A cocktail-hour buffet is a great way to entertain during the holidays. You can indulge your guests in a variety of specialty foods that are rich in both tradition and flavor, and with some smart planning and savvy shopping, you won't have to spend all day cooking. Below, you'll find some suggestions for creating a buffet menu around three central ingredients: foie gras, ham and blue cheese, plus a list of great wines to match.
Foie gras: This high-fat, high-priced and occasionally controversial (yet incredibly delicious) foodstuff is available to home cooks in various formats, including pâté, mousse and bloc, which Wine Spectator features editor Owen Dugan says "is the most convenient and lasts longer … . A toasted slice of brioche and some sweet fruit on top … and you're ready for your most discriminating guests." In addition to brioche and fruit preserves, you can offer other types of breads or crackers, cornichons and a dish of coarse sea salt that guests may use to suit their own tastes.
Sauternes is the ideal match for foie gras. Its sweetness is tamed and its flavor made more complex in combination with the foie, and both food and wine have a luxuriant mouthfeel. See our list below for two recommended and recently reviewed Sauternes.
|Blue cheese and Port are a natural match.|
Blue cheese: Blue cheese is, at its best, a creamy yet crumbly cheese with strong and often salty flavors. The characteristic blue and green "veins" in the cheese come from a mold, often a variety of penicillium, that has been encouraged to spread through the cheese, giving it its typically strong flavor. There are several varieties of blue cheese produced in many countries, including intensely flavored Cabrales and Picón, from Spain; buttery, relatively low-salt Fourme d'Ambert and pungent Roquefort, from France; creamy Gorgonzola, from Italy; and sharp, grassy Shropshire, nutty Stilton and mild Wensleydale Blue from England and the United States. Serve blue cheese with whole shelled walnuts, lightly toasted raisin bread, sliced fresh pears or Granny Smith apples, and dried Turkish figs.
Port makes a classic match with blue cheese, especially Stilton. "The Stilton-Port match is so perfect that nothing else can touch it," says Dugan, adding, "They key into each other, the fruit and the acidity in the wine and the salt and the cream in the cheese bringing out latent flavors. …Call it piquant, call it umami, but definitely call some friends and don't stint on the product." See our list below for two recommended and recently reviewed Ports.
|You can't go wrong with ham and sparkling wine.|
Ham: Ham makes good sense for holiday entertaining—it can be served hot, cold or room temperature, it's widely available, it appeals to palates both childish and urbane, and it complements a wide variety of other foods and beverages. As with blue cheese, the existing variety and provenance of ham is impressive, including American country ham, Spanish Serrano, Bayonne ham from the French Basque region, Italian Prosciutto di Parma and Prosciutto di San Daniele, and Westphalia and Black Forest hams from Germany. Serve ham with freshly baked biscuits, a high-quality grainy mustard, pickles, a tangy fruit chutney or relish, and green salad with vinaigrette to round out al that richness.
As for what to pour, ham has an affinity for Sherry, rosé, Pinot Noir and other light-bodied reds, but it also works well with sparkling wine, which just makes perfect sense at this time of year. See our list below for eight recommended sparkling wines, and have a happy new year!
|CHÂTEAU LAFAURIE-PEYRAGUEY Sauternes 2004||91||$65|
|Offers a wonderful nose of exotic fruits, from mango to fresh pineapple, with just a hint of vanilla. Full-bodied and medium sweet, with lots of fruit and a long finish. Hard not to drink now. Best after 2010. 5,525 cases made.
|CHÂTEAU SIGALAS-RABAUD Sauternes 2004||90||$45|
|A serious Sauternes, with lemon, spice, apple, piecrust and a hint of vanilla on the nose and palate. Full-bodied, medium sweet and concentrated. Excellent for the vintage. Much better than from barrel. Best after 2010. 2,535 cases made.
|FONSECA Vintage Port Guimaraens 2004||90||$57|
|Shows plenty of crushed berry and wet earth character. Full, soft and velvety, with lots of blackberry, licorice and mineral character. A generous fruity style. Very sweet. Best after 2008. 1,600 cases made.
|DE KRANS Tawny Port Western Cape Cape NV||89||$14|
|A nice elegant tawny, with cinnamon, date, caramel and buttered pecan notes that stay fresh on the long, fine-grained finish. Nicely done. Drink now. 2,000 cases made.
|DRAPPIER Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne Cuvée Signature NV||92||$50|
|A refined style, showing honey, coffee and gingerbread aromas and flavors. Well-integrated, with a warm pastry note on the long finish. Very creamy, with some mature character. Drink now. 4,000 cases made.
|JANISSON & FILS Brut Champagne Tradition NV||91||$34|
|Aromas of graphite and iron filings give way to ripe berry, peach and citrus in this vinous Champagne. On the dry side, with a strong mineral essence on the finish. Drink now through 2010. 5,000 cases made.
|ROEDERER ESTATE Brut Rosé Anderson Valley NV||91||$26|
|Crisp and festive, with appealing cherry and graham cracker aromas and lively strawberry, vanilla and spice flavors that take on richness and length on the finish. Drink now through 2012. 5,200 cases made.
|DOMAINE CHANDON Rosé Sonoma-Napa Counties étoile NV||90||$40|
|Strikes an agile balance between fresh fruit and elegant maturity. Has floral aromas of strawberry, vanilla and toast, with rich, supple black cherry, candied apple and spice that take on finesse toward the finish. Drink now through 2010. 6,000 cases made.
|MONTAUDON Brut Champagne NV||90||$35|
|A full-bodied bubbly, featuring graphite, honey, apricot and toasted brioche flavors. On the dry side, this is well-balanced and lively, with a crisp, mouthwatering finish. Drink now through 2010. Tasted twice, with consistent notes. 100,000 cases made.
|PIPER-HEIDSIECK Brut Champagne NV||90||$30|
|A pronounced graphite aroma introduces this finely-wrought, chiseled Champagne. Lemon verbena, ginger and spice notes weigh in, and the finish is lingering, if tart. Drink now through 2010. 60,000 cases imported.
|DOMAINE CARNEROS Brut Carneros 2004||89||$25|
|Appealing aromas of Gala apple, toasted almond and vanilla lead to focused, creamy Asian pear and spice flavors that finish with a vibrant crispness. Drink now through 2012. 38,000 cases made.
|GLORIA FERRER Blanc de Noirs Sonoma County NV||89||$20|
|Fun and festive, with a delicate pink hue, floral strawberry and vanilla aromas and crisp, delicate citrus, spice and cherry flavors. Drink now. 28,096 cases made.
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