Here is a dilemma for all of us. You are invited to friends for dinner and say you will bring wine.
But what do you bring?
Well, before I answer that, you need to answer a couple of other questions first!
First off…how close are you? This is the most important question because if you are close friends, you may already know what they like or – more importantly – if they are “wine dweebs” or not (more on that below). If it is more casual, it can be less of an issue (although you never want to bring bad wine, of course!).
Second – are they wine dweebs? If not, see above. But if they are, you face a bigger challenge. Do you try to bring something that impresses them? Or something that you know they like (because you have had it there before)? I would go with the latter…many people say they don’t like to bring wine to our place because they know I am a wine dweeb and may judge them. But if they know what I like – Rhone wines, for example – they can’t go wrong, no matter how much they spend on the bottle.
The third question may seem a bit esoteric, but it is important if you are a wine dweeb like me. And it is – do you expect the wine you bring to be drunk that evening?
For me, this is often the toughest question! I have lots of great wine in my cellar, and I love the chance to share it with friends, even casual friends. But what can drive me crazy is bringing a wine that I was looking forward to tasting, only to have the friends say “wow, thanks!” and then put it away for use later.
I deal with this question in two ways. If they are close friends, I will actually ask what to bring! I couch it around “what is for dinner? What will go best?” That way, I find out right up front whether it will be drunk or not. If I don’t know them that well, I tend to shy away from really good wine – or mature wine – as I don’t know when it may be drunk.
Having answered these questions, then, back to the first one…what do you bring?
Well, I have a couple of safe bets for “casual” friends. For reds, try an un-oaked Argentine Malbec or Cotes du Rhone. They are almost always fruity but a little complex, not full of wood (from the oak) and you can find lots of choices in the $15 – $20 range. And for whites, try Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand or B.C. They are fruity (but not too ripe), have just a bit of oak, and there are a fair number in the same price range as the reds above.
For special friends that you know well? Well, if you have a cellar, that is the time to bring something that is mature. A Chateauneuf du Pape or Chianti Classico Riserva that is 8 – 10 years old, for example. If they are really good friends, try a Barolo or Barbaresco that is 10 – 15 years old. If you don’t have a cellar, go for a California Cabernet Sauvignon. Mondavi, Beringer, Caymus…there are lots of big names that have wines in the $40 – $50 range, and the great thing is they drink well on release, so you don’t have to worry about tannins.
And for special whites? Chablis Premier Cru is a great choice, or Alsatian Rielsing or Gewurztraminer. These can be from your cellar (if you are lucky enough to have them) or right off the shelf, as they also drink well young and can be found in the $40 range. Cali Chardonnay is another great idea as long as you know they like oaky, buttery Chardonnays.
So the next time you are asked to bring wine to dinner, think about these simple rules. Follow them, and you can’t go wrong!