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The Final Word on Dinner Party Wine Etiquette

Jul16

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Photo by chrisada
Hello Amy! My husband and I have been trying to figure out the answer to a question for a couple of weeks now and for some RIDICULOUS reason, Gail Simmons at Food & Wine magazine doesn’t see fit to return my emails. The NERVE of that woman…
But here it is. A non-beauty and non-baby related Smackdown question. What is the proper etiquette when you are having friends over for dinner and someone brings wine? Are you supposed to open it? Save it? Teach it to dance a jig? I’ve been on both sides of this one and never know what the right thing is to do. Because when we’ve been guests to someone’s house and brought them wine, it may something we’ve picked up at the wine store on the way and I’m kind of curious to see how it is. But also, when I’m having people over for dinner, usually I’ve already picked my wines based on what I’m serving and what I know my guests enjoy and a random bottle may not fit in. Am I being rude when I don’t open it? Or am I being rude if I discover I have one less bottle than I thought and I open the gift wine?
Or… is it magical option number three? There IS no right or wrong and I need to shut the hell up and get back to work instead of sending emails about wine in the middle of the day?
HELP!!!
~Susannah

The proper official etiquette is to save the wine for later, actually. The wine is a gift, and as hostess you may indeed go ahead and serve the wine(s) you already selected and save your gift for later. Likewise, when you go to someone’s house and bring wine, you are giving a gift, and it’s not something you should expect to get a little taste of yourself or dictate how and when it gets used. Do not feel offended when your bottle goes unopened. Your hosts have probably already chilled appropriate whites and/or decanted a red, so let them serve the wines they chose and like, be good hosts. If you’re the type who is going to get all bent out of shape because you brought a bottle of expensive vintage Bordeaux and your friends serve Yellow Tail instead, I would suggest maybe bringing flowers next time. (And, you know, brush up on your definition of “gift.”) (And I’m referring to a very nonspecific “you” here, as I’m POSITIVE none of the lovely people reading this column would get bent out shape over something like that. )
However! I personally make the following exceptions:
1) Your guest has asked ahead of time what to bring, and you suggest (or they offer) wine, and you let them know what you’re serving so they may pair it appropriately. In this case, you SHOULD serve their wine (even if you disagree with their selection, or it’s something you dislike), since it’s more of contribution to the meal.
2) If your guest arrives with wine and specifically says something like, “I thought this would pair nicely with the roast,” or suggest you open the wine they brought “next.” Technically, these are etiquette no-nos (GIFT! GIFT! you can give your friend a bedazzled reindeer sweater for Christmas, you cannot demand that she put it on right that second, or like, ever), but…eh. What’s another bottle of wine between friends? I also don’t think ANYONE would be offended if you DID open their wine the evening they bring it. You’re short a bottle, they’ve brought something really interesting, it actually DOES pair nicely with the roast…go ahead and open it, thanking them again for the gift. Conversely, if you bring wine and your host opens it, remember that once it changed hands, it was no longer “your” wine. Thank them for sharing.
(By the way, I hope it goes without saying that you never, ever take something home that you’ve brought simply because it went unopened. I’ve known people who have done this, with both wine and beer. SO RUDE. It’s like we’ve all gotten used to bringing consumables to people’s houses but haven’t ever thought of it as what it is: a host/hostess gift. You’re not allowed to hide the six-pack you brought to the kegger in the toilet anymore, people.)
(I admit I have occasionally offered to let people take alcohol home, like when they arrived with three six-packs in hand for a barbecue and so did three other couples. In that case, I made up sampler six-packs for everybody because I was afraid they might think we were all, “six months’ worth of free booze, SCORE!” So…technically re-gifting, or like handing somebody back the novel they gave me for my birthday because I didn’t get around to reading it right that night. But again, beer, wine, good friends, good times. Eh. As long as you, the guest, aren’t actively helping yourself to stuff that you’ve handed over as a gift, you’re in pretty okay etiquette ground.)


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About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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17 Responses to “The Final Word on Dinner Party Wine Etiquette”

  1. Sarah in LA Jul 16 at 11:36 am Reply Reply

    i’m not religious but i happen to work as a singer in an episcopalian church. at their parties, all bets are off and it goes like this: the hosts buys lots of wine. everyone brings wine, too. everyone drinks ALL the wine. everyone is happy.
    :)

    • KD Mar 13 at 5:05 pm Reply Reply

      OMG, this is so not true. If someone brings a bottle it is to be opened and shared at the dinner party, end of story. A hostess gift is something they bring in addition to the mandatory bottle of wine. Obviously we are having more wine dinner parties than the average person; and (!!) if someone brings an inferior bottle of wine that person should not expect to overly partake in the better bottles (bc you know cheap people do this! bring crap than pour themselves full glasses of ’01 Silver Oak), drives me crazy.

    • Amy Jul 31 at 12:29 pm Reply Reply

      I recently moved and have invited my friends over and they have brought wine and flowers. What is the etiquette on writing thank you notes for wine, flowers, gift cards etc?

  2. Karen Jul 16 at 2:08 pm Reply Reply

    omg – I am so banished to the etiquette dungeon. Early in my pregnancy, after I’d already told friends, I brought a pack of yummy orangy-Pelegrino to drink at a dinner party because I wasn’t sure if there would be anything non-alcoholic (there wasn’t – just water).
    There were a handful left at the end so I hauled them home and recall noting slightly horrified looks on a few people’s faces, but surely not because of anything that I’d done???? gah! Thank you so much for setting me straight on this one!
    May I strive to always be non-judgemental of etiquette errors by others…

  3. Jess Jul 16 at 5:49 pm Reply Reply

    As someone who throws a lot of parties can I also make a suggestion? If you’re going to bring wine….bring something you yourself would love to drink…even if it doesn’t get opened! Since we’re most likely not going to drink it the night you bring it, that leaves us with a bottle of wine we’d actually like to drink. Don’t bring cheap bad wine just because you feel obligated to bring wine! Flowers would be better….and please….one decent to average bottle of wine is better than bringing three bottles of 2 buck chuck from Trader Joes.

