How to Be the Perfect Dinner Party Guest

Impress your host with the perfect bottle, every time.

As summer winds down, you may soon find yourself scheduling dinner parties instead of park picnics. Fall is the nesting season, after all, and cozy indoor feasts are the name of the game. But have you ever found yourself at a loss for what bottle to bring the host and hostess?

Rather than send you off into the wild without a clue, we tapped St. Helena-based Beth Cash, Wine Club Directress of ACME Fine Wines, for her gifting pro-tips. The brains behind the leading shop’s dynamic series of wine clubs, Cash has more than few tricks up her sleeve for being the life of the party, and beyond.

What wine makes for a good gift?

I think it’s important to think about for whom you are bringing the wine, as well as the occasion. If you already know what they enjoy, that is a great starting point. I always like to bring something that I’ve tried and am excited to share its story, or offer a bottle from somewhere I (or they) have traveled. For me, I feel as though I’m getting let in on a little secret if someone is enthusiastic about a wine and wants me to experience it.

PRO-TIP: Did the host just get back from a long weekend in Sonoma? Grab a bottle of Sonoma Coast Pinot or Dry Creek Zinfandel to remind them of their trip. Be thoughtful about the bottle you’re gifting. That in itself is delicious.

What wines do you avoid?

I avoid wines that I know are easily accessible for the recipient, like something they could buy from the closest corner store. Go to your local wine shop and talk to the staff. The good ones have curated their selection by tasting everything on their shelves. They’ll point you in the right direction.

I also stay away from wines that appeal to a very specific audience, unless I know for sure that the recipient is a fan. For instance, it would be a rare occasion that I would gift an alcohol-rich fruit bomb, or on the opposite spectrum, a skin-contact Georgian orange wine. Amphoras are cool, but not everyone “digs” them.

PRO-TIP: Talk to your wine shop clerk for their current picks. If you are unaware of the recipient’s personal taste—say, you’re a guest of an invitee—opt for a “just-right-Goldilocks” bottle.

How much is too much or too little when purchasing wine as a gift? 

You probably want to spend more than two dollars, but I wouldn’t worry so much about the price as the thought that went into the purchase. If you know the host, or they are an adventurous wine drinker, I’d ask your wine shop about up-and-coming wine regions or interesting varietals. I love introducing people to varieties that are new to them, such as Trousseau Gris grown in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley or Teroldego from Trentino, Italy. A little effort says so much more than emptying your bank account.

PRO-TIP: Don’t let the price tag dictate your gift. Find bottles that will resonate with the host.

Any regions you love that can reliably “wow” hosts/hostesses? 

With so many epic wine regions around the world, it’s hard to name just one. Instead, I find that a host/hostess is always “wowed” when I bring a wine with some bottle age on it. We’re so used to reaching for whatever wine is on the shelf at the store, and usually that’s the current vintage, because a majority of people are too impatient to age their wine (I know I am). But, for instance, Barolo (or Gattinara if you want Nebbiolo at a more affordable price), Chablis, Côte Rôtie or Napa Cabernet with at least 6–8 years of bottle age never ceases to impress a host/hostess. These bottles are little time capsules of history of a place and time, and make fantastic gifts because it gives the receiver an experience that they most likely don’t get to have on the regular.

PRO-TIP: Seek out an older vintage from world-class regions. See our vintage chart for tips on shopping vintage bottles >>>

Is it tacky to expect the host to open and share your wine gift that night?

If you’re devious, the more exceptional bottle you bring, the more likely they’ll open it straight away. Bearers of Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé, or something similar, always reap the rewards in my home. Or if you really want to push it, you can bring over an opened bottle of wine with the excuse, “it needed to decant.” I did not tell you to do this.

You shouldn’t assume that the recipient is going to open the bottle you bring. This is a gift, after all. Bring something that you think the host/hostess would enjoy, not necessarily what you feel like drinking that night.

PRO-TIP: Just buy a second bottle for yourself. Everyone wins, and your wine shop will love you forever and always.

What if you don’t know the menu for the meal beforehand? 

Champagne pairs with everything.

PRO-TIP: Problem solved.

Get Your Fork On: The Ultimate Dinner Fork Primer

Published on September 9, 2015
Topics: Entertaining, Hosting Guide
About the Author
Joseph Hernandez

Hernandez is a Chicago-based writer and editor obsessed with wine, food and being an oft-misguided know-it-all. WSET certified, his work has appeared in various print and digital publications, including National Geographic's Intelligent Travel blog, Food RepublicModern Luxury's Men's Book and Chef Marcus Samuelsson's blog. When he's not drinking Champagne or funky Loire Valley reds, you can find Hernandez documenting his latest meal or day trip on Instagram.

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