Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk |

Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk

Kelly J. Hayes
Aspen Times Weekly

“Just bring a bottle of wine or something.”

We all have heard that phrase uttered many times when we’ve asked our friends what to bring when we are invited to their homes for dinner. While your host is simply trying to be polite, letting you off the hook from bringing something more complicated but still giving you the option to participate, the “bring a bottle of wine” comment can flummox some of us.

So what to do?

First, don’t stress out about it. Just about anything you bring from a quality liquor store or wine shop will surely be accepted by your hosts with appropriate appreciation. After all, the gift of a bottle of wine should always be welcomed.

And remember, there is no need to raid your cellar for that special Bordeaux that Aunt Sallie gave you or that Aussie Shiraz that you brought back from your honeymoon. Save those special bottles for when you are entertaining at home. You never know how many guests will be at the dinner party and whether your personal treasure will simply get lost on the bar with some non-special plonk that another guest has brought. Drink your special wines only when you think the time is right.

But if your inclination is to give your offering a little extra attention, then good on you, as they say down under. Have some fun with it.

Start by considering when you want your gift wine to be consumed. You may want to bring something that you can open straight away to help break the ice and get the party started. A bottle of Champagne is a safe bet and is an easy thing to buy. Most liquor stores have lots of bubbly and prices can range from the teens to the hundreds depending upon how flush you feel.

A good choice in the $40 range is a Vueve Clicquot Brut Yellow Label. It’s a universally reliable bottle that looks great under your arm and indicates that you cared enough to bring French.

You can stay domestic and still make an impression with good bubbles. Try a bottle of Domaine Chandon Brut Rose from Napa Valley. Made from a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier grapes, this sunset-hued charmer is great with most appetizers, looks beautiful in the glass and may even give you some change back from a $20 bill.

Don’t want a sparkling wine? There are plenty of alternatives in white wines that will also be great before a meal. I try to stay light and clean when I don’t know what the apps are, but you can’t go wrong with a beautiful Sancerre from the Loire Valley. These wines, made from Sauvignon Blanc, are crisp, fruity and can be flinty. A good Sancerre such as those from Pascal Jolivet can be consumed young and should not cost much more than $20.

People also love Chardonnay but, if you opt for a pre-dinner pour, then try to keep with a style that is clean and perhaps a little steely. Look for Chardonnays that are unoaked – that is to say, wines that are made in steel tanks as opposed to wooden barrels. While barrel-made Chardonnay is classic and wonderful, the wood imparts complexity that may be a little harder to pair with certain first courses. Kim Crawford makes beautiful unoaked Chardonnays in New Zealand that also will not cost you no more than 20 bucks.

Let’s say you would rather bring something to drink with the main course. Usually people who cook and know a bit about wine have already done some thinking and have bought something to serve with the dinner. But if your hosts tell you what’s on the menu then you have an opportunity to pair your gift of wine with what will be served. In that case, have at it. Buy a great big Bordeaux or a California Cab to have with that rib-eye or a fruity Zinfandel to go with the burgers from the grill.

That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t spend some time thinking about your selection though. It’s always nice to have a story about the wine you bring and a reason why you brought it.

The point is, if you care to bring the very best, then that’s fine. But if you spend a little time thinking about the circumstances of a meal, who your friends are and what would be fun to drink, the process of “just bring a bottle of wine or something” can turn from confounding to spot-on.

Just don’t go empty handed.