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Wine Etiquette: What To Bring, What To Serve

Wine etiquette 101: What to bring when you're attending and what to serve when you're the host

Gifting and serving wine are two practices that take some thought. You want to make sure that what you offer when you're attending someone else's event is appropriate. And likewise, when you're organizing the event, you should know which kinds of wine to serve and when. Read on for the full guide to becoming a pro at proper wine etiquette.

ATTENDING?

When attending a dinner party, gathering or holiday fête, you probably shouldn't show up empty-handed, and wine is the kind of gift that never stops giving. Here are some pointers to help you ace your offering.

Wine etiquette 101: What to bring when you're attending and what to serve when you're the host

  • Rack your brain before you hit the wine racks: Chances are, you've already been out with your host in the past or have hung out when wine was present. Do they always order rosé? Are they into dessert wines? Or is it red or nothing? What about international wines? Maybe they're particularly taken with Italian or French varieties. Go with what you know—if you have a good idea of what their wine preferences are, at least you'll be in the right ballpark.
  • When in doubt, ask for help: If you really know nothing about wine, but your host is a huge fan, go to your local sommelier or ask a wine professional and have them help you pick something out. At the end of the day, good wine is good wine, and if you can find something that's of particularly good quality, it won't go unrecognized. 
  • How much to spend: In general, you don't have to drop a ton of money to get something pleasing. 10 to 20 dollars is a perfectly acceptable price tag per bottle. Try to get an idea of what kind of dinner or event is being hosted and adjust accordingly. If your host is preparing a lovely three-course dinner, go a bit higher. If it's wine and cheese night, you can pick something closer to $10. 
  • How much to bring: Going solo? One bottle should be fine. But if you're partnered up or going in a small group, counting one bottle per person is a safe bet. 
  • Have a last resort: If you're crunched for time before the event, one of the safest choices is a bottle of quality Pinot Noir, not too cheap and not too expensive. It's full-bodied and tasty and doesn't contain too many tannins. Worst-case scenario, if it's not their preferred flavor, they can still pull it out for future occasions where someone is bound to drink it. Just don't forget to remove the price tag!

HOSTING?

Wine etiquette 101: What to bring when you're attending and what to serve when you're the host

If you're doing the hosting, selecting the right wine is a slightly more complicated and in-depth affair, especially for dinner parties. Here's how to get it right.

  • Which wine for which food: For dinner parties, be sure to serve the corresponding wine with the main entree. That means white wine for fish, poultry and veal, red for beef or pasta with red sauce. Make sure to open red wine before serving so it can breathe and develop its flavors (30 minutes is usually sufficient). Always serve it at room temperature, unless otherwise indicated. White wines, on the other hand, should be served chilled. Here are some tips to chilling drinks quickly, if you're pressed for time. 
  • How to serve wine: Be sure to fill wine glasses halfway only, and choose the correct glass per wine type. Red wine should be served in bigger-bowled glasses, while white does well in slimmer shapes but not flutes, which are best reserved for sparkling wine and Champagne to preserve the bubbles. 
  • Remember, whites before red: Traditionally, white wines are always served before red (unless the main is fish, poultry or veal). And as a general rule, light before heavy, dry before sweet. 
  • How much wine to buy: Count about one bottle of wine per guest, unless serving a crowd, in which case magnums are a useful option. 
  • What to pick: You'll want to serve wines that are generally pleasing and easy to drink. Have both whites and reds on hand, just in case someone has a strong preference for one or the other (regardless of the food). Some suggestions for whites: Pinot Gris, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc. And for reds: Pinot Noir, Cotes du Rhone. 
  • Serving tips: For more formal get-togethers, you should go around the table and fill your guests' glasses individually. If it's more casual, however, you can have them pass their glasses instead. 

Keep this guide on hand the next time you have a well-watered social gathering coming up, and you'll be prepared for wine greatness!

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