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Selecting the best wine to pair with your dinner is easy when the menu is simple, such as a grilled steak. A juicy grilled steak equals a full-bodied tannic red wine. But when we’re dining out meals are often a bit more complex, featuring a pairing option we sometimes ignore, the appetizers.

If you consider the appetizer as a mini version of the main courses (they are usually similar) it makes it much easier to find a match. A small portion of salmon, grilled shrimp or quail will pair easily with the same wine simply as a larger portion does, and even with most side dishes. But there are a few tips to keep in mind to navigate your options.

Be adventurous

Chilled, dry “fino” sherry is a wonderful match with tapas, olives, ham, sausage and basically anything spicy and salty. Many of those dishes are starters and fino or manzanilla styles of sherry can easily accompany a main dish of seafood, smoked salmon, squid and almost any grilled fish. Respected dining establishments know the key to fino sherry is a newly opened fresh, zesty bottle. This is not the style of sherry that can sit forlornly on the bar shelf for months. This style of wine is at its best when opened and consumed within a day or so.

The soup challenge

If a soup is a simple broth or thin liquid it will most likely be an awkward pairing with any wine. Texture and main ingredients are key for a starter soup and wine pairing. The texture may be an addition of noodles, hearty vegetables, meats or even couscous and barley. Soups with texture similar to stew tend to pair easier with wine. As with all food and wine combinations, consider the key ingredients. Pair a light vegetable broth based soup with a lighter bodied white wine. A robust, braised beef soup needs a fuller bodied wine to compete with the dish.

Bubbly simply works

Some of us think of Champagne only with celebration but it’s one of the most food friendly wines we have in restaurants and wine shops. It easily manages a clash of food flavors, weights and textures. Sparkling wine and Champagne are among the most versatile, and popping a bottle of bubbly is the ideal start for any dinner. It is but one of the few wines able to join you with the appetizer and end with dessert.