Clear & Present Dinner: What Wine To Bring To Your Next Party

Emily Post (and my mother…and really, everyone’s mother) says you should never show up to a party empty-handed. While some folks prefer flowers, and others bring chocolates, I try to show up with a bottle of wine. That’s as much for my benefit as the host’s.

Betty Draper expects wine at her dinner parties. What about you?

Betty Draper expects wine at her dinner parties. What about you?

Don’t take my word for it, though. In order to imbue my own potable presents with an aura of authority, I turned to Susan Brink, the co-proprietor of one of my favorite wine and gift shops in Los Angeles, Venokado.

Even the name is a play on the French words for wine and gifts, so she must know what she’s talking about. Well, that and the fact that she puts together wines lists for restaurants all over the city. I put the following proposition to her: what is appropriate to bring to a dinner party, and if you’re bringing wine, what do you choose? Here are her insights, along with a few sippable suggestions for your next dinner party.

When in doubt, I ask Susan what to bring.

When in doubt, I ask Susan what to bring.

CC: When someone invites you over to dinner, what should you bring – wine, a gift, both?

SB: Any time I’m invited to someone’s home for dinner I always bring a wine to drink and then either a wrapped bottle as a gift or another type of hostess gift. A candle or beautiful Portuguese soap or local olive oil is always appropriate.

CC: If you want to bring wine, what are the things you need to keep in mind when selecting a bottle?

SB: It depends. If I have no idea what is being served I’ll bring a bottle of bubbles. It’s always great to just open up and have immediately. If the host has told me a specific menu, then I’ll bring something that pairs well with dinner. Keep in mind the type of event it is. If it’s a casual BBQ, then a fun red blend might be just the thing. If it’s a sit-down five-course Italian meal, then a serious red from Italy would be perfect. Asian cuisine? Riesling or bubbles.

CC: If you bring a bottle of wine over to a dinner party, do you expect to drink it that evening, or do you just hand it over to the host for future use?

SB: This is a question that comes up all the time! I make sure to bring the “gift” wine wrapped so that the host doesn’t feel like they have to open it up that night. Then I have a bottle to open up to share with everyone as well (unwrapped and chilled if white, bubbly or rosé). If the host wants to open the wrapped bottle, too, that’s up to them. It takes the pressure off of everyone involved.

Bring a drinking wine and a "gift" wine to cover all your bases.

Want to get the fun going? Bring a drinking wine and a “gift” wine to cover all your bases.

CC: How do you select a wine to bring for a non-dinner party?

SB: I will probably bring one or two bottles depending on the theme.  If it’s an Oscar party, then a couple bottles of  bubbly. If it’s a book club or just a mixer, then I’ll bring a couple of fun bottles under $15. If it’s a more formal event, then just one nice bottle of something a bit more serious.

CC: What was one of your favorite bottles of wine someone brought over to your place for a party?

SB: I loved getting a magnum of 2002 Schäfer-Fröhlich Bockenauer Felsenek Riesling Spätlese because it was completely unexpected, but perfectly suited for our Thanksgiving meal. It was so much fun to serve a wine that most people know nothing about and so cool that my guest took a chance. Taking chances allows for great surprises and amazing stories.

CC: What are some of your current favorites to bring along with you to friends’ houses?

SB: Rosé, whether sparkling or still. I find that rosé is a year-round delight and whenever it shows up, it is usually the first bottle gone, and the one most asked about. A couple we have at Venokado at the moment that I love include:

  • 2014 OENO Pinot Noir Rosé, Sonoma, California
  • 2014 J. Mourat Pinot Noir/Negrette/Cabernet Franc, Loire Valley, France
  • 2013 Schnaitmann Muskat Trollinger, Germany (Normally you want your rosé the freshest vintage, but this one is showing some extra beauty with the additional year.)
  • La Perle de Ma Mère Crémant de Bourgogne, sparkling Pinot Noir, Burgundy, France.

Best of all – they are all under $25!

Emily post would definitely suggest you pick up a bottle of one for your host…and one for yourself.

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