The Etiquette of Giving and Receiving Dinner Party Wine
Tue, 27 October 2015
We’ve all heard the pre-function request to “just bring a bottle.” But what exactly is the ‘right’ bottle to present at any given function? Further – will just one bottle be enough? And if the host actually has beverages sorted, would another gift be more appropriate? These and other etiquette quandaries can be overcome with just a little thought and preparation. If in doubt, just remember that etiquette is all about making an effort to put people at their ease. As the early 20th Century etiquette expert Emily Post advised, manners are simply “a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others.” By keeping a few basic strategies in mind, you’re sure to make wine selections that will enhance the evening for all concerned.
Bring a bottle
If you are the host of a relaxed and informal dinner with good mates, this is a perfect example where the simple request to bring a bottle can be used. While some guests will have questions around the menu, it’s best to refrain from being too specific; requesting a ten-year-old cabernet for the main is more than a little presumptuous for a fun get-together! For casual meals, it’s best to just let guests bring whatever delightful wine they like, only mentioning the menu if further information is sought. In any case, have a small premium selection of your own red and whites to add to the evening’s enjoyment.
Note the invitation
As a guest, a great place to start when thinking about giving dinner party wine is the invitation. For example, if this appears to be a fancy affair with a broad range of guests attending, consider presenting a premium bottle or two of Clare Valley wine, with a flavour profile to suit a broad cross-section of palates. Our multi award-winning St Andrews 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon is the perfect example of a balanced and elegant red that is sure to please both hosts and fellow guests alike. Varietals such as our Taylors Estate Pinot Gris and Merlot are excellent all-round food matchers, no matter the menu.
Other clues on the invitation such as ‘mid-winter feast’ or ‘summer fiesta’ will help to guide you towards a style and quality of wine that will best match the occasion.
The numbers game
Whether to bring one, two or perhaps more bottles of wine to an event can be a tricky path to navigate. For the average dinner party with healthy enjoyment of wine on the cards, a seasonally matched bottle of premium wine per individual guest can be a good starting point. If however you come as a couple and are both known for your ability to quickly savour fine beverages, an added gift for the host or hostess might well be in order!
If you are a generous host who has clearly indicated that all beverages will be supplied, don’t be surprised if some guests still can’t resist the temptation to bring a bottle for you.
There’s no need to fret about what to do with any excess beverages brought to your well-planned do (as we’ll see below). Simply begin the event and work the extra wines into your meal if or when they suit.
But is it really a ‘gift’?
Yes! We can’t state it clearly enough – all wine brought to a dinner party is correctly viewed as a gift for the hosts. Regardless of whether you’ve been dying to sample the delicious white that you brought along, the decision whether or not to open the bottle that evening must be one for the hosts alone. After all – they’ve gone to a lot of trouble to open their home and cook up a storm for their guests. At the dimmest end of wine manners is the retrieving and taking home of wine that you brought along. The fact that your gift wasn’t sampled on the night is no excuse for smuggling it back home.
There is perhaps only one situation where you might understandably hope to partake of the wine that you’ve handed over. If you took the time to ask your hosts about a good wine suggestion for the dinner and received a fairly specific response – such as “a crisp young white for the fish course please,” in most cases you can expect that your contribution will form part of the evening’s repast.
For hosts – even if you clearly indicate that you’ll provide all beverages for the dinner party, be prepared for the fact that some guests will still opt to bring a bottle. It might be the case that you have a nuanced menu with carefully matched wines, which you were planning to reveal as the night proceeds. In this situation, if unanticipated wine gifts are offered it is perfectly acceptable to thank the guest for the gift and place it to one side, ready to enjoy at a later time.
Yet if you later sense that the guest was hoping to include their delicious sticky in the dessert course or they hint that their zesty Riesling is the perfect companion for the soup, sometimes it’s best to simply open the bottle provided. One useful trick is to pepper your carefully crafted wine menu with a best-fit selection of gifted beverages. There’s not much point in looking like the miserly host who likes to hoard their gifts of wine! After all – we’re trying to make everyone welcome and comfortable in the dinner party context, so an extra opened bottle probably isn’t the end of the world.
The gift of giving
The key for both hosts and guests is to err on the side of generosity when it comes to dinner party wine selections.
For guests, keep in mind the kind hospitality of the hosts and look for useful clues in invitations and conversations when making your wine selection. Above all – just let your gift of wine go! If it truly is a gift then it should matter little to you whether it is woven into the dinner party’s beverages or not. And for hosts, be gentle with guests who show excess enthusiasm when it comes to being involved in the wine menu.
While you might have had the event planned months in advance, there’s not much to be gained by coolly avoiding a particular guest’s wine of choice.
At the end of the day, the best gatherings are all about hospitality, great company and enjoyment. By keeping in mind just a few of the dos and don’ts of dinner party wine etiquette, you’re sure to enjoy many memorable dinner parties to come.