The Do’s and Don’ts of Hosting a Wine Dinner Party

It's not always obvious what to do when a guest shows up with a bottle of wine or spills a red all over your white sofa. But we spoke with industry experts to explain the unwritten rules of hosting a dinner party.
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Whether you host a casual backyard barbecue or a formal wine dinner party, you’ll crack open wine at some point. And it’s also likely that guests will arrive with bottle in hand as a gesture of thanks. But do you need to serve it? We asked food and wine experts the most common party etiquette questions…. and how to handle situations without awkwardness.

“Do I need to open a bottle of wine that a guest brings?”

No, says chef and TV personality Aarón Sánchez. “It’s more of a gift. The guest didn’t make it and it’s non-perishable.”

If you brought a bottle with the intention to be served, “casually let the host know that it pairs with a certain dish,” says Jack Mason, master sommelier at Pappa Bros. Steakhouses in Texas. If necessary, make sure it’s chilled or decanted, and give a second bottle for the host to enjoy at another time, he says.

“Can I bring a favorite bottle if I know ahead I won’t like the wine that’s served?”

If you know that your host will serve the polar opposite of what you drink, is it snobby to show up with something else to share instead? Not at all, says Kathy Casey, president of Kathy Casey Food Studios and Liquid Kitchen in Seattle. Just be tactful. “It’s always welcome to bring a bottle of wine or two to a party and simply say, ‘Why don’t we open this now? I’m dying to try it,’ ” she says.

“What if a guest shows up with an appetizer or dish that doesn’t go with the theme?”

Be flexible, even if you’ve been crafting the perfect menu for a month. “If it’s something that they obviously worked really hard on or it’s the signature dish they are known for, that is always welcome in my home,” says Sánchez. “A meal is a way to make guests feel comfortable and have a good time. Things don’t have to be perfect for that to happen.”

“What happens if a guest spills red wine on my furniture and it doesn’t come out?”

If someone splashed inky Syrah on your cream microfiber sofa, “it’s not like you can bill someone for the cleanup,” says Rose Previte, owner of Compass Rose and Maydān in Washington, DC. “A good host just deals with party fallout.”

One tip is to use stemless glassware, which is more stable. “And you should never make someone feel bad for the spill,” says Previte.

The Unwritten Rules of Tasting Room Etiquette

“What should I do if a corked or flawed wine is served?”

Mandy Sparacino, sommelier at Esquire Champagne Room in Chicago, says if the host was excited about the faulty bottle, a guest might just want to pass on a glass. But if she knew the host well, Sparacino might mention, “I think this bottle is off. Would you like me to set it aside for you to be able to take it back?”

“What if my glass is dirty?”

A little dirt never hurt anyone, and earthiness in wine can be a good thing, says Erik Segelbaum, corporate wine director for Starr Restaurants. “Etiquette and politeness supersede minor inconvenience.”

Wipe the glass subtly under the table or with your back turned to the room. “If you get caught, say, “That’s not my shade of lipstick,’ [which is] good for a laugh and saves your host from feeling embarrassed.”

“What if wine is served at the wrong temperature?”

Unless it’s hot (and not Glühwein) or frozen, don’t make an issue of it, says Segelbaum. Merely saying, “It’s not cold enough” is too subjective, he says. “But nobody can feel bad about, ‘This is great, but I prefer it colder. Do you mind if I pop it in the fridge/freezer/ice bucket/pool?’ ” If a wine is too cold, let it set, or warm the glass with your hands.

“How do I handle a know-it-all wine expert guest?”

Dinner parties aren’t teachable moments to correct behavior, says Amanda McClements, founder/creative director of Salt & Sundry and Little Leaf in Washington, DC. “Simply change the subject if the conversation gets too frustrating.”

French winemaker Gérard Bertrand suggests keeping the conversation going. “The beautiful thing about wine is that it’s an art form,” he says. “There are many points of view, and they all have value.”

“What about guests who overstay their welcome?”

Just like in college, cut off the alcohol supply. It will do wonders to clear out a house party. “Try a few subtle tactics like starting to clean up,” says McClements.

Sometimes, a kind bluntness is the only thing that works, says Casey. “Say it’s been great having your over, but you have an early day tomorrow and you need to hit the sack.”

Published on July 17, 2018
Topics: Wine Basics
About the Author
Kelly A. Magyarics
Contributor

Kelly Magyarics is a wine and spirits writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, D.C., area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com.




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