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The Wine Ethicist, Part Deux

2011 December 7
by Mike

(Sorry for the delay in posting this; the Parker/Pancho/Miller train wreck sidetracked me.)

The first installment of The Wine Ethicist got a terrific response; many thanks to all who weighed in on the secret bottle question. Last week, I started reading Jonathan Franzen’s novel Freedom, and I almost rolled off the couch when I came across the following paragraph on page 34:

“Because here was the thing: at every picnic, back up in the kitchen of the stone house, there was always a bottle or two of fabulous old Bordeaux from August’s storied cellar. This wine was put out at Patty’s father’s insistence, at unknown personal cost of wheedling and begging, and it was always Ray who gave the signal, the subtle nod, to his brothers and to any male friend he’d brought along to slip away from the picnic and follow him. The men returned a few minutes later with big bubble-bowled glasses filled to the brim with an amazing red, Ray also carrying a French bottle with maybe one inch of wine left in it, to be divided among all the wives and other less favored visitors. No amount of pleading could induce August to fetch another bottle from his cellar; he offered, instead, more Doc Haunch Reserve.”

How’s that for ironic—and with a gender discrimination angle thrown in, too! With four references to wine in the first 35 pages of Freedom, it would appear that Franzen is possibly a member of our tribe. Perhaps he’ll swing by to offer an opinion on last week’s question.

Anyway, although there were some excellent dissenting opinions, it was generally agreed that harboring a secret bottle and serving guests a lesser wine is unforgivably rude. Several people pointed out that it is possible to drink well in the company of non-wine enthusiasts without resorting to Nixonian trickery—that there are plenty of good, reasonably priced wines that can offer a grape nut pleasure while also being shared with non-oenophiles. Feel free to keep that discussion going, and thanks, again, for all the great posts.

So let’s get to this week’s edition of The Wine Ethicist, which is on a somewhat related topic—should a host feel obliged to open a good bottle of wine brought as a gift? My interest in this subject was prompted by a recent experience that I had. My wife and I were invited to a potluck dinner a few months ago, and in addition to contributing a dish, we brought a bottle of wine. It was a $40 California Chardonnay from a respected producer whose wines score well with critics. This winery used to regularly send me unsolicited samples (they stopped about a year ago), and having tasted enough of its Chardonnays to know that they were too sweet, buttery, and oaky for my taste, I felt no need to uncork another one. But some people enjoy that style, so I decided to bring a bottle from this producer to the party. The hostess greeted us at the door, whereupon I handed her the wine. She looked at the label, broke into a knowing smile, and said, “No way are we putting this out!” After showing us in, she absconded with the wine, which was never seen again that night. Needless to say, my wife and I were a bit surprised. Every time we drive by her house now, we joke about the disappeared chardonnay; if we ever get around to reciprocating,  I might even ask her to bring it (assuming, of course, that she didn’t drink it).

Obviously, what our friend did wasn’t exactly in keeping with the spirit of potluck. But let’s put aside the potluck thing and talk about gift bottles in general. If you invite someone to dinner and they bring a good bottle of wine, should you feel obliged to serve it? I am framing this question in part around the issue of quality because I think that most of us, if presented with a bottle of, say, Barefoot Chardonnay, would probably not be inclined to open it (if you happen to believe that a host should open any wine brought as a gift, irrespective of cost or quality, by all means say so). It seems to me that the dilemma arises when a guest arrives not with a bottle of plonk, but with a really nice wine that you would genuinely enjoy—and that he or she would probably enjoy, too. Even if you’ve already selected a wine to serve with dinner, should you pour the gift bottle? We can also turn the question around. If you bring a stellar wine to someone’s house, do you expect it to be served? If the host doesn’t appear inclined to open your cabernet or syrah, is it okay to drop hints that you’d like to drink it—by talking glowingly about the wine, for instance?

Clearly, this is a topic that lends itself to all sorts of hypothetical scenarios, and I don’t want to complicate the discussion any more than I have; I assume that you get the drift. Whether as hosts or guests, many of us have faced a gift bottle conundrum at one time or another. I’d love to hear how you handled it and what you think proper etiquette is in such situations.

40 Responses leave one →
  1. December 14, 2011

    I recently had a long conversation with several guests at my place about it. I was taught (I’m Portuguese) that opening a bottle your guest just brought is rude. The underlying principle is that only if you’re unprepared you’ll need to use your guest’s bottle. If you’re prepared, you should have your own wine ready and go with it.

