One thing I’ve noticed since we started a wine business last year is the giddy nervousness that friends develop when bringing a bottle of wine to the house. I typically get one of two (often self-deprecating) quips as I’m handed a bottle, usually shrouded in a bag or hidden in a box of other goodies:
(1) ‘I don’t know anything about wine but you can always use this for cooking if its not up to much!’ – or
(2) ‘I guess you’ll be used to much better stuff these days, but I couldn’t bring you one of your own wines!’.
This experience vexes me greatly! But having thought about it I’ve realised that, actually, bringing a bottle anywhere brings a certain level of anxiety. Whether it’s your local supermarket, or the off-licence down the road, the choice these days can be overwhelming, and if you’re not au fait with which Sauvignon is red or whether “an eclectic blend from several EU states” is a good thing, picking a bottle that won’t embarrass either you or your host can be daunting!
So, following on from my five wine tips to enhance your dining forever, here are my five wine tips for bringing a bottle anywhere.
(1) Don’t bring anything that you wouldn’t drink yourself. This applies to going over the top as well as buying something too cheap. If you wouldn’t normally drink it yourself, don’t depersonalise your gift by buying something that’s not you.
(2) Match to the occasion. A family barbeque demands something casual and easy-drinking, whereas a romantic meal for two may require something a little more serious. How much time will you or your host spend considering the wine? If the likelihood is not a lot, don’t spend a fortune on it.
(3) Think about how many people will be drinking the wine. If you’re attending a house party, chances are your bottle will get added to the 20 given by other guests. Abiding by tip (1), get something accessible and easy-drinking, that will appeal to different tastes. (Alternatively, make a point of saying to your host that you’ve got them something special, so that they can put it aside for another evening!)
(4) Don’t be afraid to seek out something different. Think about, it’s nice to receive something you wouldn’t buy very often yourself (and I don’t mean Buckfast – again see tip (1)). Dessert wines or pink Champagnes make lovely novelties and also remove any concern over food matching if there’s a meal being served.
(5) Avoid branded wines or wines in quirky bottles. At the risk of generalising, these tend to be more about the packaging than the wine inside the bottle. They also show a complete lack of imagination. If you want something recognisable, pick up a Chablis or a Beaujolais but from a small or unknown producer. This is where an independent merchant with well trained staff comes into its own, and you won’t pay more for the free advice.
The bottom-line is that when receiving any gift it’s so much more appreciated when you know the giver has spent some time thinking about it, or made a particular effort to find it. Do the same when giving wine and I promise you’ll get asked back – assuming of course you want to.
Alternatively, I suggest people simply invite you over to sift through the “20 bottles of wine from a house party” and tell you which to drink and which to cook with. (That was so handy of you – you should offer it as a service!)
Actually, you’ve got me really curious – now that you’re a wine merchant of fame, do people expect you to bring them bottles of fabulous bottles of wine when you go over?