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harvey steiman at large

Wine as a Gift? Thanks, or No Thanks?

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Jan 7, 2008 12:30pm ET

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.

Stewart Lancaster
beaver,pa —  January 7, 2008 1:21pm ET
I always enjoy getting bottles of wine as house gifts and I too take bottles of wine. I suspect this woman was not a wine drinker and therefore didn't appreciate them.
David Blakeley
New Jersey —  January 7, 2008 1:42pm ET
Maybe I need to throw a few more parties but I have yet to wake up with more bottles than I started with. I agree that the presentment of a gift bottle is a great way to often try wines that you might not normally drink. With so many good wines coming from so many regions who could keep up otherwise. On the selfish side, how often do you bring a bottle when going to a non-wine drinker's home on the off chance that if opened there is sure to be something that you know you like.
Harvey Steiman
San Francisco, CA —  January 7, 2008 1:57pm ET
I never expect the host to open a bottle I brought. For pot-luck dinners, some hosts have suggested in advance I bring something for everyone to share, which I love to do. I've been known to bring six to 10 bottles for big family dinners. But I would never suggest that I be allowed to drink wine when others are not.
Neil Koffler
New York, NY —  January 7, 2008 2:02pm ET


Miss Manners offers advice for the mass market. The best advice, besides the thank you note, would be to "know the recipient". Someone who only buys wine for the sake of a party is not going to appreciate being flooded with thank you bottles. You and I would be.

Neil
Richard Slater
Washington,DC —  January 7, 2008 2:57pm ET
I do know there are some people who bring good wine to someone's house to open and drink-- because they fear the wine provided won't be up to their standards. I feel this is inappropriate.

However, I¿m often in the other situation, where I bring a bottle and a bottle is brought to me.

There are 2 sides to this quandary: is the guest bringing you an acceptable bottle of wine, or is there going to be another bottle of Yellow Tail in your overfilled cellar? And, are you bringing a bottle of Yellow Tail to the party because you know "the host likes wine", or are you bringing something from your cellar you have good reason to think the host will appreciate.