    When I moved to the US and started hosting, I followed that principle thinking I was being polite until a friend told me some people thought that was rude (because of what you just said, it looks like you’re trying to have it for yourself alone).

    So I learned to ask. Usually people know that I plan meals with wine pairing and they don’t expect me to serve whatever they bring but I still ask. And if someone says “we should absolutely try this one” I’ll do it. As a host I feel my role is to keep my guests happy and make sure everyone has a good time.

    Definitely a funny post!

  2. Chris Wallace permalink
    December 14, 2011

    I think that the host should try to open the wine(s) received as a hostess gift on that evening. TRY being the operative word. First, if the host has plotted out the evening to pair foods with wines or just wants to serve certain wines, then I think it is perfectly acceptable if a wine that has been brought does not make it on to that evenings roster. If you have received a fine and ageworthy wine, I think the thing to say to your benefactor is “thank you, what a lovely wine. Shall we open it tonight?” If they want you to lay it down they can say so at that time. I think those bearing gifts need to take on a little responsibility too. I try and bring something that the host and other guests will want to drink that evening. The know-your-client rule needs to be invoked, so that you don’t bring plonk to a oenophile’s home and you don’t bring something too fine to the home of someone who really does not care about wine. But I thought the event described in the post where the hostess immediately squirreled away the good bottle of Chardonnay and kept it from her guest and donor, well that is just bad manners.

  3. December 10, 2011

    Mike — I don’t really know what to do with the monstrosities. Around here some end up as cooking wine, some end up being given to others who wouldn’t know any better (given not by me but by my SO to people who don’t know me or know me only very slightly and don’t know wine at all), and some wind up just hanging around because we can’t figure out what to do with them.

    I have to say, tonight I am profiting from a tasty 1995 Gevrey Clos Prieur from René Leclerc that was brought to our house by a friend a month or so ago and who was offered the opportunity to share it at dinner but declined. He wound up doing OK, though, with von Schubert and Paolo Bea being served that evening.

  4. December 9, 2011

    “many of us have faced a gift bottle conundrum”

    Was that a subtle hint regarding the white wine you brought that was refused?

  5. Bill Klapp permalink
    December 9, 2011

    No, Mike. I can arrange for a visa that will allow you to visit me and help drink up some of my wine. It expires when, like fish, you begin to smell, as the old saw about houseguests goes! (:

  6. December 8, 2011

    Mike Dunne, many thanks for the kind words; greatly appreciated, and thank you for contributing to these discussions.

    Jeremy, thanks for the insights re Burgundy. So if you go to taste at, say, Roumier, you bring a bottle of Dujac as a gift? That’s really interesting.

    Bill, you hate American guests–does that apply to me, too? That’s crazy that the locals don’t want to drink these gems you have.

    Joel, thanks for backing me up re the bottle I brought to the potluck dinner. I didn’t think I was being crass by bringing it, but David and Bud obviously felt otherwise.

    LJH, you hit on an important point–those of us besotted with wine tend to have a warped perspective on these matters. As you say, most people are content just to drink something decent and have a good time.

    Jason, that’s exactly how I felt about the potluck dinner–the wine I brought wasn’t a gift, it was a contribution to the dinner, to be opened and consumed that night. Obviously, though, our host had different ideas.

  7. December 8, 2011

    It’s pretty simple: if you are bringing a gift to someone’s house, it’s a gift, and that person can do with it as they please. So if you are going to someone’s house for dinner or a party and you bring a bottle of wine unprompted, it’s a gift. Don’t place any expectations on its use.

    In the circumstance that you are attending a particular kind of event that focuses on wine (or a pot luck where wine is one of the pot-luck items), then things are different. At such an event, everything should be served, as that’s the whole point. You’re NOT bringing a gift, you’re bringing a contribution to the whole.

    As for issues about how and when a wine is served, the wine-bringer should have reasonable expectations. If you know something about the host, then you can bring an appropriate bottle (or none at all!). If you know nothing, then bring something you won’t mind having mis-handled.

  8. LJH permalink
    December 8, 2011

    Hi Mike,
    Poor Patty. The men in her life are jerks in their own selfish ways, from her grandfather to her son.

