It’s The Wine, Stupid!

 A Food Lover’s Guide to Wine Tasting


Having spent over 40 years in the restaurant and catering business I have a strong aversion to ‘pretense’ in any form and have always thought of wine tastings a bit through this filter.

I am a self confessed neophyte when it comes to wines and have never approached them with same passion  I do for food.

Drop me off in the wine section of an SAQ and ask me to pick out a good wine for dinner and I’m immediately the  proverbial deer in the headlights!.  I would have no idea where to turn and more than likely will pick a previously bought of wine or buy a bottle solely  based on its label design rather than dwell on the quality of what’s inside.

I also  admit  that when I go to a restaurant I almost always choose my wine by price range and almost never by vintage or country of origin.

Don’t get me wrong I, like everyone else, enjoy a good bottle of wine with a meal I just don’t embrace a lot of the pretense that goes into its selection. I can honestly say that quite often price doesn’t always guarantee quality, a $12 bottle can often surpass a more expensive bottle priced over $30 or $40

I know the ‘basics’. White wines are usually lighter in taste and as such go well with salads, fruits and fish while red wines, being more hearty and full bodied, are more suitably paired with red meats, game and stronger cheeses. However having said this I don’t often conform strictly to either classification and I throw out these strongly held traditions on a regular basis preferring to  choose a wine I like, whether I’m eating fish or meat!.

Throughout my career I have attended and organized my share of wine tastings most of them sponsored by local wine importers marketing their wine selections. These wine tastings are quite often organized around certain wine regions and are tremendous revenue sources for restaurants and catering events.

Wine tastings are steeped in tradition and, in my opinion, encompass  a lot of this ‘pretense’.

The ritual of tasting..sniff, swirl, sip and spit is strongly recommended for each wine while cleansing the palate by eating some bread in between wines. I much prefer the sniff, swirl, sip and… swallow. This is a somewhat  frowned upon version. I want to enjoy the wine to its fullest and not spit it out. Using my way of tasting you do need to keep track of the amount you consume as you may need the services of an Uber or designated driver to get home!

You can see I’m not  overly impressed with whole ritual of wine tasting and you may rightly ask then why am I writing about it. It’s the food, with me. It’s all about the food that is served at these occasions that make them memorable.

These food can be divided into two categories..the traditional and a bit more substantial and interesting  bite size or tapas size foods.

Traditional Wine Tasting Foods

cheese platter

A well chosen cheese and fruit tray with assorted simple crackers and sliced baguettes including soft cheese (Brie or Camembert are good choices), Hard Cheese (Aged Cheddar or Gouda), Blue Cheese (A good quality Danish Blue or Stilton..stay away from the ‘stinky’ ones!) and perhaps an artisanal herb flavored goat cheese. For fruits, the ubiquitous green and red grapes, mandarin and apple segments, figs, assorted dried fruits and nuts. You could also add a couple of simple artisanal country pates and perhaps one or two fruit and pickled compotes and a small jar of organic honey for drizzling.

Tapas  Single Bite Appetizers

(the selection can be extensive, but, here are a few suggestions with recipes)

  • Caramelized Onion Dip
  • Shrimp Tacos Bites
  • Asiago Wafers
  • Grilled Trout Spread
  • Moroccan Date Bonbons
  • Marinated Olives
  • Bruschetta

We are blessed here in Quebec as there are many opportunities for us to experience on site wine tastings during the summer at  our many local Eastern Township wineries These wine tastings are sometimes offered free of charge or at  a small additional cost. I have spent the last couple of summers touring many of these wineries and have written about them here (link They are well worth your time and on top of enjoying some very tasty wines it is a great opportunity to explore the countryside and stop for a picnic with a local bottle of wine included!

A Votre Sante!




Makes about 2 cups

1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 leek, thinly sliced
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1tablespoons olive oil (maybe less is needed)
Kosher salt
1 garlic clove, grated
½ cup fat free mayonnaise
½ cup fat free sour cream
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme, plus more for serving
2 tablespoons buttermilk
Freshly ground black pepper

Recipe Preparation

Heat broiler. Toss shallot, leek, and scallions with olive oil; season with salt. Broil, tossing once, until charred, 10–15 minutes. Let cool. Mix with garlic, mayonnaise, sour cream, lemon juice, and thyme. Thin with buttermilk; season with salt and pepper. Serve topped with thyme.

Recipe and image courtesy of




24 large raw shrimps, peels and tails removed
non-stick cooking spray or olive oil spray
salt to taste
1 tsp grated lime zest, + juice 1 tbsp lime juice
2 tsp chili powder
1 large California Avocado, diced (optional use just a little!)
1/3 cup fat free sour cream
cayenne to taste
2 tbsp freshly chopped cilantro
24 tortilla chip scoops


Pre heat oven to 375 degrees F.
Spray a large baking sheet or cookie sheet with non-stick cooking spray or olive oil spray, set aside.
Combine salt, lime zest, and chili powder in a small bowl. Sprinkle all over the raw shrimp. Lay the shrimp on the cookie sheet and spritz with the non stick cooking spray or olive oil spray. Bake for 5-8 minutes or until the shrimps turn pink and curl in on themselves.
Meanwhile combine the diced avocado, lime juice and salt to taste in a small bowl.
Combine the sour cream and cayenne in a different small bowl.
Assemble your shrimp taco bites by placing a tsp of avocado mixture in a tortilla chip, followed by a 1/2 tsp of sour cream mixture, then top with a chili-lime shrimp.
Sprinkle with the chopped cilantro. Enjoy!

