle of French Champagne‚ like this Pol Roger, will cost you around $35, but my other lower-priced picks will help you average this out.

A truly good bottle of French Champagne‚ like this Pol Roger, will cost you around $35. No worries—my other lower-priced picks will help skew the overall wine bill lower.

And so, when someone dear to me asked me to help her put together a French wine-tasting party, complete with French wine recommendations and a menu, at first I thought, “no problem”—I mean, I love French wines and French food, right?  But then, I listened to the perimeters.

She wanted bottles that averaged about $25 each, because she’s entertaining a houseful. She said that some bottles could go higher, but others would have to go lower. And, she invited my husband and me up to be her guest for the weekend (she lives in the Twin Cities). The party is Saturday night, and frankly, neither she nor I want to spend all day cooking. (Hard to believe, I know. Aren’t I a cookbook author? Yes. But does your doctor want to spend Saturdays doctoring? Sometimes I, too, want some time off!)

Oh. And one more thing. I know exactly the type of wines that she and her husband enjoy: weighty California reds. They’re huge fan of high-end Zinfandels. I run in the opposite direction; that is, I love the brighter, lighter, food-friendly reds of France. Not that my hostess and her husband wouldn’t be open-minded, but I figured I’d want to meet them half way, at least. Which is to say, these are not esoteric French wines, but rather, more approachable picks that most wine-lovers can appreciate.

Given those perimeters (moderately priced, approachable French wine + easy-peasy French food), here’s what I’ve come up with.

Five Moderately Priced Wines for a French Wine Party 

1. Sparkling Wine

Yes! Crozes-Hermitage is better known for reds. But if you really want to turn heads, pour this beautiful white.

Yes! Crozes-Hermitage is better known for reds. But if you really want to turn heads, pour this beautiful white.

You simply have to have a bubbly at a French wine-tasting party. Look for a reasonably priced Champagne—that is, a true Champagne from the Champagne region of France. This is where the splurge might be in order—spend a little more here, and spend less in an other category, below. Here are a few good, reliable, somewhat widely available picks:

• Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Champagne Réserve ($36)
• Henri Abelé Bruth Champagne ($35)
• Pol Roger Brut Réserve ($35)

2. White Wine from the Crozes-Hermitage Region

True. The Rhône is best known for its fabulous reds, anchored by Syrah in the Northern Rhône and Grenache in the Southern Rhône. But the powerful, generous, full-bodied Northern Rhône wines that I know my hostess’s crowd would love come at a powerful, full-bodied price. And the Southern Rhône reds—while splendid for casual, everyday drinking—are not, to me, as fascinating (for the price) as a fabulous white wine from Crozes-Hermitage.

Made from Marsanne and Roussanne grapes, these wines are generally medium-bodied, with a good combination of stone-fruit roundness and citrus-fruit briskness, and subtle floral notes–without being perfumy. Look for:

  • E. Guigal ($25)
  • M. Chapoutier ($24)
  • Delas ($24)

3. Red Wine from Bordeaux

The best French red Bordeaux in the $20 to $30 range generally bring exactly what I’m looking for in a food wine. Yes, there’s fruit (cassis often comes to mind), but what I love most is that while they’re richly flavored and they’re none to heavy, with a brightness on the finish that I always look for when pouring wine with dinner.

Chateau-Blaignan-MedocOne of my favorite moderately priced Bordeaux reds is Chateau Blaignan Cru Bourgeois Medoc ($22.95).

However, because this might not be available in your area, ask your wine shop to recommend a 2014 vintage, if possible, from a “Right Bank” producer—that is, a Bordeaux in which the blend is anchored by Cabernet. Wines from the Médoc handily fall into this category.

4. Red Wine from one of the “cru” (villages) of Beaujolais.

Please do not confuse Beaujolais village (cru) wines with Beaujolais! The ones I want you to look for are not-Nouveau. Rather, they are labeled by the names of the villages where the grapes are grown: Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Côte de Brouilly, Fleurie, Juliénas, Moulin–à-Vent, Régnié, or Saint-Amour.

The best wines from the crus (villages) of Beaujolais are fresh, fruity, and bright. They're lovely everyday French food wines.

The best wines from the crus (villages) of Beaujolais are fresh, fruity, and bright. They’re lovely everyday French food wines.

