6 perfect cocktail party menus

Choose from 5 winning menus that pair perfect party bites with just the right sips

Wine soiree

Photo by Lisa Romerein; written by Amy Machnak

Wine soiree

At this swank affair, pair the right sips with the appetizers, ranging from caviar to steak-and-mushroom skewers.

Pine-Nut Salad Spears

Photo by Lisa Romerein; written by Amy Machnak

Pine-Nut Salad Spears

This elegant take on salad makes the perfect starter.

Pair with: Unoaked Chardonnay

Recipe: Pine-Nut Salad Spears

Goat Cheese with Peppers and Almonds

Photo by Lisa Romerein; written by Amy Machnak

Goat Cheese with Peppers and Almonds

Just slice and serve a few refined ingredients and you're ready to mingle.

Pair with: Sparkling rosé, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, or Pinot Noir

Recipe: Goat Cheese with Peppers and Almonds

California Caviar Tasting

Photo by Lisa Romerein; written by Amy Machnak

California Caviar Tasting

Set 1 jar (1 oz.) California caviar* in a bowl of ice on a platter. In smaller, individual dishes, serve minced shallot, crème fraîche topped with chopped chives, shredded lemon zest, and melba toast or toasted baguette slices. (*See tsarnicoulai.com)

Pair with: Blanc de blancs sparkling wine or Sauvignon Blanc

 

Steak and “Oyster” Skewers

Photo by Lisa Romerein; written by Amy Machnak

Steak and “Oyster” Skewers

Mini-skewers are the perfect party food. This earthy combination holds up well to a bold red.

Pair with: Syrah or Merlot

Recipe: Steak and “Oyster” Skewers

Chinese Scallops

Photo by Lisa Romerein; written by Amy Machnak

Chinese Scallops

You can make these tasty scallops in a flash, leaving you plenty of time to hang out with your guests.

Pair with: Brut sparkling wine, Riesling, or Pinot Noir

Recipe: Chinese Scallops

Brew bash

Photo by Lisa Romerein; written by Amy Machnak

Brew bash

The latest craze? Pairing craft beer with food. Try our suggested styles for a very grown-up take on bar bites.

Cured Meats and Soft Pretzels

Photo by Lisa Romerein; written by Amy Machnak

Cured Meats and Soft Pretzels

Arrange 1/4 lb. each thinly sliced hot coppa, mortadella, prosciutto, and soppressata on a platter. Serve with Dijon mustard and soft pretzel rolls.

Pair with: A full-bodied pilsner, such as New Belgium Brewing’s Blue Paddle, or golden ale

 

Street-Snack Tacos Verdes

Photo by Lisa Romerein; written by Amy Machnak

Street-Snack Tacos Verdes

These finger-food tacos are deceptively easy to make.

Pair with: Lager, especially a Mexican one such as Negra Modelo

Recipe: Street-Snack Tacos Verdes

Inside-Out Spiced Brie

Photo by Lisa Romerein; written by Amy Machnak

Inside-Out Spiced Brie

This flavorful alternative to a baked Brie will have your guests coming back for more...and more.

Pair with: American pale ale, such as Full Sail or a blond bock such as Gordon Biersch

Recipe: Inside-Out Spiced Brie

Tempura Vegetables

Photo by Lisa Romerein; written by Amy Machnak

Tempura Vegetables

Move over, fries--these doubly crunchy veggies are the perfect complement to a crisp beer.

Pair with: Anderson Valley Brewing Company Boont Amber Ale, Kona Brewing Company Longboard Island Lager, or Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

Recipe: Tempura Vegetables

Garlic Shrimp

Photo by Lisa Romerein; written by Amy Machnak

Garlic Shrimp

These zesty shrimp would also go well with white wine, but we love the dish with a cold pale ale.

Pair with: American pale ale, such as Sierra Nevada

Recipe: Garlic Shrimp

Retro punch party

Photo by Lisa Romerein; written by Amy Machnak

Retro punch party

This party brings back the appetizers of the ’50s with modern twists. If you want to offer more drink options besides punch, mix up some Manhattans and martinis for your guests.

Boozy Olives

Photo by Iain Bagwell; written by Amy Machnak

Boozy Olives

The martini as finger food--so classy.

Recipe: Boozy Olives

Molten Cheese Log

Photo by Iain Bagwell; written by Amy Machnak

Molten Cheese Log

Bring back fondue, the ultimate party comfort food.