  4. Kimmers Jul 16 at 11:14 pm Reply Reply

    Jess or Amy or really anyone: What price range would you consider “decent”? At least, decent enough to be a nice gift to bring to a dinner party? (Totally not being snarky here. I’ve just recently started drinking wine so I’m clueless as to what price ranges are “great” “average” “horrible beyond belief”.)

  5. Jen Jul 17 at 2:23 am Reply Reply

    To further complicate the issue, I’ve been told that bringing flowers is a no-no because it forces the host to *stop* her hosting so she can tend to your flowers. The cutting and watering and vasing and all.
    I love to give and receive flowers and never considered that they would be a chore for a host. Thoughts?

  6. lisa marie Jul 17 at 9:35 am Reply Reply

    @Jen & @ Jess – I love receiving flowers, but I’ve learned not to take them as hostess gifts unless I really know the family. I have single-handedly ruined dinner parties because the family had severe allergies. I was mortified.

  7. Amalah
    Amalah Jul 17 at 9:42 am Reply Reply

    Kimmers: Honestly the price tag can have absolutely no bearing on the quality of the wine. I mean, I wouldn’t bring 2 Buck Chuck to a party, but there are some FABULOUS wines in the $10 to $15 range, AMAZING wines in the $15 to $20 range. There are also some really crappy ones. (And remember that restaurant wine lists generally have a 100% or even 200% markup, so what you see there for $35 really isn’t that much.) I say just bring something that you like and enjoy, or of a varietal that you may know your host prefers. Sometimes people have brought us stuff that they admit they never had but just thought the label was awesome, or the name played on some inside joke we had with them. So don’t focus on the price too much — it also helps to find yourself a good wine store that has tastings or a knowledgeable staff who can help you pick out a gift. And always remove the price tag. Heh.
    Jen: That’s TOTALLY a new one to me, though I guess it makes sense? Sort of? I guess if you’re concerned you could so some of the prep work yourself (removing rubber bands, trimming ends, etc.). But I dunno, I love getting flowers. Also the setup of our house means our parties generally start with snacks and drinks in the kitchen, so it’s not like I have to remove myself from the group to tend to the flowers.

  8. Amalah
    Amalah Jul 17 at 9:51 am Reply Reply

    lisa marie: GAH. GOOD POINT.

  9. kakaty Jul 17 at 10:01 am Reply Reply

    We usually bring wine (or in a few cases, beer for the beer coinsurers in our life) and I typically go to our wine shop and get help selecting a $15-20 bottle of wine. But, when we don’t know the host/ess well enough to know their taste in wine/beer I usually resort to chocolate – most likely a few choice pieces from a local confectioner. The chance that someone in the household will love the chocolate is pretty good.
    Having worked with fundraising, special events & big-time donors the general rule is no flowers as a host/ess gift. Unless I know their house (for colors), know what florist they use (for taste) or know their preferences (just like the wine, some people can’t stand certain blooms – bring me stargazer lilies and the will go in the trash as soon as you leave) I won’t do flowers. That said, if I know they will appreciate them my favorite florist does this cool arrangement in that stands on its own – that way the host/ess can simply set it somewhere and deal with a vase after the party.

  10. Isabel Kallman
    Isabel Kallman @AlphaMom Jul 17 at 10:49 am Reply Reply

    What I do is I send a small flower arrangement AHEAD of the party, perfect for the entryway or coffee table. This way the host can use it for the party and not be in a scramble when opening the door.
    I guess if they have allergies, they give it away to a next door neighbor? Good point never thought about allergies. ;)

  11. Bradi Jul 17 at 1:29 pm Reply Reply

    I say screw what you are “supposed” to do or not. You want to open that bottle of wine and stick a straw in it? Go for it. You want to stash it for an intimate night with the hubby? That’s cool too.
    No worries! Just enjoy it and life.

  12. Catherine S Jul 18 at 7:58 pm Reply Reply

    You guys must go to some pretty fancy dinner parties to bother with this many rules. I live in a fairly urban area and the only rules that anyone really seems to follow are 1) don’t take the bottle you brought home with you at the end of the evening 2) don’t hork red wine on anyones nice clean carpet.

  13. Theresa Jan 28 at 6:56 pm Reply Reply

    My grand daughter is having a Birthday dinner for my husband & I at her house…do I bring a bottle of wine or anything? Thank You

  14. Milton May 24 at 4:20 am Reply Reply

    A bit off topic but please help me out here: We were invited to a dinner party and we were told to bring all our own drinks and  snacks.  The invitees are well off and are specifically told not to bring anything when we invite them to our home.  Am I correct in feeling insulted?

  15. Rhiannon Oct 21 at 6:51 pm Reply Reply

    No no. From a wine industry point if view if you bring a bottle to dinner it is because you want to drink it at dinner, it is not a “gift for the host” it is a gift to the dinner table. It usually indicates you do not want to burden the host with getting the wine right or wrong. (Amateurs should never try and match wines to food, it never works out), so you’ve brought something “safe” for everyone to enjoy. I can’t believe the thought “its a gift for the host”. If you brought bread or a salad, is this also a gift for the host? No it’s a gift to the table and you damned well want to enjoy it. Especially when you know your wine and the host doesnt.

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