    Anyway, to your question, I think it’s up to the host. You are a guest, you bring a gift, and that’s what it is – a gift. There should be no strings attached to that gift. Simple as that. Substitute in another gift, say, a candle, a box of chocolates, whatever. Those may or may not be used at that time depending on what is appropriate. And when it should be used is up to the host.

    Unless it is a specific, wine-focused / themed dinner, than what does it matter if it is opened or not? To the jealous wine-knowledgeable onlookers: just have a glass of what’s open and enjoy the company. And try not to judge your obnoxious friend who wants the fancy bottle put away.

    As much as we wine geeks think the dinner party world revolves around us and our tastes, there’s probably a majority of people at the party who just want to drink something decent, and you risk being seen as a jerk (like Patty’s grandfather) if you make a big stink of it, wine opened or not.

  9. December 8, 2011

    Bud, you and David have both raised that issue, and it is fair question. As I said, it is a wine that was of no interest to me, but it was from a very respected producer, cost quite a bit of money, and was something that I thought other people might enjoy. I wasn’t going to ship the bottle back to the producer with a note saying, “Thanks, but I’ve decided I don’t like your wines.” So the alternative was to let the bottle collect dust in my basement, or to put it to some use, and I thought a potluck gathering with a sizable crowd would be a good use of it. As it turned out, the other wines at the dinner were pretty abysmal, and because we were with some friends who were not beer drinkers, I ended up making a quick run to a nearby wine shop and returned with a couple of bottles of the 09 Chave Mon Coeur, which I put on the table for all to enjoy. So I think I made a decent contribution that night.

  10. December 8, 2011

    John, I think you pretty much nailed it–that is a great way of handling these situations. It avoids any awkwardness, and is completely tactful.

    Frank, thanks for stopping by. I love the “faith-based” riff. I agree with you, too, re potluck, which is why I was aggravated when our host claimed the bottle of California Chardonnay for herself. I brought it so that it could be opened that night, alongside all the other bottles that had been contributed.

    Rick, I agree–it is the context that dictates how to handle this issue. You make a key point re wine geek friends. They may be the ones least amenable to serving a gift bottle, but per John Gilman’s comment, they are also apt to be more open to some pre-game coordination–to sharing the menu with you, talking over possible pairings, and allowing you to contribute a dish that might go well with the menu.

    Claude, you raise another thorny issue–what to do with those unwanted gift bottles? What do you do with that bottle of Barefoot Chardonnay? You are not going to drink it. If you are a wine geek, pride prevents you from recycling it as a gift bottle (and some people might regard that is unforgivably rude, too). What do you with those monstrosities?

  11. December 8, 2011

    Lisa and Rohit, thanks for the comments. I agree–it is the host’s call, and there are plenty of ways to finesse the issue.

    Your comments prompt another question: if you are having multiple guests over, is it ever okay to open one or two gift bottles but to leave the others unopened? Or is that just unspeakably rude?

  12. December 8, 2011

    We most often socialize with fellow wine lovers who have good cellars, and we’ve learned a simple rule: ask! If they have a menu with specific food-wine pairings on tap, or are keen to do a cellar-culling party, they’ll tell us and we’ll leave the bottles home. Otherwise, they’re usually delighted to see what we show up with — and how it contrasts with the bottle(s) they choose to open with the same foods.

    When visiting folks we don’t know well, or know to not be as “into” wine, we follow a slightly more pro-active rule: ask whether we can bring a bottle to “go with” what they’re serving. That eliminates all confusion about our intentions or whether our host should open the bottle.

    We almost never bring a bottle of wine as a “house gift” for our hosts to open later, instead preferring some home-made jam or the like.

    Oh, I completely disagree with David. It’s most definitely cool to bring a good bottle of wine to a potluck, even if I wouldn’t choose to drink it myself based on personal style preferences. Just because I don’t like that buttery Chardonnay or over-the-top Shiraz doesn’t mean that it won’t find many eager sycophants among a crowd of 20.

