Bring a decent bottle to dinner

It is worth putting some thought, and maybe a few extra euro, into wine intended as a gift for your dinner or party host

A bunch of flowers, a box of chocolates or a bottle of wine; what do you bring your hosts when you are invited to dinner? Do you plan ahead or make a last-minute foray into the nearest petrol station on your way to the house?

When we were just out of college, my group of friends had a bottle of wine that did the rounds of our dinner parties but never actually got opened. It was a well-known brand of Liebfräumilch, originally bought and given as a joke. It did away with any pressures involved in giving wine, but the joke wore a little thin after a while.

These days, because I work in the business, friends rarely bring wine to dinner as a gift. Instead I get everything from chocolates, flowers, soap, olive oil, to balsamic vinegar. All welcome, but I still think nothing beats a nice bottle of wine.

At this time of year, if you know you will be going out on a regular basis, it is worth buying in a few extra bottles in advance. They won’t go a-begging; over the festive season, it is handy to have some instant presents available at very short notice.


It is also worth putting a little thought into what you give. Your host will certainly be grateful. The selection of wine in petrol stations is likely to be pretty awful and frequently over- priced. I would certainly steer clear of any special offers.

You will be doing the recipient a huge favour by thinking ahead a little and paying a visit to your local wine shop or off-licence. There you should find expert advice to guide you to something that will please the most discerning wine drinker. Don’t be afraid to ask for help; these days most shops will have somebody with plenty of knowledge.

I would argue for quality over quantity in most cases; if your host drinks nothing but cheap Chilean cabernet and thinks all other wine a pretentious load of twaddle, don’t try to change his (or her) mind.

However, if the intended recipient has even a vague interest in wine, it is worth going to a little trouble.

If it is doubling up as a birthday or Christmas present for one person only, you could ring their spouse or a friend to find out what kind of wine they really like.

Otherwise, a few broad generalisations of a vaguely sexist kind. Size looks good. Males for some reason seem drawn towards large format bottles, so a magnum will impress far more than two bottles. It also means they will save it for a large gathering, so you might get invited back.

Women on the other hand love fizz. Prosecco, Cava or Champagne will always go down well. Sadly the tax on a bottle of sparkling is now a minimum of €7.80 a bottle and probably more, so it won’t be a cheap present.

I know many gift-buyers go for the classic names, such as Chablis or Châteauneuf, so the receiver will know they have spent a good money.

This may be safe but many of these wines do not offer great value for money and can be a little boring for the real wine lover.

It is far more personal and certainly more interesting to receive a bottle of something a little bit different; you might be thanked forever if you steer the recipient out of their comfort zone.

For Sauvignon blanc drinkers, a bottle of fresh, crisp white wine from Austria or Galicia will offer something new but not completely unfamiliar in style. For red wines, Italy, Spain, France and other countries are full of different and utterly delicious wines that don’t cost a fortune.

At many dinners and other parties, that bottle of wine is handed over and instantly forgotten. If you are the lucky recipient of a special bottle, it is a nice idea to mention how much you enjoyed it the next time you meet the giver.

Likewise, try in some subtle way, to let the recipient know you have gone to a bit of trouble. There is nothing worse than giving a really nice bottle of wine which then disappears into the wine rack, probably to be poured into a stew at some later date.

Lastly – the best incentive of all to bring along a nice bottle of wine; you may well find yourself drinking it later that evening.