Your Happy Hour Formula: Wine + Snack Pairings for $20 or Under

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Michael Wiltbank)

There seem to be weekly moments when you’re gathered with friends and need a good snack and a drink. Maybe it’s book club, game night, or just that 5 p.m. drop-by of a couple of your best buddies looking to catch up and laugh a little. Whatever the excuse, bites and sips are a must. It doesn’t have to be complicated to be fun — just a few good apps and a bottle of wine can win in these instances. That means these moments also don’t need to break the bank. In fact, you can throw an “Appy Hour” for under $20 for your group without much hassle if you know the tricks to it.

A Bottle of Wine + One Appetizer = “Appy Hour” Perfection

To throw a successful happy hour at home with a few good friends, all you really need is one solid appetizer and one great bottle of wine. Both of these items don’t need to break the bank or cause you kitchen stress, however. In most cases, $20 is enough to win at this. Take $10 to gather what you need for the appetizer and use the remaining $10 for the wine. If you’re up for spending a little more (although it’s not necessary), add a couple of dollars to your wine budget to give you more wiggle room at the store — each of our recipes give you price points of up to $15 as well. Oh, and don’t think with just $10 for an app, you’re going to be subjecting your friends to a bag of chips and a jar of salsa. That money can be transformed into a sophisticated snack that’s bound to impress, thanks to ingredients like buttery puff pastry and smoked salmon.

If you’re in the mood for inviting a few more friends over and turning this “Appy Hour” into a party, pull all these bites together to make one great spread. Add some store-bought snacks, like marinated olives, spiced nuts, and a simple cheese board, to round things out and ensure your guests won’t leave hungry. Pick out a couple of bottles of wine from our suggestions and ask your friends to bring a bottle of their favorite as well.

So, without further ado, now that you’re geared and ready to throw an “Appy Hour” of your own, here are my three rules for perfection.

(Image credit: Michael Wiltbank)

Never underestimate the power of puff pastry or popcorn.

A box of frozen puff pastry can be transformed into an array of great apps like garlicky pinwheels, margarita pizza tarts, and smoked paprika-laced bites. These apps taste impressive, thanks to puff’s buttery, layer-upon-layer flakiness that seems like you spent hours sweating it out in the kitchen — yet all you really did was take out a box from the freezer and let it thaw.

Or take advantage of just how cheap popcorn kernels are at the store. Spend a couple of minutes to pop them into something far more impressive than your standard melted butter situation, like pasta-inspired cacio e pepe popcorn, which feels both fancy and fun.

(Image credit: Michael Wiltbank)

Stretch spendy items to get more bang for your buck.

Things like smoked salmon can seem out of reach when you’re throwing a cocktail party on the cheap, but it doesn’t have to be. One package of smoked salmon can be stretched to feed eight if it’s cut in small squares and placed on top of potato chips along with tangy crème fraîche, lemon zest, and chives. Or buy good-quality feta cheese and combine it with that tub of Greek yogurt you already have in your fridge to make a generous bowl of creamy whipped feta dip.

(Image credit: Michael Wiltbank)

Trust that there’s good wine for your budget.

A happy hour with friends of course needs a good drink. While we love shaking up cocktails, we love the ease and convenience of popping open a bottle of wine even more. A good bottle doesn’t have to set you back, however. If your party isn’t a party without bubbles, reach for wallet-friendly Cava instead of Champagne. Or if you love nothing but good French red wine, try easy-drinking Beaujolais. Feel confident going into your local wine shop and asking for their best picks under $15 — they always have a handful and are always eager to share them with you.