Why I love them: With their vivacious cherry-berry notes, they have a bit of that bright Chianti thing going on. The best are shimmery, spicy, earthy, and just fruity enough; that is, though some fruit-forward-loving wine-drinkers might think them best with food, those of you who, like me, enjoy a little refreshment in their red they make fine stand-alone sippers, too.

Look for:

  • Chateau de la Perrière Brouilly ($16)
  • Joseph Drouhin Brouilly ($20)
  • Georges DuBoeuf (Flower Label) ($18)

If you can’t find these, look for wines from other villages. My favortes include Morgon, Julienas, and Fleury.

A revelation to those who may not be familiar with Loire Valley Reds.

A revelation to those who may not be familiar with Loire Valley Reds.

5. Red Wine from the Loire Valley: Chinon

Well, yes. I’m getting a wee bit esoteric for this final pick. Most Americans think “white” when they think Loire Valley, and indeed, the Sauvingon Blanc and Chenin Blanc wines from this region can be beauties. But I think the reds from the Loire Valley are a wonderful surprise for those who do not yet know then. And their price will help you average out that French Champagne splurge.

I’m suggesting a Chinon here. Made from Cabernet Franc (with up to 10% Cabernet Sauvignon), these are light- to medium-bodied wines that offer food-friendly brightness, yet go down smoothly.

Look for:

Marie de Beauregard (Saget la Perrière) Chinon ($16)
• La Varenne Chinon ($18)
• Domaine Gouron Chinon ($15)

Note: Those who know a little about French wine will know why I didn’t go for a French Bourgogne (Burgundy). Those who know a lot about French wine will understand why I didn’t. Red Burgundies can be expensive, and they can be a roll of the dice, quality-wise. And, remember—my hosts like some heft in their wines. Red Burgundies are about shimmer, brightness, grace, and elegance, all curiously combined with earthiness and barnyard-y-ness. But they’re not about heft. That’s why I’m leaving those on the shelf for this tasting.

Easy Menu for a French Wine-Tasting Party

Elements of an Easy French Wine-Tasting Menu

Elements of an Easy French Wine-Tasting Menu: A cheese platter, a charcuterie-egg-asparagus platter, and some Madeleines (or buy some lovely tartlets).

I knew that the more complicated the menu, the more of it I’d have to cook. And, in fact, my goal is to cook very little or nothing. You see, I’ll be in Minneapolis/St. Paul, and I kind of want to get out and see some things, not spend all day cooking, right?

Because my hosts wanted to serve enough food to count as dinner, but did not want to do a formal-ish sit-down dinner, I decided to do a “fork supper”—a meal served buffet-style that can be managed on one plate and eaten with a fork, whether guests decide to sit at a table, on a couch, or simply stand around the kitchen island.

So, here’s the list I gave my hostess:

  1. A Good Pâté or Two: Seriously. If you live in any decent sized-city at all, you likely have a fine market where you can buy an excellent version of pâté. Since my host will be serving 12 people, I say, put out at least two: A chunky Pâté
    Pâté Canapés

    If you’re feeling fancy, serve the pâté in my little canapés. If not, simply put the pâté out with plenty of crackers, French pickles, and Dijon mustard.

    deCampagne or Duck Terrine and a more fine-ground Mousse de Canard. Be sure to put out plenty of cornichons (those little sour French pickles and some Dijon mustard.

  2. A Cheese Platter: Put out an array of your favorite French cheeses. What? You don’t have favorites? Read about some of mine, here.
  3. A Charcuterie Platter. Add a few of my oeufs-mayo (French hard boiled eggs with glammed-up mayonnaise sauce) and some roasted asparagus my vinaigrette, if asparagus happens to be looking good at the market!
  4. A selection of quiches and/or flatbreads. You are free to make them from scratch or buy them from the very best delis/gourmet markets in town. If you want to make a quiche, try my recipe, posted on the blog Simple Nourished Living.
  5. Tartlets from the best pâtisserie in town. Again, feel free to cook these yourself, but this weekend, I’m not going to! If you really want to cook something, go for some Madeleines–little French teacakes that are super-easy to eat from a buffet. See my recipe for Madeleines, here.



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Easy French Valentine's Day Menus

Oh dear! Were you trying to get to my Appetite for Des Moines website? My apologies—there’s a little bug I’m trying to work out with Mailchimp. If that’s where you meant to go, please accept my apologies, and click here to read my news on the Des Moines Dining Scene. Thanks!

