My dad is here visiting from Canada, along with 50,000 other people from Canada, and has been enjoying our balmy winter.
I, on the other hand, am freezing to death, constantly bundled up in a parka, scarf, wool socks and boots. There is no question: I should have all my Canadian rights revoked for being so cold in 60-degree weather.
Because so many of his comrades are also down here, his social calendar is as full as a newly widowed resident at Sun City.
We began talking the other morning about food-and-wine pairings, wine gifts and what it means to be a good guest when going to dinner at someone’s home. As someone who entertains often, this is a subject that is very important me—and over the years, I’ve learned some valuable lessons.
Guests will often bring flowers or offer to bring a side dish or dessert. This suits me just fine, because most of the time, I already have the weird wines I’m going to pour for my guests all lined up and ready to go. But there are times when it’s wonderful to have people come over and bring their favorite wine—or something they discovered that they want to share.
Last Christmas, a dear friend of mine brought me a bottle of Michael Pozzan “Marianna” Red Blend from Napa. I’m not sure if she knew that my darling sister-in-law’s name is Marianna, but nevertheless, this was a wine that she enjoyed and thought I would enjoy it, too.
Recently, I was gifted a bottle of Gorman “Old Scratch” Chardonnay from Washington. I had never heard of this producer but love the sense of discovery associated with trying something new.
After a conversation about all the growth happening in Temecula, and me kind-of poo-pooing the region after a trip I had there about 11 years ago, I was given a bottle of Miramonte “Opulente” that was pleasantly surprising and made me realize it’s time to take another trip over the mountain.
I’m still holding on to a bottle of Anthill Farms Pinot Noir that was given to me over the holidays, because I just know it’s going to be grand.
The point of all of this: When you are invited to someone’s home for dinner and choose to bring wine, be thoughtful with your selection. That doesn’t mean you need to spend a lot of money or chase down some rare “unicorn” wine, but it does mean that you shouldn’t give a bottle that you don’t like or won’t drink yourself. If it’s a throw-away wine to you, chances are, it will be to everyone else, too.
While we’re on the subject of what not to bring, there are a few unspoken rules that I would be remiss not to mention.
Vintages matter, people. Unless, you’re specifically going to a dinner where the “theme” is uncorking older vintages to see how they’ve held up, you’re risking embarrassment if the bottle you brought has gone by way of balsamic. Save that older wine for a dinner party at your house, where you have a backup bottle of something fresh and delicious handy—just in case.
If you’re on a budget, steer clear of name brands. Why? Because everyone knows roughly how much a bottle of Josh Cabernet is, and while it’s a great under-$10 bottle for your Monday night pizza-and-The Bachelor fest, it’s not exactly a thoughtful gift. Instead, look for a Spanish grenache or rioja, or a white called Albariño. Italian Barbera d’Asti bottles are juicy and delicious and a huge value. One of my favorites is the Michele Chiarlo Le Orme. If you want to stick to domestic wines, there are several affordable options coming out of Lodi, and the newly hip Red Hills AVA in Lake County.
I would always suggest staying away from pinot noir unless you personally know the wine and your hosts’ palates. Over the last 15 years, pinot has taken a drastic turn stylistically. If you’re a pinot purist, then you’ll see that comment as strictly pejorative, and if you’re a fan of Meiomi, then you’re incredibly happy about said turn. Either way, it’s become an incredibly divisive camp, not to mention an expensive one. To find a good pinot noir, no matter what the style is, you’re going to spend a pretty penny. I say it’s not worth the headache.
I happen to think that bubbles are always a good idea, and there are lots of options in the $20-$40 range that will do you proud. Look for Cremant d’ Alsace—I love the Lucien Albrecht—or a Crémant de Limoux like the Faire la Fête. For a few more bucks, you really can’t go wrong with the Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs.
I think I’ll open that bottle of Anthill Farms pinot tonight and indulge a little. Then I’ll go turn the porch light on for Mr. Livin’ La Vida Loca and wait to hear about another fabulous night out when Dad gets home.
Here’s to living your best life, Dad!
Katie Finn is a certified sommelier and certified specialist of wine with more than 15 years in the wine industry. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.