Recipe: Molten Cheese Log

Endive “Chips” with Blue Cheese Dip and Bacon Dust

Photo by Iain Bagwell; written by Amy Machnak

Endive “Chips” with Blue Cheese Dip and Bacon Dust

The iceberg wedge salad gets reinvented. Endives are the perfect vehicle for a condiment as delicious as this one.

Recipe: Endive “Chips” with Blue Cheese Dip and Bacon Dust

Smoked Oysters on the Half “Shell”

Photo by Iain Bagwell; written by Amy Machnak

Smoked Oysters on the Half “Shell”

Lay about 25 large salted potato chips on a serving plate. Top each with a smoked oyster, cut in half if large, from 2 cans (3 oz. each); about 1/4 tsp. sour cream; and a sprinkle of chopped chives.

 

Pear Punch Sparkler

Photo by Iain Bagwell; written by Amy Machnak

Pear Punch Sparkler

Pair your apps with this fizzy and fruity cocktail.

Recipe: Pear Punch Sparkler

Classic cocktails & appetizers party

Photo by Annabelle Breakey

Classic cocktails & appetizers party

This menu tips its hat to tried and true bites and sips, with a decidedly Western spin.

Sausage Mushroom Caps

Photo by Thomas J. Story; written by Amy Machnak

Sausage Mushroom Caps

These spicy sausage-filled mushrooms can easily be made ahead and then cooked and served just as guests arrive.

Recipe: Sausage Mushroom Caps 

Pair with: Marmalade Sours

 

 

Spicy Sesame-Nut Mix

Photo by Thomas J. Story; writen by Amy Machnak

Spicy Sesame-Nut Mix

We liked these with a bit of a kick, but you can easily adjust the spices to make them sweeter or spicier to suit your guests.

Recipe: Spicy Sesame-Nut Mix 

Pair with: Basil Gimlet

 

 

Deviled Eggs with Salmon and Two Mustards

Photo by Annabelle Breakey; written by Amy Machnak

Deviled Eggs with Salmon and Two Mustards

Deviled eggs get a holiday upgrade with the help of smoked salmon and crème fraiche.

Recipe: Deviled Eggs with Salmon and Two Mustards 

Pair with: Pisco Sour

 

 

 

 

Poached Shrimp with Meyer Lemon Ginger Sauce

Photo by Annabelle Breakey; written by Amy Machnak

Poached Shrimp with Meyer Lemon Ginger Sauce

Everyone loves chilled shrimp. Instead of lemon wedges, try serving it with this lovely and flavorful dipping sauce.

Recipe: Poached Shrimp with Meyer Lemon Ginger Sauce 

Pair with: Clove-scented Sidecar

Panko-crusted Crab Cake Bites with Roasted Pepper-Chive Aioli

Photo by James Carrier; written by Amy Machnak

Panko-crusted Crab Cake Bites with Roasted Pepper-Chive Aioli 

Crab cakes are a fantastic holiday appetizer, since Dungeness crab is in season. We love to serve these bite-size cakes at parties.

Recipe: Panko-crusted Crab Cake Bites with Roasted Pepper-Chive Aioli

Pair with: Champagne Cocktails

 

 

 

Dessert & cocktails party

Photo by Thomas J. Story

Dessert & cocktails party

Those who harbor a sweet tooth will love this decadent party menu.

Tangerine Crème Brulee

Photo by Iain Bagwell; written by Amy Machnak

Tangerine Crème Brulee

Winter is prime citrus season so our lightly scented crème brulee is a perfect way to get more of it into every meal.

Recipe: Tangerine Crème Brulee

Pair with: Mulled Cranberry Wine Punch

 

 

 

Chocolate Candied Almonds

Photo by Annabelle Breakey; written by Amy Machnak

Chocolate Candied Almonds

Warning: These candies are very addictive. Therefore, we suggest you make a big batch and give some as gifts, serve some at your holiday party, and keep a small stash just for yourself. For emergencies, of course.

Recipe:  Chocolate Candied Almonds

Pair with: Coconut Eggnog

 

 

Honey Caramel Nut Bars

Photo by Leigh Beisch; written by Amy Machnak

Honey Caramel Nut Bars

The buttery shortbread is heavenly with the honey caramel that’s baked around this salty nut mixture. Cut them into various shapes and set out with coffee or a cool weather cocktail.

Recipe: Honey Caramel Nut Bars 

Pair with: Warm Apple Pie Cocktail

 

 

Mocha Almond Fudge

Photo by Annabelle Breakey; written by Amy Machnak

Mocha Almond Fudge

The coffee flavor is subtle and works nicely with the rich chocolate. Almonds are optional but we love the bits of crunch with the creamy fudge.