  13. Bill Klapp permalink
    December 8, 2011

    Mike, in the early days, I actually expected the bottles to be opened, given the number of guests and the amount of wine that would be consumed. Silly me! Later, I knew better, but thought that the bottle might at least be opened in my presence SOMETIME. Nah! I have been to at least two friends’ homes where I can still see the bottles sitting upright at room temperature, gathering dust. It almost seems like a form of bragging about the gifts that one receives! (But surely is not.) What I have learned is that I need to negotiate a date and the attendees to get my bottles opened. Luckily, the brother-in-law of my best friend appreciates “store-bought” wine like Monfortino, so his birthday is my calling card! In the meantime, I have a cellar full of old Gajas, Giacosas, Monfortini and others that only American guests will drink. And there is nothing that I hate worse than American guests! Part of the problem is that the Piemontese prefer lighter, lower-alcohol Barberas and Nebbioli to accompany food, typically in the 10 1/2-11% range. When hot weather visits a 15-16% wine upon them, it is often served as an after-dinner wine (despite there being little or no residual sugar) or sometimes just as a curiosity before or otherwise apart from food.

    Jeremy, I got a chuckle out of you and I sharing the “please don’t bring me wine, I have too much already” problem. I would have thought that would be obvious in your case!

  14. Jeremy Seysses permalink
    December 8, 2011

    Mike,

    The general rule in Burgundy seems to be that if you are visiting another winery for a tasting, you bring a bottle of wine. If you are invited for dinner, you bring a bottle of wine (usually something young, not for drinking that evening unless something was mentioned beforehand) and frequently something for the hostess in the form of chocolates or flowers, if she is not the winemaker. For a number of colleagues I visit, the both spouses are equally into wine and so we make it a special bottle or 2 bottles.

  15. Bud Carlos permalink
    December 8, 2011

    Is there another issue here? Mike received a review bottle. From experience it is not a wine he
    enjoys. What to do? He takes it to a potluck party. Unloads it, as it were. Is it a bit of an insult to others that Mike re-gifts to the hostess and/or party-goers a bottle he considers inferior, and
    one which cost him nothing? Should Mike have taken to the party a wine he personally enjoys and said to the hostess, I really like this wine, and I hope you and your guests will as well? I don’t pose this question to be confrontational. I’ve probably done the same thing myself. I just wonder whether it cuts both ways.

  16. December 8, 2011

    David (100aocs), great story; many thanks for that.

    Bill, your aside strikes a chord for me: while I’m grateful for any gift, of course, I would prefer that people not bring wine when they come to my house for dinner. Very interesting re hospitality in the Piemonte. On those occasions when you’ve brought great old Baroli, were you expecting/hoping that your hosts would open the bottles, or did you bring the wines assuming that they would not be served?

    Michael, I’m with you–whether I’m hosting a dinner or a guest at one, I’d rather not see Turning Leaf on the table.

    Jeremy, that’s a sensational story. If they were able to get beyond a first date like that, I’m not the least surprised they ended up married. I suppose that for people like us, who are professionally involved with wine, the gift bottle problem doesn’t arise all that frequently. I’ve noticed, for instance, that very few of our friends ever bring wine, and while I have never asked them why that’s the case, I assume it has something to do with how I earn my living. Just out of curiosity: how does it work when you socialize with other winemakers in Burgundy? Do you bring gift bottles, do they?

  17. December 7, 2011

    Just as a footnote, I want to say how much I’ve enjoyed the intelligent and sincere responses of the people who have jumped in to comment on this issue. That says a lot of the audience for Mike Steinberger, who deserves support not only for launching this series but for replying to virtually every posting. The commentary here is refreshing and encouraging.

  18. December 7, 2011

    Unless it’s understood before the dinner that the wine I bring will be consumed at the dinner (which occurs mainly with wine friends), I always choose to bring a bottle that I do not expect to see opened in my presence (but that I will be happy to drink if it is opened at dinner). Fortunately, because there is so much good wine around these days at all price levels, it is not a burdensome rule to follow.

    Guests don’t often bring wine to dinner at our house unless it’s understood before that we’re all sharing (again, mainly with wine friends) because they know that there’s plenty of wine here, but when they do show up with wine, we generally find ways to gracefully (I hope) handle it. The bigger problem is what to do later with some of the monstrosities that occasionally show up and are not served at dinner.

  19. rick permalink
    December 7, 2011

    Whether it’s the host’s call or not depends on context. If someone invites you for dinner and you say something like “Hey, I’d be happy to bring a matching wine” i.e. context makes it clear that it’s your contribution to the meal, then it’s rude not to open it. If, on the other hand, it’s a dinner party in the old fashioned meaning, i.e. they are making all of the course and guests aren’t to bring any part of the meal the bottle is not only a gift to be opened at the host’s discretion, expecting them to open it is rude. IF they’re wine geeks as well as foodies, they might have planned wines to match with the dinner. They might even have decanted some. Expecting them to open your wine just because is out of bounds then.

