Drink & Dine: Wine Pairings for Appetizers

Drink & Dine

It’s not just that starters typically take less time to prepare, often requiring little to no cooking. They’re lighter, which is always welcome in the warmer months. Photo: Foxys_forest_manufacture/Getty Images

Appetizers for dinner. You could call it lazy, or a perfectly reasonable approach to eating as the days slowly but perceptibly contract in length, making every moment spent outdoors feel like an imperative.

So far this season, we have suggested solid wine pairings with salads inspired by a New York Times piece, as well as pairings for barbecues and for picnics. Appetizers with wine seem like a logical next step. 

It’s not just that starters typically take less time to prepare, often requiring little to no cooking. They’re lighter, which is always welcome in the warmer months, and one particular suggestion spotlights a produce (some call it a fruit, others veg) at its seasonal best. 

Canadian summers fly by; on that we all can agree. Let’s get out of the kitchen and onto the balcony or deck while we can. After all, with Labour Day behind us, Halloween costumes at Dollarama aren’t far behind. 


Wine With Bruschetta


One great thing about bruschetta is its versatility — you can add torn fresh herbs or chili flakes if you like, even a sprinkle of Parmesan, a smear of whipped ricotta or chopped anchovy. But classic bruschetta is all about showcasing tomatoes, technically a fruit, which at this time of year are succulent and abundant. 

A simple recipe at Delish.com has good tips for “drying” the tomatoes so they don’t make the baguette soggy. This recipe also calls for garlic, which, in our world, is a must with bruschetta though it’s easy enough to dial up or down (rubbing the bread with garlic for subtle flavour, finely chopping and sprinkling on top for bolder flavour) depending on your preference. As with all things calling for EVOO, use the best you can afford. 

Given bruschetta’s Italian provenance, we must suggest Chianti, a delicious light-bodied red made with Sangiovese grapes that is well served chilled. Chianti is also a good fit with bruschetta because it’s not overly acidic; the tomatoes bring all the acidity the palate needs, which is why something like Sauvignon Blanc, although an excellent summertime sipper, is not recommended here. La Cucina Italiana also weighs in with whites and rosés suitable for bruschetta. If you can find it, mineral-y, soft Falanghina would also be nice.


Wine With Shrimp


On the plus side, it seems as though everyone likes shrimp in all their permutations. The downside, as chronicled by Britain’s The Guardian and the 2018 documentary Ghost Fleet, is that the billion-dollar seafood export industry is apparently teeming with human rights abuses. 

Compassionate shoppers can find seafood that’s raised and harvested ethically; talk to your fishmonger and pay a bit more for the peace of mind. Once sourced, shrimp is wildly adaptable, pan fried with garlic and butter (or with store-bought garlic butter if you really want to speed things up) or cooked, chilled and plated with seafood sauce (homemade please — it’s stupidly easy and so much better as you can tinker with the horseradish quotient to suit your taste). 

Rosés complement shrimp well, and bone-dry French rosés (in the neighbourhood of 2g/l of sugar) are easy to find under $20. We love Ogier Cotes Du Ventoux Rosé and L’Orangeraie Rosé Pays D’OC, both widely available across Canada. Ontario also makes some truly lovely rosés, many predominantly featuring Pinot Noir. Grab a 2020 vintage if you can find one; it was a good year for grapes. 


Wine With Crab Cakes


More time intensive and demanding than either bruschetta or shrimp, crab cakes are nevertheless a show-stopping appetizer — not least because they call for garlic aioli or rémoulade sauce, swoon. They are also a dish that wouldn’t seem to adapt easily to a vegan preparation but in fact do, as we’ve mentioned in this space before, courtesy of blogger Melissa Huggins. Huggins grew up eating seafood on Long Island and has perfected a dish using chickpeas, hearts of palm and kelp granules or seaweed sheets for maintaining the dish’s ocean-like flavour. 

Of course, real-deal crab cakes are pretty spiffy, and we defer again to the brain trust at Delish.com for a simple-ish but very satisfying recipe elevated by pan frying and panko breadcrumbs for best results. This recipe also won’t shame you for using canned crab meat instead of fresh. And while cooking from scratch is always recommended, truly time-pressed August diners can opt for store-bought (fresh or frozen) crab cakes to maximize time out of the kitchen. 

Whether making vegan or seafood crab cakes, sparkling is a great pairing, underscoring the oddly festive aspect of this dish while perfectly complementing its toasty, fried flavours. Your budget is your guide here: fancy-pants real champagne from France is obviously wonderful but French Crémant as well as Spanish Cava punch above their weight and can be had for $20 or under. Drink ice-cold while savouring the setting sun. 

A version of this story was published on Aug. 19, 2022