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The Wine Goddess put on a Tapas party this past weekend, which coincided with my 62nd birthday. She insisted it wasn't a birthday party, since it had been planned weeks ago with neighborhood friends and yet I was extremely satisfied: a birthday cake glowing with lit candles mysteriously appeared along with other luscious desserts.

I had lost 12 pounds during the 40 days of the Lenten season, and eating Tapas-style is a good way to keep the waistline under control. It features a variety of appetizers, both hot and cold, of mostly Spanish foods. Guests select bite-sized foods from an array of platters all night long and are free to circulate talking to people. You can sit or stand at your pleasure.

In our Tapas party, we included a 2009 Bodegas Muga Reserva Rioja.
In our Tapas party, we included a 2009 Bodegas Muga Reserva Rioja.

This suits my style completely. Whenever the Wine Goddess is cooking, the delightful aromas emanting from the kitchen usually motivate me to rise from a chair to taste-test the bounty. It gets me into trouble, of course, as reflected in the number of gravy-stained shirts I own. She calls me a "serial picker."

So on this night I was in my glory. The Wine Goddess modified the Tapas feast into three segments: starter appetizers, more substantive dinner cuisine, and sweet desserts. I did the same with the wines, going from medium-bodied Spanish Rioja to a rich, powerful blend. We finished the night with a decadent Italian Amarone.

The wines, like the food, are parcelled out in moderate portions. The idea is to sample all the flavors and tastes in a lasting fashion. Our dinner started at 6 p.m. and broke up at 10:30 p.m. (Everyone walked home under their own power!)

Tapas parties make for a wonderful summer afternoon or evening on the deck and in the backyard. You can grill chicken, shrimp and beef and then mix and match. Try it with your favorite red or white wines, although Spanish reds add zest to the occasion.

Here's what we enjoyed, with kudos to the marvelous Mary Lee and her culinary prowess.

* Welcoming appetizers -- A selection of smoked cheeses, Spanish olives stuffed with pimento and wrapped in anchovies, slices of Cabernet Sauvignon-flavored and Pino Grigio salamis, spicy salsa and tortilla chips.

The wine -- Segura Viudas Brut Cava sparkling wine ($8). Toasty, nutty flavors, bright citrus acidity and tiny bubbles got the evening off to a festive start.

* Secondo appetizers -- Made famous in Madrid, a pan-fried shelled shrimp cooked in olive oil, smoked Spanish paprika shallots and red pepper flakes. Served with Ciabatti bread to soak up the oil.

The wine -- 2009 Bodegas Muga Reserva Rioja ($19.95). The spicy shrimp was a hit and so was this Tempranillo/Grenache blend infused with fruity Graciano. Black cherry fruit and licorice flavors, subtle tannins and balanced acidity. This is supposed to be a notch below its big brother, the "Seleccion Especial" that sells for $39.95 (Wine Spectator, 95 points), yet it is unquestionably just as good.

* Dinner -- Grilled sesame, ginger and apricot glazed chicken served with grilled pineapple; grilled steak kabobs with Bernaise sauce; roasted red/green pepper medley with capers and lemon; roasted asparagus with shaved parmesan cheese; caprese salad; avocado slices marinated in fresh lemon juice.

The wines -- 2008 Campo Viejo Tempranillo Reserva ($10.99) and 2006 Calatyud Claraval Seleccion Especial ($12.99). What values -- and I found these at Stadium Liquors Wine & Spirits on the Route 38 in the Market Basket Plaza. The dark garnet Claraval of Grenache/Tempranillo/Syrah/Cabernet Sauvignon is eight years old and hitting its stride. It got better the longer it sat in the glass finishing with a peppery kick. The Tempranillo is a bit milder in power but stood up well as the evening wore on with the mixing and matching of chicken, shrimp and steak.

* Desserts -- Assorted sorbets with fresh blueberry sauce; orange poppy seed biscotti; fresh fruit custard cake with whipped cream; chocolate cake with my name on it.

The wine -- 2006 Castellani Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Collezione Ca del Pipa Colle Cristi ($52). What a way to end the night with elegant honey, raisin and other delicious reminders of the vineyards surrounding Venice and where this great wine is made.