Dinner Party Wines | A Guest's Guide to What to Bring

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.

'tis the Season for Dinner Parties

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.

 

dinner party with wine 

THE BEST BOTTLES TO BRING:

Crowd Pleasers

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.

 

General tips for taking a red wine:

 

  • It’s best to go with red wines that emphasise flavours, rather than tannin and alcohol, such as a Pinot Noir. Affordable examples can be found in Austria, California and New Zealand so you don’t need to break the bank to bring something brimming with character.

 

  • For a foodie group, opt for a Nebbiolo from the Langhe, which is much more approachable from the get-go than your young Barolos or Barbarescos. It’s light in colour but high in acidity with some robust tannins, so it’s good for food. It can come with a hefty price tag, so only opt for this if you really want to please a crowd with great taste.

 

  • Hot climate Shiraz or Malbec can be a little too intense to be characterised as striking the middle ground, but as you head to cooler climates, body and alcohol levels will start to drop within the same grape variety – you can never go wrong with Syrah (Shiraz) in a Côtes-du-Rhône (look for ‘Villages’ on the label for a step up in quality).

 

  • While we’re suggesting something recognizable to tick the box of ‘crowd pleaser’, we’d encourage you to not so much as utter the phrase ‘Cab Sav’. Bordeaux feels a little boring when there are so many other options out there, don’t you think?

 

  • Finally, if you want to find something new, we recommend heading to Austria – you can find beautiful bottles from local varietals such as Zweigelt and St. Laurent, all at a bargain price point.

 

 red wine dinner party

 

General tips for taking a white wine:
  • Broadly speaking, it’s harder to go wrong with a white wine, but the aim is to steer clear of low quality white wines that give it a bad reputation amongst “red wine drinkers”.

 

  • You want to avoid watery whites without a personality, such as a cheap Pinot Grigio. There are plenty of stunning Pinot Grigios out there, but be selective when it comes to regions (look for Friuli’s Collio and Colli Orientali as well as options from Alto-Adige) and don’t expect to pay less than £10.

 

  • While the days of ABC (“anything but Chardonnay”) may just about be behind us, be wary that Chardonnay comes in many guises: steely, lean and loaded with lemon (Chablis); citrussy but brimming with ripe, exotic fruits (Mornington Peninsula, Australia or Italy); slightly fuller bodied, fruity and gently oaked but not gently priced (Burgundy); ultra-oaked and buttery (often California). Take note of the region or producer – or ask the bottle shop – before you buy.

 

  • White wine lists can tend to be rather limited – New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, French Chardonnay, Gavi, Pinot Grigio, etc…So dinner parties are a great chance to introduce something new which, again, isn’t too funky and won’t divide opinions. Look for: Albariño, Grüner Veltliner, Etna Bianco or an Eastern European Riesling.

 

  • Skin contact wines tick the box of ‘interesting’, but might encourage strong opinions from people you don’t want the opinion of. It can be safer, unfortunately, to avoid if you want to sidestep interrogation. If your friends are open to experimentation, ask your supplier for an “entry level” Orange wine.

 

Pairing your pour to your plate:

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.

 food and wine

 

Avoid bubbles unless you’re ready to splash the cash (and only see a sip)

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.

 champagne

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…):

 

BEST PRACTICES FOR B.Y.O.B:

Chill down your white wine before leaving the house (or pick it up from the shop fridge)

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.

 

To gift or not to gift – double up for drink now and drink later

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.

 

Don’t place the bottle you brought in front of you at dinner

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?

 

Don’t comment on anyone else’s wine

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).

 

GO THE EXTRA MILE:

Cocktails or digestifs – help add an extra dimension to your dinner

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. 

cocktail 

Choose a bottle with meaning (or as the host, set a theme to help guide your guests)

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.

 

WHERE TO FIND SOMETHING INTERESTING, RELIABLE, GOOD VALUE, THOUGHTFUL & ALL OF THE ABOVE!?

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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