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Bringing wine to a dinner party? Read this first

April 20, 2018

Don’t stress out over which wine to bring to a dinner party. Follow our tips, pour yourself a drink and enjoy yourself

by Erin

I suspect in the same way that mechanics watching their kids’ Little League games may by peppered with questions from baffled parents about their cars’ weird thudding sound, or doctors at dinner parties might field inquiries about various aches and pains from perplexed dining companions, when people find out I’m a sommelier I get my earful from wine lovers mystified by any number of vinous bewilderments.

Questions range, of course, but there are a few of constants. One of the most popular: what wine makes an appropriate hostess gift? A few days ago, I was asked again. ‘Tis the season, I suppose; engagement parties, bridal showers, birthday bashes are all happening now, and inquiring minds want to know.

This week, Wine School started again, and twice the hostess gift question was asked, though from slightly different angles: one was from a bride-to-be absolutely dismayed by her guests’ choice of bubbly brought to her bachelorette (like a good sport, she drank it all anyway), and another from a newbie wine drinker concerned that, after hearing her dad complain of the swill he often received, she was among the guilty contributing to his distress.

Before we get into the deeper dive of how to select wines for gift giving, let’s eliminate the stress of choosing the best bottle on the planet right now.

You won’t do it. Don’t even try.

I’m not giving up before we even begin, but really, I am not interested in stress. Especially at a party. I am interested in having a drink. Preferably more than one, but I digress.

If you find yourself working up an ulcer sweating over the details of whether you should bring your wine-loving dad/boss/mother-in-law a Shiraz or a Cabernet… don’t. I say bring something else. Chances are your party host has already planned the menu and paired the drinks, and according to standard etiquette, they are under absolutely no obligation to open what you bring. So don’t waste your time. Bring a beautiful wedge of cheese, a bouquet of flowers, box of artisan chocolates, the latest best-selling cookbook …. I could go on but I sense you’re catching my drift.

However, if you feel you really must bring a bottle, there are a few rules I stick to, which I wrote about in more detail a few years ago, but also have outlined below.

1. Spend between $25 – $50. A rule of thumb I go by is how much would I spend on a dinner out (similar to the giving-cash-at-a-wedding rule). True, you can find decent wines under $25, but I think spending less is a bit cheap for someone who has just shelled out for your marvellous evening. Conversely, spending more than $50 is unnecessarily indulgent (write that down, that’s not a pairing of words I ever use), and could embarrass your wine-loving host.

2. But don’t tell your host how much you spent. A hundred years ago, my first career was in journalism. I was 22, working a (pitifully) paid internship at CFRB radio in Toronto, and somehow managed to score an invite to columnist Christie Blatchford’s party (I later found out it was a mass invite to the whole newsroom). Anyway, I was delighted. Not only was I in awe of Christie and her incredible, award winning, intellectual career, all the coolest people in journalism and politics and business would be there – and apparently that now included me! I went out and blew $10.95 on the finest wine I could find. Presenting it in the brown paper LCBO bag to Christie as she welcomed me at the door with a cocktail, she was thankful and … put it with the rest. So, just to be sure she knew which wine was actually my gift, when I was leaving I pointed out my central California red blend, conveniently displayed on the gift table between the Veuve and Johnny Walker.

3. Consider your host’s favourite wine. If they are fans of Big Reds, it’s probably useless to bring a bottle of bubbly. Now, don’t kill yourself trying to remember their favourite brand; find a knowledgable and considerate sales person to help you track down bottles that match your host’s preferences.

At the end of the day, it truly is the thought that counts. Even if you take a swing and a miss on the wine (à la my Blatchford debacle), any decent host will be appreciative of the time and effort you put into selecting something you thought they would enjoy. Similarly, any decent guest will put a bit of care into the choice of bottle. Stopping by the wine shop to grab something  – anything – on the way to the party and wrapping it in the car, isn’t exactly going to inspire a second invite. Unless, of course, that’s your strategy.

*This blog was first published on The Wine Sisters