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Dear Dr. Vinny,
We brought two bottles of wine to dinner at the home of new friends. Our hosts opened one bottle, but sent us home with the other bottle at the end of the night. Should I be offended?
—Cory, Goodyear, Az.
I’m not sure how the transaction between you and your new friends went, but it sounds like something was lost in translation. Unfortunately, the gesture of bringing wine to someone’s house can get complicated.
That’s why I firmly believe that if you want to bring wine to be opened and enjoyed that evening, you need to be clear about that with the host first. That means that when you get the invitation and ask what you can bring, offer to pick wines that will complement the food they are serving, or say, “I have a couple of bottles that I’ve been looking for an excuse to crack open with some new friends. Is it OK if I bring them?”
After all, they may have already put a lot of thought into what they are serving—I know I do when I invite people over. Unless you are old friends who’ve shared many bottles over the years, it’s not cool to show up to a friend’s house with a bottle of wine you want to drink and expect them to open it.
If you do not have a conversation with the host ahead of time about you bringing wine to be opened that evening, that means you are giving them a host/hostess gift (which you should always do when invited over). To be clear that the bottle of wine you are handing them is a gift, it doesn’t hurt to say, “This is for you to enjoy another time.”
From the other side of the equation, if I’m hosting and someone brings over a bottle of wine without clearing it with me first, I’m probably going to ask if they’d like me to open it. If they say, “No, it’s a gift,” that’s great. But if they seem like they want a glass, I’ll crack it open. I’m not obligated to do so, but I know people get a kick out of seeing people enjoy their gifts.
I would never send someone back home with the gift they brought over—but again, I’m not sure how that transaction went down. If you seemed super-jazzed about drinking it, you might have been giving them the impression that you wanted it back. It might also be that they are not big wine drinkers, or the bottle was very expensive and it made them uncomfortable to accept it, or they didn’t have a proper place to store it, or the wine wasn’t in a style to their taste. Even so, as the host, I’d be gracious about accepting the gift, or suggesting we enjoy it together the next time we get together.
I hope you’ll give your new friends another shot—everyone has their own expectations about hosting, after all. Perhaps you can be clearer about future meet ups, and maybe bring some flowers for the next host gift to avoid confusion? If they hand the flowers back to you, then you know something weird is up.
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