Onto my most recent post:

Here are my favorite French recipes for Valentine’s Day. I also give suggestions for complete French Valentine’s Day menus to enjoy with you-know-who.

And because Valentine’s Day falls on a Tuesday, I realize that you won’t be able to spend all day in the kitchen. So, I’ve made these simple French Valentine’s menus extra easy with quick side dishes. For dessert, why not make some crêpes? You can make them ahead, you know! Here’s how.

1. French Pan-Fried Trout

French Pan-Fried Trout

French Pan-Fried Trout

I’ve been finding excellent trout at my local Fresh Thyme and Whole Foods markets, so maybe you will, too! This pan-fried version is very easy, and with pistachios, garlic, and herbs, it’s rather spectacular, too!

Enjoy with Any-Night Baked Rice and steamed-then-sautéd broccolini. Kick off with Gougères (that you’ve made ahead and have ready to pop in the oven, of course, because I’ve showed you how).

2. French Pasta and Morels (A Vegetarian French Dish for Valentine’s Day)

An easy recipe for Morels. Tagliatelles with Morels.

An easy recipe for Morels: Tagliatelles with Morels.

No, Morels aren’t in season (yet), but yes, dried morels work beautifully in this recipe. And morels are just so indulgent! Just plump them according to package directions (generally, submerged in warm water for about 30 minutes. Rinse and pat dry).

Serve alongside a salad with my classic Vinaigrette. Kick off with my Happy Hour Crackers (scroll down on this page to see the crackers recipe). Easy-Peasy.

3. Saumon Alsacienne: Salmon in the Style of the Bonne Femme from Alsace

Braised Salmon, Salmon Recipe for the Braiser

Here’s a dish I fell in love with at a French restaurant in New Orleans. While the cabbage in it may not sounds particularly romantic, please take my word for it: The humble veggie becomes something else entirely when it’s braised in cream and wine.

Enjoy with pureed potatoes. Or, better yet, a Celery-Root and Potato Puree, which you’ll find in my cookbook on page 247. What? You don’t have my cookbook? Gah! Well, here’s a trusty recipe online for it that will do until my book arrives.

Kick off with my Pâté Canapés.

4. Weeknight Porcetta

Weeknight Porcetta. Tenderloin wrapped in bacon, with rosemary and garlic.

Weeknight Porcetta. Tenderloin wrapped in bacon, with rosemary and garlic. Get it ready for the oven in the morning.

Oh yes! Pork tenderloin, wrapped in bacon with rosemary and garlic: this is bistro-style cooking at its quick-and-easy best. Hint: Take five minutes to get it assembled in the morning—letting those flavors meld—and pop it in the oven while you’re kicking off the evening with a glass of bubbly.

Serve with that Celery-Root and Potato Puree (mentioned above) and roasted Brussels sprouts.

5. My classic French Valentine’s Day Recipe: Beef Tenderloin Steaks with Brandy-Mustard Sauce


Yes—you saw it last year, but it bears repeating, because this recipe is just so perfect for Valentine’s Day. In fact, it’s a tradition chez-moi: I make it every year.

See the complete menu (with pommes rissolés–pan-fried potatoes).

What? You need a few French-inspired gift ideas for Valentine’s Day? I’m here to help! Why not give your favorite cook a great French cookbook. And it doesn’t even have to be mine! (And whenever you purchase through one of my links, you help support this site. Thank you.)





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Paris Bits—Vignettes and Pensées, Day 10

Ritz Bar. Photograph by Vincent Leroux.

Ritz Bar. Photograph by Vincent Leroux.

Alors, mes amis. This is the final post for the vignettes and pensées, written by my husband, David Wolf. As of today, I’m fresh out of vignettes and pensées—we’ll have to head back to Paris to replenish the well soon!

This one concerns our first and only visit to the Ritz Hotel for drinks. Yes, it was meaningful, memorable, and historic, yet as Dave mentions, there was something a bit contrived about the Hemingway Bar scene. Nevertheless, we had to go there, and we’re glad we did. When it comes to France, we love it all—from the rustic to the Ritz—though somewhere in between is usually where we happily land.

Have you ever been to the Bar Vendome or the Hemingway Bar? I understand the Ritz was closed for renovation for a few years. It has reopened, and I would love to see it again.

Our Journey to the Hotel Ritz, Paris.


The Hemingway Bar at the Ritz Hotel, Paris. Photo by Vincent Leroux.

