Miss Manners' column caught my eye when I opened the morning paper today and the headline read, "Thanks for the Party, but Leave Wine at Home." She basically sided with a host who didn't know what to do with all the bottles handed him by guests, and wished they hadn't brought them in the first place.
The syndicated column, in which writer Judith Martin dispenses pithy advice for social quandaries, brings up an issue that never really bothered me. I wonder how others feel.
I always bring a bottle from my cellar for what was formerly referred to as a "hostess gift." I never expect it to be opened right then and there. It's just a gesture to say, "Thanks for inviting us to your home." My wife favors flowers, but my argument there is that the host can't just smile in appreciation and set the gift aside. She must find a vase, fill it with water and maybe trim the flowers to fit, not exactly what most hosts want to do when waves of guests are crashing upon their shores.
"Each guest brings a bottle—unprompted," grumped the letter writer. "I have more wine the morning after than when the party started." The host would rather get a thank-you note later.
In her reply, Miss Manners also noted a correlation between bringing wine and failing to write a thank-you note. Bringing a gift, she added, "is not obligatory (and for a large party it is likely to cause inconvenience to a busy host)."
Like Miss Manners, I don't expect a bottle as an entrance fee, but I like to see what guests bring, if they choose to. Many years ago, a wine-writer friend came to dinner bearing a bottle of Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 1965. The bottle was about 15 years old at the time, and it rested in my cellar for several years before I opened it and remembered his generosity as I reveled in the wine's delicacy and depth.
The wines need not be so memorable. More recently, guests have brought wines from South Africa, Argentina and Spain that were new to me, and others offered some lesser known California labels, all of which contributed to fine evenings when we opened them. I appreciated the guests' thoughtfulness.
That '65 Martini all those years ago made an impression. I always pick wines out of my cellar to offer the hosts at dinner parties. I try to bring a bottle that has a few years on it. I have more than I can drink, and if I don't use 'em they'll just get old, not better, and no one will appreciate them while they're good.
Little did I know that I might be offending my host if I did. But I'm not going to stop. I think most people enjoy getting a nice bottle of wine for future consumption.
And oh yes, don't forget to write the thank you note. Miss Manners might forgive us if we do.