Thanksgiving is around the corner and fall party season is ramping up. As a guest, you'll make a fine impression with your chic clothing and scintillating cocktail-party conversation, no doubt (unless you happen to be Howard Stern). But what about the wine? For better or worse, what you bring and how you present it will make a statement. Permit me to offer, respectfully, my own counsel along with tips from wine-etiquette expert Adrian Caravello, co-ordinator of the food and beverage management program at Toronto's George Brown College.
1. The host gift belongs to the host.
Don't expect your wine will be served with the meal. Generally, the bottle you bring is intended for the host's cellar. If you're eager to bring something to try, call ahead and politely ask if you can choose a wine to pair with the meal. Or be cagey: Bring a chilled white - the temperature may telegraph your intent.
2. Don't turn your nose up at an inferior wine.
If a host pours you a glass of something you're not fond of, try to slurp it down and wait for something more agreeable. (Hint: Food can make even the most pedestrian wine palatable, so hunt down a canapé or two.) Try your best not to complain. "I think that's the epitome of being rude," Mr. Caravello says.
3. Go with the (abstinent) flow.
You love wine with a good meal but it's clear your dining companions strongly object to alcohol for religious reasons. What to do? Try to respect their sensitivity and bring chocolates or fine candles instead. Think of it as your evening to cleanse, Gwyneth Paltrow-style. Plus, it could be the night to discover the joys of mango juice, Mr. Caravello says.
4. No need to break the bank.
Just because your hosts are wine connoisseurs who tend to collect $50-plus bottles doesn't mean you have to spend like Elton John. Mr. Caravello says $15 to $20 gets you a decent bottle these days, and $20 to $40 will buy something impressive. A $25 Gigondas from France should please even the most discerning host.
5. By all means, take two (or three).
If you're the thirsty sort and the invitation comes with a request to bring wine, consider taking two or three bottles. Abundance is the mark of generosity in these wine-soaked times, not dipsomania. Plus, it can be fun to try different styles with a meal.
6. Top yourself up - with grace.
We've all been there: Your glass has been empty for 15 minutes and you're choking on desiccated turkey breast. There's no need to suffer in silence. Mr. Caravello's magic line: "Hey, that wine must be delicious because my glass is empty. Would you mind if I had another spot?" Make it seem like you're enjoying yourself, not dying.
7. Think olive oil, cheese or flowers.
If your hosts are rabid wine collectors and you know zilch about vineyards in the Médoc or Côte d'Or, skip the liquor store and shop for something else. If they're gourmets, olive oil may be more cherished than a bottle of off-vintage Bordeaux. Ditto cheese or a fancy bouquet.
8. You brought it, you leave it.
It hurts, yes. But if you brought a prized bottle on the expectation it would be served with dinner but it sits uncorked at the end of the night, don't even think of repatriating it, and that includes cases in which the host graciously offers to send you home with it. Nobody likes boomerang benevolence. If you're among good friends, suggest that you have it together another time.
9. Don't brag about the price.
Sorry, the recession's over. It's no longer fashionable to boast about how you spent "only eight bucks" for that surprisingly gulpable Montepulciano d'Abruzzo or Argentine malbec. Conversely, if you want to be conspicuous about your largesse, buy French Champagne or Châteauneuf-du-Pape; everybody knows those gems are pricey. Alternatively - and you didn't hear this from me or Mr. Caravello - be subversive and "accidentally" leave the receipt in the gift bag.