Being a good guest means never showing up empty-handed. Here are a few wine guidelines and shopping tips to remember if you're planning to gift your host with a nice bottle of red or white.
1. Do a little sleuthing
Make like a detective and find out what your intended recipients like, either by subtly quizzing mutual friends or just asking directly. Do their tastes lean more toward sweet, dry or semi-dry wines? You may discover your host is partial to buttery California chardonnay, prefers sweet fruit-based sippers or has a penchant for Spanish Rioja. If money is no object, serious oenophiles might appreciate a special vintage from the year they were born, or a varietal from a wine-producing region that calls to mind a beloved memory or favorite vacation.
2. What's for dinner?
If you'll be attending a dinner party, knowing what's on the menu can help you tailor your wine selection accordingly. Of course, Italian wine with Italian food is a no-brainer. The good news is that acceptable tastes and pairings vary more widely than ever before, even though the old "white wine with white meat, red wine with red meat" adage still holds true for good reason. A bubbly Champagne or prosecco to pop open for a pre-dinner toast immediately ups the special-occasion factor of any gathering, and a bottle of port or Vin Santo makes a thoughtful accompaniment for dessert.
3. 'Tis the season
Consider the time of year when shopping for wine to give as a gift. Light, summery salads and al fresco fare in warm-weather months pair well with refreshingly chilled whites and rosés. On chilly winter nights, bolder, more assertive reds complement hearty roasts, pastas and stews.
4. Ask for assistance
Feeling intimidated about shopping alone? You can try enlisting the advice of a wine-savvy friend, bribing him or her with a glass afterward. Or go to a store specializing in wine, such as Total Wine, and ask for help with your selection. They will capably steer you toward an appropriate bottle within your budget, or suggest something you hadn't considered. If you've always wanted to know more about wine, Total Wine offers special events and classes where you will learn firsthand from winemakers and industry experts.
5. Buy what you can afford
Dressing to impress is certainly fine for holiday dinners and special events, but you don't have to go broke buying a bottle of wine. Taste is subjective, and a higher price tag doesn't always necessarily translate to better quality. If you want to drop a bunch of cash on a high-end wine, go right ahead. But there are plenty of tasty choices to be had in the $10 to $30 range.
6. Dress it up
Presentation is key. Gussy up your bottle with a pretty box, bag or bow and add an artsy corkscrew or other whimsical accessory to elevate an ordinary wine gift into something truly memorable. If you really want to treat your hosts, package your bottle in an attractive basket with a little artisan cheese, a box of fancy crackers and some gourmet chocolate.
7. A gift is a gift
Present your gift to the host, then forget about it and have a good time. Don't be offended if he or she doesn't open your wine right away. At a party where many people are likely to bring bottles in addition to the host's already purchased selections, it doesn't make sense to open every single choice at once. Instead, urge your host to save your special gift to enjoy another time, and then bring along a different bottle for sharing with the crowd.