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Dear Dr. Vinny,
You're having a dinner party and have already selected wines to pair with the food. If the guests bring wine, is it rude not to serve what they brought, even if it's not a good pairing with what's been prepared?
—Anthony M., Holtsville, N.Y.
It’s funny how a kind gesture can become so complicated. When you show up to someone’s house and give them a gift (as you should), it’s considered a host/hostess gift to thank them for their hospitality, and it is for them to enjoy privately, later.
If you want to bring something to be consumed that evening, you need to clear it with the host beforehand. Whether you’re bringing a dessert, or a bottle of wine, you should work that out ahead of time with the host so you are on the same page. Either ask what they are serving, and pick something to complement it, or tell them you have a special bottle you’d like to share and ask if it’s OK to bring it. But it’s not cool to show up with something you want to drink and expect them to open it.
That’s how it’s supposed to work. But guest and host aren’t always on the same page, so it doesn’t hurt to manage expectations at the moment you hand over (or receive) a bottle of wine. If I bring a bottle, I’ll say something like, “That’s for you to enjoy later,” or “I’m hoping you’ll find a reason to open this sometime soon.” If someone hands me a bottle—even if it’s something I wasn’t planning on opening or they hadn’t cleared it with me ahead of time—I’ll thank them and ask if they’d like me to open it so we can share it together.
I think there are two things about wine that complicate this situation. One is that it’s fun to share wine—I want my friends and family to see the wines I like and let me geek out about them, and hope to turn them on to a new producer or grape or region. The other thing is that we all have different tastes in wine—sometimes I might be motivated to bring a bottle to someone’s house because I’m worried I won’t like what they are serving.
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