  20. David permalink
    December 7, 2011

    Doesn’t it depend upon why the wine was brought? It can be brought as a gift or it can be brought as part of the meal (for example, part of the potluck). Most of the comments have addressed the gift scenario. And I think there is a general consensus that if a gift, it is up to the host (and I agree FWIW).

    I think the tricky question is when the wine is brought with the intention that it will be part of the dinner and the wine is not a good wine. As an example, or context, you are invited to a dinner and you ask the host what you can bring to help out. Perhaps you offer wine as an option (afterall, you have a nice cellar and your friends know you are into wine). The host suggests that you bring wine. You do. At that point, I think the host needs to open it. Which will happen since you brought a good bottle. Of course, some people are not as knowledgeable about wine. So that person is told to bring wine and he/she brings Barefoot. Again, I still think the host has to open it. (Of course, open is not the same as pour. If I was the host and someone brought Barefoot, I might open it and leave next to another bottle of wine that was open too and just let people choose).

    And then there is variation in Mike’s post. He is the guest and brings a bottle of wine, albeit one that a lot wine enthusiasts would not like. And he is called on it (in private with a wink and smile by the host). Here, I think Mike is in the wrong (sorry Mike). You were trying to slough off a wine you would not personally want to drink on others, presumably upon friends. That’s not cool.

  21. Frank permalink
    December 7, 2011

    Mike, you’re being overly sensitive. A gift of wine is just that – a gift.

    Two guest situations: if it’s a potluck dinner party, I’ll offer to bring something and ask what people are serving. I’ll be disappointed if we don’t drink it. Otherwise I just don’t bring wine as a host(ess) gift – a bunch of flowers works quite well (already in a vase, of course).

    When I’m hosting and someone brings wine, unless told otherwise, I have a faith-based solution: “Many are set out, but few are chosen.”

    There’s a faith-based destiny for those that aren’t chosen. On Judgment Day they get drunk (heaven), cooked with (purgatory), or sent down the drain (hell).

  22. December 7, 2011

    Thanks, Greg.

    Michael, that is extreme, but I’m impressed by the commitment to proper temperature!

    Scott, thanks for stopping by, and I’ve experienced that disappointment, too.

    Mike Dunne, those are some great points, and very diplomatic; perfect way of handling it, it seems to me.

    Lee, I do the same thing if it is a casual situation and we’re getting together with friends who are open to wine suggestions, happy to drink whatever we bring, etc.

    Erik, dessert wines are a great suggestion–I did that once, actually, and it went over well. I should do it again.

  23. John Gilman permalink
    December 7, 2011

    In my experience, a little additional communication can go a long way towards avoiding the conundrum of whether or not to open a bottle brought as a gift. If I am hosting, I will generally plan out all the wines to go with the meal I am preparing and tell my guests in advance that the wines are already planned for each course and there is no need to bring any wine. If I have been invited, I will mention that I would be happy to bring a bottle to go with the dinner if the hosts would like me to do so, and we discuss what is being prepared and what wine I might bring that would augment the hosts’ selections and match well with a course. As most red wines I might bring would have significant sediment in any case, this conversation neecds to take place so that I can double decant the wine in any case before setting out for the friends’ home. There is no friendship in showing up with a great bottle of old wine that is totally undrinkable from agitated sediment. Similarly, if contributing a white wine or Champagne taht is to be shared during the meal, the bottle would need to be chilled in advance if planned to go with that particular meal. If the hosts have already covered the needs of the dinner, I would plan to bring a bottle that will most likely be tucked away as a gift for them to enjoy on another occassion and signal this by arriving with a non-chilled white or a red that has not been decanted. If it is an invitation from someone I do not know well enough to have this conversation with in the first place, I plan on bringing a bottle and emphasizing that it is for the host to enjoy on another occassion- citing that the white is not properly chilled or the red needs to rest from its voyage before it can show well in any case. As one is usually confirming acceptance of an invitation or receiving such a confirmation prior to the dinner in any case, there is always an opportunity to have that quick discussion and thereby avoid the socially awkward moment of whether or not the gift bottle should be opened.

