There's no better time than summer to enjoy a relaxed happy hour with great sips, snacks, and company. We've partnered with La Crema Winery to share a few of our favorite happy hour recipes, plus the very best bottle to pair them with: a crisp, rich Chardonnay.
I'm a fan of happy hour all year long, but especially during the summer when the weather is friendly enough for relaxing outside in the sun. During these months, you can usually catch me after work on a Thursday or Friday on my rooftop or my friend's balcony (a rare gem in New York City) sipping a glass of wine and munching on some snacks.
With July in full swing, these afternoon happy hours have become a quick tradition between me and my friends, and as the weeks have gone by they've become more and more elaborate. I provide the snacks, and Julian, my old college roommate who now conveniently lives just a dozen blocks away from me, will always bring the wine.
His go-to bottle of late has been a Chardonnay, specifically one that's light and balanced, but full of bright fruit and citrus flavors—the taste and texture are super refreshing in the heat, but complex enough to thoughtfully pair with food. Which is where I come in.
When it comes to picking out which happy hour bites to make, I look for recipes that are easy to pull together (or can be prepped ahead of time) and complement the wine. Julian's go-to Chardonnay has notes of stone fruit, lemon, and melon with a subtle oak that's classic to the grape, plus a touch of acidity to keep everything in balance.
Most types of seafood (think: crab, lobster, shrimp, and scallops) play nicely with Chardonnay's rich, mild flavors, as do not-too-pungent cheeses like ricotta, Brie, and fontina. (Fun wine pairing tip: Avoid serving bitter greens, spicy foods, or anything that's super acidic with Chardonnay because it'll make the wine taste bitter.)
With that in mind, here are a handful of simple yet impressive, happy hour-friendly snack and appetizer recipes that match up beautifully with a chilled bottle (or two) of our choice summer wine.
1. Grilled Shrimp Scampi-ish With Garlic & Lemon
This scampi-style grilled shrimp recipe calls for just a handful of fresh ingredients and a quick flash on the grill (or cast-iron pan, if you don't have one). The simple lemon juice, garlic, and parsley seasoning lets the sweetness of the shrimp shine through, and call out the delicate citrus notes in the wine.
2. Yogurt & Spinach Dip
This cooling yogurt and spinach dip is a cinch to make and requires just a touch of heat to mellow out the sharpness of the garlic and the spinach. Once they're cooled, you can mix everything up in a bowl and top with dried mint, toasty walnuts (which bring out the oak in the Chardonnay), and a good-quality olive oil. Add some pita or colorful crudités and you're in business.
3. Crostini with Ricotta, Honey & Lemon Zest
This crostini might be totally uncomplicated to make, but the combination of fluffy ricotta with a sprinkle of zingy lemon zest and honey (oh, and don't forget the crusty bread) is sure to impress even the pickiest eater.
4. Grilled Corn & Ranch Pizzas
If you think fresh pizza sounds like it's going to be a pain to make for an easygoing happy hour, think again. Use a pre-made dough or baked flatbread to save yourself the time and hassle of making it fresh. Top it with fresh mozzarella, sweet corn, and a drizzle of creamy ranch for an addictive bite that hits all the right notes with a silky Chardonnay.
5. Grilled Eggplant & Peach Caprese Salad
This no-fuss, Caprese-style salad really brings the apricot and stone fruit aromas in the wine right to the forefront and makes them taste that much sweeter. Use the best ingredients you can find (fresh eggplant and super-ripe peaches) and it'll come together in 20 minutes or less.
6. Crab Cakes
Since seafood and Chardonnay make such an excellent duo, these buttery fried crab cakes are a no-brainer. They'll require a bit more effort than most of the other recipes on this list (starting with finding excellent fresh crab), but whip them up for happy hour and you'll revel in each little bite of summer that they bring to the table.
7. Lemon-Mint Peas with Burrata & Breadcrumbs
This is one warm-weather recipe where you can get away with a frozen ingredient or two (peas and bread crumbs, both of which freeze nicely). The thawed peas get tossed with crispy breadcrumbs and bright mint leaves, a squeeze of lemon juice, and served alongside a hunk of dreamy burrata that pairs perfectly with the richly textured Chardonnay.
8. Slab Grilled Cheese
This crowd-friendly slab grilled cheese can easily be a snack or a meal, depending on how many you're feeding. The best part is that it's totally customizable to whatever flavors you're craving. If you're pouring a Chardonnay, I'd recommend trying caramelized onions (which, in case you didn't know, you can also freeze) with melty Brie and figs.
9. White Bean Dip with Fresh Herbs
Gently cooked garlic and a few basic ingredients (like white beans, olive oil, and a slew of fresh herbs) team up with your food processor for a quick dip recipe that's perfect for nibbling. The smooth, nutty white beans make a nice match with the buttery texture of the Chardonnay, while the herbs and the wine's acidity keep the flavor profile in check.
10. Grilled Avocado Halves with Cumin-Spiced Quinoa & Black Bean Salad
An exciting vegetarian-friendly option, this grilled number takes everything you love about avocados and kicks it up a notch. The quinoa and black bean salad that you stuff the avocados with can be made a day or two ahead of time to minimize your cook time to just a few minutes.
In partnership with La Crema Winery—makers of delicious wines produced in the cool-climate growing regions of California—we're sharing elegant yet easy snack recipes that pair wonderfully with our new favorite summer wine. La Crema's 2017 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay makes the perfect warm-weather, food-friendly sipper thanks to its bright citrus and stone fruit aromas, subtle oak and spice, and richly balanced texture.