I feel the solution to both situations is simply: if you know wine, bring a bottle, if you don¿t know wine, bring a plant.
John Danby
Napa —  January 7, 2008 3:16pm ET
I virtually never go to a party or dinner without wine in hand (or in the rolley - it depends). But while I never expect our guests to bring wine as a gift or for consumption, I think it's great when they do - even if it's lower tier. It's a nice gesture, and it could be a great "discovery" wine. I will add that our friends are essentially all wine fans, and the bottles are always flying house to house. So, this Gentle Reader respectfully disagrees with Miss Manners.
Fairway Inc
January 7, 2008 3:18pm ET
Of all the things one could complain about, this one doesn't even get on the list.
Jason Fernandez
Boston, MA —  January 7, 2008 3:24pm ET
I generally bring a bottle as a gift to the host as well. I also appreciate it when someone brings one to my house as a gift. I generally also ask if they would like me to open it now. I do this as sometimes we (folks in our wine drinking group) are eager to share something interesting. The only exception to this is when going to a friends house/event who doesn't like wine or prefers something else. In this case I bring what they like, be it beer, vodka, etc.
Jim Mcclure
DFW, Texas —  January 7, 2008 3:53pm ET
I'll echo Neil's advice to know your recipient and pick your gift (or lack thereof) accordingly. I've always found the act of bringing a bottle a great way to share something that I personally am a fan of, but that I know they may not have had exposure to. I love it when friends bring bottles they've picked in the same manner, and have enjoyed being exposed to new and sometimes surprisingly enjoyable bottles that way.--Jim
Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  January 7, 2008 4:48pm ET
I like bringing a nice bottle but encourage the host to enjoy it with his family some time after the party and, if he remembers, to let me know what he thought. Unfortunately, most of our friends aren't terribly savvy when it comes to wine and so they bring bottles, some high priced, to parties that we've thrown and I just have to hope they don't mind me putting them in the cellar. It's rare that a guest fully anticipates the best wine to pair with the meal we're serving, so I try to make sure they know I've spent some time pre-selecting the wine for the evening. It's a bit snobby, but hey, it's my party too ya know!
Scott Oneil
UT —  January 7, 2008 4:54pm ET
I think Neil Koffler hit the nail on the head: "know the host." As with any and all gift-giving endeavors, you've got to know what the host/ess might appreciate. For most parties that I go to, my friends EXPECT me to bring a wine. On an occasion in which I felt the host might feel a little threatened by me possibly trying to "upstage" the wines he had planned, I just showed up with a bottle of my favorite olive oil (he seemed relieved). As for guests coming to my house, they are all more than welcome to upstage whatever I've got with their fabulous, perfectly aged gems. I won't be upset at all; actually, I'd take it as a compliment! May I be so lucky as to have more wine the following morning than I started with the night before. :)
Stuart Jakub
January 7, 2008 5:28pm ET
I agree as well that you have to know your audience. For a dinner party with my family, wine is always greatly appreciated. However, with my in laws, who don't really drink, I once brought them a very special, hard to find bottle for their anniversary, specifically for them to put aside to celebrate future anniversary's. The second it was handed to them, they didn't even look at the label and popped the cork open. Lesson: don't bring special (or expensive) wine to people who won't appreciate it.
John Poggemeyer
Cleveland, OH —  January 7, 2008 5:38pm ET
Miss Manners is clearly not a drinker, nor is the host. Perhaps if either had a glass or two, they might understand the error of their ways....Miss Manners should suggest thgey bring teh host a ficus, and send ME the wine. I will absolutely send a thank you note to anyone willing to send me a bottle!
Peter Richardson
Cape Elizabeth, ME —  January 7, 2008 7:41pm ET
I like to bring an interesting bottle to give to a host. It is nice when they open it but not expected since they may have already picked out wines to pair with the food they are serving.Having said that, my wife and I hosted a party this past summer and were given many bottles. Unfortunately, most of it was mass-market mediocre stuff that we don't drink. That left us with a lot of wine we don't know what to do with. That party was in June and we still have most of the bottles cluttering up our cellar.My advice: if you are going to bring wine, bring wine that you think your host will appreciate. It your host is a wine geek and you aren't, bring something else or nothing at all.
Karl Mark
Geneva, IL. —  January 7, 2008 7:43pm ET
I usually bring food, and sometimes a bottle of wine purchased at the local wine shop, but almost never a bottle from my cellar unless I am sure I will get a taste.
Robert
Boston, MA —  January 8, 2008 6:48am ET
I agree with Miss Manners: Skip the wine, but send a Thank You (via regular mail). More importantly, RSVP to the party in the first place! That said, Harvey, if you're coming to my house, feel free to bring a bottle. I'm sure it will be an interesting one.
David R Aldano
Phoenix, Arizona, USA —  January 8, 2008 10:19am ET
This is like getting wine as a present. Most people know I am a cork dork. As such, bringing a wine to our house for a hosted event or providing one as a present is rarely a good idea.The friends who are fellow wine geeks, by all means bring a bottle.I have received so many mass marketed bottles by people who know that I enjoy wine. I usually take the bottles, thank them, then toss the bottles away when the event is over.I would store these bottles but, alas, my cellar is almost filled with wines I want. To echo many of the sentiments, know your host, and move accordingly.
Steve Ritchie
Atlanta, GA —  January 8, 2008 10:29am ET
I respectfully disagree with Miss Manners. A bottle of wine is a very nice host/hostess gift, with one caveat: don't expect the host/ess to open it that night. I enjoy the gesture from guests -- even if the bottle is destined to become cooking wine -- and appreciate the sentiment. Of all the things to worry about -- first we claim that people are less polite than in the good old days, now we complain that they don't express their politeness in a perfect manner! To any grumpy hosts who get bent out of shape over a bottle of plonk: perhaps you should get out more often and see people with REAL problems!
Jim Mcclure
DFW, Texas —  January 8, 2008 12:23pm ET
Steve, well said. The most important aspect of the host gift is being overlooked here: the THOUGHT behind it. It's a courteous way of saying thank you for having me as a guest.

While wildly presumptuous and inappropriate, I'd just once like to see a note on an invitation that read: "Appropriate hostess gifts would include: XXXXX, XXXXX, or XXXXX. All others will be discarded, unappreciated, and griped about." then see the responses. I'm not saying I don't joke about gifts I receive from time to time, but I try to always keep in mind the spirit in which they were given. - Jim
Harvey Steiman
San Francisco, CA —  January 8, 2008 12:38pm ET
Things to do with wines proffered as gifts that you don't want to drink:

1. Give them to friends who drink wine but aren't as serious about as we are. Just give them away. No pretenses. Young people who are watching their budgets might love to have a drinkable bottle of wine with dinner.

2. Donate them to nonprofit organizations to use for receptions and such socializing events. They'll probably come by to pick them up from you.

3. Use them for cooking. As Jim Laube used to say when we came across a so-so wine in our tastings, "You can always soak a chicken in it."
Sean Fox
Chicago, IL —  January 8, 2008 1:09pm ET
Theres probably a difference between what you bring a hostess and what someone not in "the know" would bring. If you don't know wine, bring flowers and save the grocery store plonk for yourself or sangria.
Roger P Smith
January 8, 2008 1:17pm ET
This party giver and "Miss Manners" must be from another planet. Imagine a complaint about having more bottles of wine after a party than before! They both must be teetotalers of the first order. Who amongst us here on this site could possibly side with these two? I agree totally with Steve Ritchie-- they need to get a life. Does Miss Manners have nothing more thoughtless than this to deal with?

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