The Hemingway Bar at the Ritz Hotel, Paris. Photo by Vincent Leroux.

After half a dozen visits to Paris in the last twenty years I finally make it to the Ritz for a drink. My mother told me that in the Ritz bar in 1965 she and my father sat next to a woman wearing a snake wrapped around her neck. A real boa, I suppose, not a feather one. Each time I have been to Paris my mother has asked me upon my return, “Did you go to the Ritz?” I don’t usually pack the right clothes, but this time I have; I’ve brought along a sport coat, a tie, a decent pair of dress slacks and shoes.

Mr. Sportcoat and me. In the courtyard of the Ritz Hotel, Paris.

Mr. Sportcoat and me. In the courtyard of the Ritz Hotel, Paris.

No tie is required in the Bar Vendôme, but I have stashed one in my sport-coat pocket in case we visit the Hemingway Bar as well, where, strangely enough, a tie is required. But we begin in the Bar Vendôme with a couple of kir royales for 15 bucks a piece. The room is elegant enough, the banquettes comfortable, though the glass case selling Ritz tennis balls, racquet covers and t-shirts is a bit tacky, especially placed as it is just behind the maitre d’s podium. One end of the room looks out on a garden terrace of wrought-iron tables and classical statues, but the terrace is closed while we are there. The lights go out—a power failure in the hotel. If we wait long enough to pay our tab and the lights remain out, I think, perhaps the drinks will be on the house. Twenty minutes later the lights come on. We pay up and leave

We wander freely around the hotel, down the long corridor lined with glass cases filled with the most fashionable merchandise—Cartier, Loris Azarro, Yves St. Laurent—all of which can be ordered for purchase from nearby shops and delivered to the hotel. We wander into a small courtyard where three women visiting from Tampa ask us to take a picture of them. One kindly takes a picture of Wini and me as well [see photo, above]. A cat climbs down an ivied wall and passes through the courtyard; it’s a tabby and we name her Crackers, Ritz Crackers being her full name.

The cat in the courtyard at the Ritz. We named him "Ritz Crackers."

The cat in the courtyard at the Ritz. We named her Crackers, “Ritz Crackers” being her full name.

We go back inside and wander toward the Hemingway Bar, which is at the back of the hotel. Rounding a corner, we recognize immediately the now famous back door of the Ritz, the small revolving door the world has seen many times in the security camera tape showing Princess Diana, Dodi Al Fayed and Henri Paul exiting the hotel the night of their deaths. It’s a bit creepy to say the least—sad and angering as well, considering what we now know of that night.

We loiter for ten more minutes, waiting for the Hemingway Bar to open, which it does promptly at 6:30 p.m. We are welcomed into the smoke-saturated small wooden bar adorned with many pictures of Ernest in battle gear or in a coat and tie—the latter photos chosen as much for their historical interest as perhaps for their power in persuading one of the legitimacy of the dress code. (I had ducked into the men’s room before the bar opened to put on the tie I brought with me.) A fishing rod and a small pistol hang over the bar. I do not feel like inquiring into their authenticity. The barman, a British fellow named Colin Field runs the place. At first he is very welcoming and informative about the cocktails, but he quickly grows a bit intrusive, telling us at length about some alcohol-free gin he is developing, answering a bit too thoroughly another customer’s question about the history of the Bloody Mary. Colin has put together a cocktail menu in the form of a newspaper that features, among other “stories,” an account of how he became the barman at The Ritz. The story points out that Colin studied philosophy and history before pursuing his dream of becoming the barman at the Hemingway Bar.

All that aside, we are still able to enjoy our drinks before heading out as the bar begins to fill solidly with Americans. We exit through the front door of the hotel and contemplate taking a cab to the Left Bank for dinner. Instead we remain on foot, pausing to watch some men playing boules in the mellowing light of the Tuileries.

















More Paris Bits:

• Day 9: A Visit to Shakespeare & Co. Booksellers
• Day 8: An Attempt to Foil a Queue-Basher in France
• Day 7: Français ou Americain? Or, How to Insult a Frenchman
• Day 6: Thoughts on the Six-Week French Vacation
• Day 5: Writers on Vacation in Paris
• Day 4: The Eiffel Tower in the Millenium
• Day 3: All in a Day in Paris
• Day 2: The Art Teacher
• Day 1: Lunch on the Rue de la Roquette




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