No Wrong Answer: Tips for Bringing Wine to a Holiday Party

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo 
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 12/8/16

‘Tis the season for holiday parties.  And while picking out just the right ugly sweater to wear is important, for many, what bottle of wine to bring is even more so.  People float a lot of etiquette rules.  But as with any rule, they’re meant to be broken, especially since wine, and the experience around wine, is so personal.  So here are some rules of thumb I’ve developed over the years, in the event they help you this holiday season.  And if they don’t, hey – it’s wine.  Just drink it.

What to Bring
Holiday parties and holiday dinner tables are defined by their eclecticism – there’s a lot going on.  Lots of flavors, lots of textures, lots of colors.  So I say go with bubbles.  Sparkling wine is safe because it’s what you open to get a party started, but great bubbles can also flow easily throughout a meal and well into the night.  Sparklers also denote revelry, which is what this time of year is all about: we should all hope that the effervescence in the glass spills into the lives of all around us!  That said, you can make an argument for red, since a pinot or a merlot or a zinfandel matches the hues all around.  And you can make an argument for white, especially if you know that’s what your hostess prefers.  What’s more, don’t we all dream of a white Christmas?  So the short answer: there’s no wrong answer.

How Many to Bring
Any other time of year, my wife Renee and I feel totally comfortable showing up with just one bottle.  When we’re talking holiday parties, though, we like to up that to two.  One white and one red is a nice way to mix things up, though it’s less about colors and more about making sure there’s enough to go around.  It’s amazing how quickly wine can flow during a feast (and how wide smiles get when they see you walk in the door double-fisted)!  That said, no one is going to show you the door if you bring just one bottle of your favorite cabernet, nor if it’s a six-pack.  So, again, the short answer: there’s no wrong answer.

How Much to Spend
My wife’s favorite wine these days is a Santa Barbara County pinot noir that I’ve been finding on sale lately for under $15.  Thank you, God!  But an etiquette rule stickler once told me I should spend between $30 and $40 on a bottle to bring to a Christmas fete.  Pshaw!  Sure, that’s a very dependable sweet spot – you can find a ton of great wines, especially local ones, in that price range.  But why would I not share with my friends that great, delicious $15 bottle that happens to be a bargain?  More than price tag, focus on the story: tell your host about who made it, about the time you first sipped it, about how it (just like the invitation to this party) always brings a smile to your face.  Even better: track down the winemaker (easier to do than you’d think in a small, informal wine region like Santa Barbara) and have them sign the bottle.  That turns a $15 gift into a valuable and memorable gesture.  Of course, you’re always welcome to bring that winemaker's more limited-production $60 bottle.  SO, once more, the short answer: there’s no wrong answer.

To Open or Not to Open
Etiquette experts will tell you never to expect your host to open the bottle of wine you bring.  It’s a gift, that’s it.  Fie, I say. I will admit that I’m expecting my wine contribution to be opened.  A little has to do with me wanting to ensure that there will be at least one wine at this party I’ll enjoy drinking.  But much more has to do with the notion of sharing, a very holiday season-friendly notion, no?  If the wine is meant to be a special gift, meant to be stored away for a later special occasion, meant for that trip I know you’re taking next month, well then I’ll say so.  Otherwise, imagine a shiny new corkscrew hanging around the bottle I’ve brought.  Indelicate?  Yes, for some.  But I’ll remind you of my favorite short answer: there’s no wrong answer.

To Regift or Not to Regift
When a winemaker gifts me a bottle he’s made, I never regift.  When anyone gifts me a bottle that comes with a sentimental meaning, or a special story, I never regift.  When I’m gifted a bottle that’s got my name written right on it with ink I can’t erase, I never regift.  Otherwise, the beauty of wine is that it’s the gift that keeps on giving.  Even if you brought it over because you were running late and it was the closest thing to the door as you rushed out, I’m going to be happy with it.  I will enjoy it with a smile.  And maybe, just maybe, I’ll regift it, too.  Doesn’t matter.  It’s no coincidence, after all, that a bottle of wine fits almost perfectly into a stocking.

If you disagree, of course, I fall back on what a wise man once said: there’s no wrong answer.  Because, like I said at the beginning: hey – it’s wine.  Just drink it.

Merry Christmas!


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