  24. Greg permalink
    December 7, 2011

    @mike – I think, as so many have put it much better than I could, it is entirely dependent upon the situation and the party.

    For myself, in the past, I have almost always opened the wine unless it’s inappropriate for the occasion (e.g. clashing with the menu, etc). That said, I don’t feel pressure to open the bottle.

  25. michael permalink
    December 7, 2011

    Scott,

    I agree completely. I almost invariably open my OWN bottle when various wines are just sitting on a communal table. I’m so obnoxious that I have a wine thermometer with me (a little infrared zapper) and if my wine is sitting out next to a heater, I’ll zap it, put it in the fridge, and bring it down to 59 degrees (53 if its white). Most people serve their wines at the wrong temperature and then wonder why they are off.

  26. Scott permalink
    December 7, 2011

    I agree that it is the host/recipient’s decision in almost all cases. That doesn’t stop me, however, from being disappointed when I bring a nice bottle to a friend’s house and lesser wine is opened and served with dinner. And, if going to a more informal cocktail party (or similar scene where there is no seated dinner, but perhaps drinks and hearty appetizers) where people bring wine and/or liquor that is placed on a communal table, I will almost always seek out a corkscrew and open what I brought!

  27. December 7, 2011

    If you are the guest, and you want to bring a splendid bottle of wine as a host/hostess gift, hand it over at the outset with the qualification that it is meant for his or her pleasure alone at a later time. If you know the menu of the dinner party, and have a wine you think would be appropriate, also hand that over, explaining that you thought it might be interesting to have with the meal, as well as any wine the host/hostess was preparing to pour. If you are the host, and a guest brings a bottle of wine without mentioning its intent, then offer to pour it with the meal, provided you think it will play a role, and most wines will at some point during the dinner. This gives the guest the opportunity to say whether the bottle was intended to be a host/hostess present to be savored in solitude at some other time.

  28. Lee Newby permalink
    December 7, 2011

    It depends on the wine and the menu, I often ask what is being severed and bring a wine for the meal, my friends trust my judgment so it is opened. If I brought a big bordeaux blend to dinner that was bouillabaisse I would not expect to see it opened. Also I would not want to see it opened if it overwhelmed the wine to host was serving with dinner, say a big pinot and the pinot served was very restained and elegant. So I’m going to punt, yes and no, it depends.

  29. Erik permalink
    December 7, 2011

    For moderate-to-large gatherings I’ve taken to bringing dessert wines. Typically no one else does so. It denotes a specific point in the evening, and allows for the crowd dynamic to decide whether the bottle should be cracked. Plus, most can be opened but don’t have to be finished that night. Saves a lot of psychological trauma for guest and host.

  30. Lisa permalink
    December 7, 2011

    Definitely host’s call. A bottle of wine is a hostess gift, and it is up to the host whether they open it or not. If everybody brings a bottle AND the host has bottles open/decanted/chosen for the dinner then there may be an excess of wine (is that even possible?).
    I host often, but dinners at my place are a casual affair. We are fairly young and of our friends, have the only apartment suitable for hosting 10 people or more. Our friends can’t reciprocate the invitations but like to help out financially with the meals so that we can all get together without stressing my husband and I financially. They usually offer to bring wine, and I usually accept. I am the wine nut and always have the bottle I really want to try on hand and open so I can taste it at the beginning of the night. After that it’s anything goes.

  31. December 7, 2011

    Ultimately, I think it’s the host’s decision. So for non-wine people, casual drinkers, or those I don’t know well, I try to bring something relatively inexpensive but still interesting enough for me to drink if opened (this relates to the first Wine Ethicist post). If the host doesn’t open it, I can feel good that I’ve brought over a solid wine that they might enjoy some other time, but one that I’m not attached to in any way.

    If I’m going to dinner at more of a “wine geek” friend’s place, we often discuss the (generally more serious) bottles we’re planning to open ahead of time, so it’s a non-issue in that case.

  32. December 7, 2011

    Greg and Keith, I agree–it is the host’s decision. And my question (or one of my questions) was: if you invite someone to dinner and they bring a really good bottle of wine, should you, the host, feel obliged to open it?

