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Dinner Party Season is well and truly underway, and we think it's only fair we upped our game when it comes to the wine we contribute to the table. Here's our guide to Dinner Party Wines - the dos and don'ts of what to bring whether you're aiming for Guest of Honour status, or simply looking for the return invite.
As the evenings envelope us in darkness and the only thing that can tempt us out from our home-working bubbles is a guarantee of great sourdough, lashings of new season olive oil and down jackets, it’s time for hosting at home to come into its own.
While dinner parties place the onus of a weekend evening on those brave enough to suggest a date to our Autumn diaries, we feel it’s about time we upped the stakes when it comes to attending said dinners. For too long hosts have been handed bouquets of flowers picked up in a flurry of the “I’m running ten mins behind” rush, passed bottles of re-gifted bubbles dug up as guests run out the door and poured glasses of “absolute bargain” full-bodied reds alongside plates of back-breaking Ottolenghi feasts.
Now, we’d never go so far as to suggest such acts of gratitude were intended out of anything other than genuine thanks. We simply feel it’s our duty to lay down the law for dinner party guests, lending a helping hand to hosts and the Let-Me-Know-What-I-Can-Bring-ers with regards to the dos and don’ts of Dinner Party Wines.
We hope it comes in handy at the very least – and, at best, that it helps you in your path to Guest of Honour.
We all have our own tastes when it comes to wine – that’s the beauty of the palate and we, of all people, love to celebrate those nuances. But there’s a time and a place for getting too personal with your picks and a mixed table of friends, acquaintances, colleagues is not it. If you’re taking wine for the table, stick to the classic crowd pleasers: approachable wines that, if not recognizable in name, region or grape, are recognizable in profile and palate and that strike the middle ground when it comes to tannin, body, acidity and alcohol.
Another tactic sure to bump you up a few ranks on the seating plan is to get in touch with the host in advance to see what they’re planning to cook. Once you know what you’re eating, it’s easier to choose whether to opt for red or white wine, and you can head to your local bottle shop, drop us a Live Chat, or send in the dish to Friday’s Hotwine Bling in order to find something that’s perfectly paired.
If your host isn’t sure yet – or you’re too embarrassed to reach out with such a question – it’s best to go with an all-food friendly bottle. That, generally, means you’re looking for something with bright fruit flavours, good acidity and relatively low tannins. Stick to the general tips above, and you’ll be just fine.
It’s become too easy to pick up a bottle of Prosecco from a supermarket in the knowledge that it still does the trick when it comes to convincing hosts you’re really excited to see and celebrate them. The truth is, however, hosts are beginning to suffer from a severe case of ‘faux-fancy-fatigue’, and we’re all used to quaffing litres of fizz without paying attention to anything in the glass. Given you’re reading this article, we know you’re cut from finer cloth than that these days which is why, unless you’re ready to splash out on a Grower or small production Champagne or premium DOCG Prosecco (which are definitely worth it for the right hosts!), we think it’s best to play it cool and stick to something still.
So, those are our top tips for what to take – but the opportunity for error doesn’t end once you’ve left the shop or placed your order online. Here are a few of the stumbling points we’ve noticed over the years of hosting (and guest of honouring…):
Although you don’t need to expect to lunge for the corkscrew the moment you arrive, it’s always nice to give off the impression that you’re ready to, if your host might require it. It’s also classier to avoid rummaging through your host’s freezer to find a suitable space to squeeze your room temperature white wine, which is why we suggest taking it pre-chilled, and asking where best to pop it in the fridge.
If you haven’t, by now, fallen prey to the ‘drink now or drink later’ dichotomy, we salute you. Unfortunately, the majority of readers probably will have, because it’s all too easy to arrive with a bottle of something special intended as a (very generous) gift, only to see it opened up by an innocent party-goer who’s been self-anointed Head of Wine. The answer? Take two bottles – one for the table, and one in a bottle bag, or adorned with a noticeable label so as to avoid it getting swept up in the late night search for any remaining drops. If you want to be extra safe, hide it in another room with a clear note – it’ll make a nice surprise for tomorrow’s fuzzy-headed host.
When it comes to wine at dinner parties, the rule of ‘what’s mine is yours’, stands truer than ever. Expect a glass of whatever you bring, at most, or, if you’re really excited by what you have to offer, you know what to do….double up, or, as one of my most recent dinner party guests did, bring a bagnum – that’s a magnum, in a bag. Need I confirm who took home title of Guest of Honour?
Some dinner parties are made for taunting your nearest and dearest while others are designed for meeting the friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend you were meant to marry. Either way, you don’t want people going away with the memory of you making a fuss about wine. Even as a team of people who have dedicated their professional career to the stuff, we know when to keep our mouth shut – and dinner parties are that time. By all means, share your excitement for the bottle you brought – we think there’s nothing more engaging than telling your fellow attendees the story behind their sips – but avoid the temptation to comment on anyone else’s contribution (other than the host’s which is, of course, always DELIGHTFUL).
Until now, we’ve made wine the focus of our discussion but we couldn’t help but notice that it’s a rare occasion on which we play by the rules of sticking to one beverage of an evening. More often than not, at-home dinners are sandwiched between Aperitifs and Digestifs, which are usually supplied by the host (indeed, my cocktail shaker has been busier than ever since Autumn began). Perhaps, then, it might be time to shake up what we mean by B.Y.O.B and head to the spirits aisle. Offering to supply a whole cocktail can be a hefty investment, but is sure to put you in the good books as, not only did you bring a bottle as requested, but you also helped your host break the ice by contributing an activity to kick off the evening, or to keep it going into the early hours. A good option is to select a quality pre-mixed cocktail, so you can focus entirely on some quality service (think chilled glasses and a garnish). Ours come in beautiful bottles which exude class, and simply require you to pick up a bag of ice and an orange. Equally, you can opt to focus on the post-dinner Digestif, spotlighting a special spirit that’ll be sure to grab attention. For a home-run of a Crowd Pleaser, we’d suggest a Villa Zarri Coffee Brandy – perfect on the rocks, or poured over vanilla ice cream.
If you’re not quite ready to shake things up that significantly, however, you can still go the extra mile while sticking to wine. Select a bottle that shows some serious thought – such as a wine harking from a region you and the host visited together, made by a producer you discovered together at a wine tasting event in 2015, or with a label that reminded you of their favourite artist. Whatever the link, and however big or small, it’s sure to make your host feel appreciated – just be sure to avoid bottles from Tesco’s bottom shelf brought in memory of your university years.
As you may have gathered, it would be difficult to tick all of the boxes listed above by heading into your local supermarket, so dinner parties are an excellent opportunity to broaden your horizons when it comes to your wine suppliers. Heading to Sociovino.com or chatting to one of our team on Live Chat is, of course, your first stop for success. But if you’ve missed the Thursday midday window for weekend delivery, we recommend you head to your local bottle shop and ask one of their shop assistants. Not only will they know their selection back to front, well enough to offer you the best advice, you’ll also probably learn a thing or two in the process – and that’s always worth toasting to.
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