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13 Rules to Throwing a Winning Wine and Cheese Party

Get your friends together for an evening that involves little cooking but major fun.

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Think about texture

Matching wines and cheeses with similar textures will give you and your guests the best mouth-feel experience. Try the lushness of a silky Chardonnay with a creamy Brie, or the bite of Pinot Noir with sharp cheddar. (Enjoy the delicious foods and flavors of the holidays? Click here.)

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Balance flavors

For the most part, you’ll want to pair cheeses and wines that won’t overpower each other. Soft, fresh cheeses like Camembert and Brie pair well with a dry, crisp Riesling or Pinot Grigio, while stronger-flavored cheeses like manchego and Havarti can stand up to fuller-bodied wines like Chardonnay or Merlot. (Find out what your favorite alcoholic drink says about your personality.)

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Look for a bit of contrast

Sometimes a bit of contrast is the best way to complement flavors. Salty-sweet combinations work so well, so try salty gorgonzola with a sweet port. Meanwhile, a stinky cheese requires the balance of a light wine—consider pairing Taleggio cheese with red Burgundy.

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Make a road map

To take your guests on a true flavor journey, pick a variety of flavors and textures. Keep the tastes from getting overpowered by having partygoers start with light wines and fresh cheeses before moving on to the flavors with more depth. (Check out these clever ways to open wine without a corkscrew.)

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Let guests know what they’re getting

Answer guests’ menu questions before they ask by putting out note cards identifying each cheese. You can make them as fancy or as simple as you’d like, or even set the cheeses on slate tiles with the names written in chalk. (Don’t miss these other ways to make everyone in the room relax.)

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Set out a knife for every cheese

The point of the party should be to taste each wine and cheese pairing fully, which means you want to avoid mixing flavors. Set out a separate knife for each cheese so your palate doesn’t get confused. No need to run out for special cheese knives—the butter knives or paring knives you have on hand will do the trick. Did you know there are healthy cheeses that you can eat and not worry about the calories?

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Keep the bread fresh

There’s no shame in popping cheese slices straight in your mouth, but you should leave out crusty bread and crackers for guests to spread their cheeses. Leave them in a basket and wrap them in cloth so they don’t get dry. (Feel good about those carbs—this is why science says you should eat more bread.)

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Give some variety

No one’s going to complain about too much wine and cheese, but having a few other foods on hand will keep your menu interesting. Leave out little bowls of figs, grapes, nuts, pickled vegetables, or cured meats to give a change of flavor.

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Hit the right temperatures

Take your cheese out of the fridge 30 to 60 minutes before you plan to dig in to get the right flavor and texture. Serve white wine chilled at 45°F, and red wine kept at 60°F. (Read these ideas for what to do with your leftover wine.)

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Dress it up

A few wine-related decorations will elevate the scene and show you went the extra mile. Use old wine bottles as flower vases, or pile corks in a glass container to step up your party game.

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Keep track of glasses

Have guests label their wine glasses so no one loses track of whose is whose. Wine charms are a fun touch, but you can also scribble on names or doodles with a permanent marker. To remove the writing, just go over it again with a permanent marker and rub it down with a paper towel while the ink is still wet. It should wipe right off, no rubbing alcohol or special cleaner required. Using your good crystal? Wash by hand instead of using the dishwasher.

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Offer nonalcoholic drinks

Especially if anyone at your party will be driving home, make sure to have some nonalcoholic drinks on hand. Guests can enjoy the evening while pacing themselves with sparkling water or hot tea.

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Don’t forget dessert

In the spirit of the finger-foods party, serve desserts that don’t require guests to put down their wine glasses. Put out trays of chocolate truffles, fruit tartlets, chocolate-covered strawberries to wrap things up with something sweet. No need to feel any guilt for your indulgence—there are legitimate reasons you should eat dessert every day.

Originally Published in Reader's Digest