Recipe and image courtesy of


trout spread


  • Grilled Trout with Lemon-Caper Mayonnaise
  • 3/4 cup coarsely chopped green olives, preferably picholine
  • 1/2 cup very finely diced red onion
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Endives, radishes, cucumbers and cauliflower florets, for serving

How to Make It

Skin the trout and break the fish into large flakes. Transfer the trout to a bowl and add the remaining lemon-caper mayonnaise, chopped olives and red onion; season with salt and pepper. Stir the spread until the fish is broken up but still slightly chunky. Serve with endives, radishes, cucumbers and cauliflower florets.

Make Ahead

The spread can be refrigerated for up to 3 days

Recipe and image courtesy of


date bonbons


  • 2 1/2 ounces sliced almonds (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons)
  • 1/2 cup shelled pistachios (2 ounces)
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts (3 ounces)
  • 1 pound moist pitted dates, chopped
  • 4 pitted kalamata or dry-cured Moroccan olives, chopped
  • 1/2 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
  • 1/2 tablespoon honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/8 teaspoon orange flower water
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

How to Make It

Step 1

Preheat the oven to 350°. Spread the sliced almonds on a baking sheet and toast for about 4 minutes, until golden. Let the almonds cool completely.

Step 2

In a food processor, grind the pistachios to a coarse powder. Transfer the pistachio powder to a plate. Add the toasted almonds to the processor and grind to a coarse powder. Add the walnuts, dates, olives, ginger, honey, orange zest, cinnamon, cardamom, orange flower water and salt and process to a paste.

Step 3

Scoop up scant tablespoons of the date mixture and roll into balls. Roll the balls in the pistachio powder to coat them completely and serve.

Make Ahead

The bonbons can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Recipe and image courtesy of


marinated olives


    • 1 1/2 cups Kalamata olives or other brine-cured black olives
    • 1 1/2 cups cracked brine-cured green olives
    • 1 cup olive oil
    • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
    • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
    • 1/4 cup orange juice
    • 6 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
    • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
    • 1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
    • 1 tablespoon grated orange peel
    • 1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper


Combine all ingredients in large heavy-duty resealable plastic bag. Shake bag to blend ingredients. Refrigerate at least 1 day and up to 3 days, turning bag occasionally. Transfer olives and some marinade to bowl. Let stand 1 hour at room temperature before serving.

Recipe and image courtesy of


asiago wafers


  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon finely snipped fresh rosemary
  • 1/2teaspoon salt
  • 1/4teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 6tablespoons cold butter, cut into 18 pieces
  • 2cups finely grated Asiago cheese (8 ounces)
  • 2tablespoons milk
  • 1/2cup dairy sour cream
  • Fresh rosemary leaves (optional)
  • 2 egg whites, slightly beaten (optional)


  1. In a large bowl, combine flour, snipped rosemary, salt, garlic powder, and white pepper. Using a pastry blender, cut in butter until pieces are pea-size. Add Asiago cheese; toss well. Drizzle milk over flour mixture; gently toss with a fork.
  2. Drop small dollops of sour cream over flour mixture. Using a wooden spoon, stir until dough comes together and forms a ball.
  3. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide dough in half. Using your hands, roll each dough half back and forth, from center to edges, to form a 6-1/2-inch-long log about 1-1/2 inches in diameter.
  4. Place one log along the bottom edge of a piece of waxed paper or parchment paper. Roll up paper and dough log. If needed, continue to roll log back and forth to create an even shape from end to end. Repeat with second log. Chill for 24 to 48 hours.
  5. Preheat oven to 325 F. Lightly grease a baking sheet; set aside. Unwrap logs. Using a sharp serrated knife, cut logs into 1/8- to 1/4-inch-thick slices. Place slices 1/2 inch apart on prepared baking sheet. If desired, dip rosemary leaves in egg whites and place in the centers of the slices.
  6. Bake for 18 to 22 minutes or until golden (do not overbrown the edges). Transfer to a wire rack and cool. Makes about 54 crackers.

From the Test Kitchen

Prepare as directed through Step 4. Wrap logs in foil and freeze for up to 2 months. To serve, thaw for 30 to 60 minutes before slicing. Continue as directed in Step 5.

Bake Ahead:

Prepare and bake as directed. Layer cooled crackers between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container; cover. Store at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Recipe and image courtesy of




Toasted baguette

  • 1 baguette
  • ½ clove garlic
  • 1 tbsp olive oil* (optional)


  • 8 tomatoes (plump, ripe), chopped
  • ½ cup red onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 bunch fresh basil, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • 2 tbsp olive brine or olive oil


2 tbsp kalamata olives, chopped

  • Fresh basil
  • Handful arugula (optional)
  • Balsamic reduction (optional)


Preheat oven to 450F. Cut baguette into ½ inch slices on an angle. Place baguette slices on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil (optional). Bake for 5-7 minutes until golden brown.

  1. Cut a garlic clove in half. Remove the toasted baguette from the oven and rub the garlic clove over the warm, slices of baguette.
  2. Add tomatoes, red onion, garlic, basil, balsamic vinegar, and sea salt in a large bowl. Mix altogether.
  3. Scoop the bruschetta mixture onto the baguette. Garnish with olives, fresh basil, arugula, and balsamic reduction (optional). Serve right away after assembling the bruschetta.


1) The bruschetta mixture will get more liquid the longer it sits. If you prepare the bruschetta in advance, simply drain a bit of the liquid before scooping the mixture onto the toasted baguette slices.
2) Serve right away to avoid the baguette soaking up too much of the liquid from the tomatoes

Recipe and image courtesy of

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