  33. Greg permalink
    December 7, 2011

    Exactly@Keith! The whole plot’s been given away when the wine is presented as a _gift_. If I give someone a gift card, do I expect them to spend a portion of it on me? Gifts are given with no strings attached.

  34. Keith permalink
    December 7, 2011

    This one is easy, it is the host decision. The guest is presenting it as a gift, there should be no strings attached.

  35. Jeremy Seysses permalink
    December 7, 2011

    When I bring wine to someone’s house, I always tell them that I do not expect them to open it and that they should do whatever they want with my gift. I do tend to bring something that could provide pleasure should it be opened.

    When I am hosting, I do tell most of my friends not to bring wine as I have lots available, certainly not to bring wine that they expect to have opened as I will already have selected wines for the meal.

    On another note, a friend of mine handled a situation rather extraordinarily. This friend was part of my tasting group in college and has genuinely good taste and normally displays very good manners. He had invited a work colleague over for a dinner he was cooking, as an announced tête à tête, with romantic ambitions. She showed up, knowing that my friend took wine seriously, with a bottle of her local supermarket’s top label (something like Tesco’s Reserve Shiraz – this was in England), expecting to see it opened. As my friend had already opened and decanted a bottle of Roumier Amoureuses or the like, he took the wine she was offering and with total sincerity and gratitude said: “Thank you! I didn’t have quite enough cooking wine for our main course!”

    They are now married and she still laughs at it, having decided that it would indeed be better to drink the Amoureuses and cook with the Tesco’s Reserve. He is a firm believer of the adage “begin as you intend to continue” and clearly it has served him well.

  36. michael permalink
    December 7, 2011

    I face this issue a lot. I bring a great bottle of pinot to a friend’s house and they open it after drinking three bottles of Turning Leaf and can’t appreciate it, or they put it away and continue to serve the Turning Leaf. I feel a great bottle should be opened among the FIRST open (unless it needs decanting or has to go with a certain course) so that people can enjoy.

    On the flip side, I can’t stand it when someone brings over a $3 Turning Leaf type wine and expects me to serve it with a fine meal when I’ve got wines to go with each course and have planned accordingly. Decorum should suggest that it is the host’s choice and a wine ethicist would certainly understand not serving that Turning Leaf and, instead recylcing the wine for a different occasion or, at the worst, serving it as the last bottle of the evening when the taste buds are shot.

  37. Bill Klapp permalink
    December 7, 2011

    If it is truly a gift, and not merely a bottle brought because all of the guests were pitching in and bringing wine, I think that it can be opened or not, at the recipient’s discretion. I understand that it can hurt feelings if what the guest gave you is Yellow Tail red and you are serving 1961 Latour with dinner. However, in that case, one would hope that the guest’s appreciation of the Latour would make him or her forget the unopened gift. (As an aside, I condition friends who do not have cellars, or at least do not have GOOD cellars, never to give me wine as a gift or bring it to dinner with me, telling them that I already have more wine than I can drink in my lifetime and they need to help me drink it up.)

    I also want to explore an arcane little corner of that question, which is this: I spend half of very year in the Piemonte, and several of my closest friends grow grapes and make wine for their personal consumption. Early on, I did not understand two critical facts: first, that a fine Barolo is generally a special occasion wine there, perhaps opened at the end of a meal with cheese or served by itself, but almost never a “drinking” wine with a meal, and second, when a Piemontese makes his or her own wine, that, plus maybe a store-bought Prosecco for an aperitivo, is ALL that will be served at the host’s table. Indeed, it is hard to get such friends to refrain from bringing all of the wine for meals at MY house! Thus, when I brought bottles of great old Baroli from my cellar as a gesture of my affection, the bottles invariably disappeared into the friends’ cellars, never to be seen again. Forget thy enemy…know thy friend!

  38. 100aocs (David) permalink
    December 7, 2011

    Three months ago I went to a small dinner party at a friend’s house. The other couple brought a bottle of wine (2004 Verget,Macon-Charnay) and performatively handed it to our host stating “don’t open this tonight”. The bottle sat there on the kitchen counter the object of our collective envy. Even our hosts wanted to open it. We drank all the other, decent, but younger wines people brought ,while this obviously better bottle just sat there. Three weeks later the hosts came to our house for dinner, and brought the Verget. They said, we wanted you to drink this with us. We opened it (cheered the person who originally brought it) and the wine was genius. I think they handled that situation very well.

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