Recipe: Mocha Almond Fudge

Pair with: Keoke Coffee

Cranberry Rugelach

Photo by Quentin Bacon; written by Amy Machnak

Cranberry Rugelach

Rugelach is a classic holiday cookie. We love this cranberry version, which makes it even more festive.

Recipe:  Cranberry Rugelach

Pair with: Hot White Chocolate

 

 

Sparkling affair

Photo by Aya Brackett; written by Sara Schneider

Sparkling affair

Countless holiday toasts are fueled by sparkling wine, yet most partygoers don’t pay much attention to what’s in the glass they’re raising. But look deeper into the bubbles and you discover two terrific things: First, sparklers are fantastic with food. Their fairly low alcohol levels, bracing acidity, and texture from effervescence make the most of flavors and dishes that challenge many still wines: salty, fried, and spicy fare, for example, or soup. Second, sparkling isn’t just one kind of wine. The brut (dry) category we drink most often in this country offers four styles that taste very different from one another, each working its own special magic with the menu. We’ve designed dynamite appetizers to be spot-on matches for each wine style. Of course, no harm’s done if your guests sip and nibble outside the recommended pairings; bubbly’s food friendliness makes any combination here a good bite.

Onion and Caviar Chips with Spicy Crème Fraîche

Photo by Aya Brackett; written by Sara Schneider

Onion and Caviar Chips with Spicy Crème Fraîche

Potato chips and bubbly are a stealth match; caramelized onions pull out the toastiness in the wine; the tang of the cream works with the wine’s acidity; and the salmon roe adds brininess (and the right color). Set out the components and let guests build their own stacks.

Pair with: J Brut Rosé (Russian River Valley; $38); Laetitia 2009 Brut Rosé (Arroyo Grande Valley; $30); Scharffenberger Brut Rosé “Excellence” (Mendocino County; $23).

Recipe: Onion and Caviar Chips with Spicy Crème Fraîche

Mini Corn Dogs with Cranberry Mustard

Photo by Aya Brackett; written by Sara Schneider

Mini Corn Dogs with Cranberry Mustard

The Chardonnay in a brut blend pairs well with the corn and the mustard, while the Pinot Noir builds bridges to the hot dog and the cranberry in the dip.  Make the Cranberry Mustard before you start the dogs.

Pair with: Domaine Carneros by Taittinger 2009 Brut (Carneros; $28); Michelle Brut (Columbia Valley; $14); Roederer Estate Multi Vintage Brut (Anderson Valley; $23).

Recipe: Mini Corn Dogs with Cranberry Mustard

Herbed Onion Parmesan Toasts

Photo by Aya Brackett; written by Sara Schneider

Herbed Onion Parmesan Toasts

An all-Chardonnay blanc de blancs has an herbal quality that loves the green onions and dill in this appetizer, a brioche layer that echoes the toast itself, and a bright acidity that cuts through the rich mayo and cheese.

Pair with: Iron Horse 2008 Ocean Reserve Blanc de Blancs (Green Valley of Russian River Valley; $45); Rack & Riddle Blanc de Blancs (North Coast; $20); Schramsberg 2010 Blanc de Blancs.

Recipe: Herbed Onion Parmesan Toasts

Creole Shrimp Bisque

Photo by Aya Brackett; written by Sara Schneider

Creole Shrimp Bisque

Soup is a hard match for wine—liquid on liquid. Sparklers fix the texture problem, with bubbles for contrast. Here, the red fruit in a rosé really pops with the sweet shrimp and tames the heat of the cayenne. And bubbly’s characteristic yeastiness echoes the slightly darkened roux thickening this bisque.

Pair with: J Brut Rosé (Russian River Valley; $38); Laetitia 2009 Brut Rosé (Arroyo Grande Valley; $30); Scharffenberger Brut Rosé “Excellence” (Mendocino County; $23).

Recipe: Creole Shrimp Bisque

Beef Empanadas with Chimichurri

Photo by Aya Brackett; written by Sara Schneider

Beef Empanadas with Chimichurri

A Pinot Noir–based blanc de noirs is more than a match for beef, and the wine’s mix of sweetness, brininess, and spiciness works on all levels with the raisins, olives, cumin, and chile. Make the Chimichurri before you start the empanadas.

Pair with: Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs (Carneros; $22); VML 2007 Virginia Marie Lambrix Blanc de Noirs (Russian River Valley; $50).

Recipe: Beef Empanadas with Chimichurri

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