Dear Salty: I was invited to a dinner party the other week. I brought two bottles of wine to my friend’s house, a sparkling rosé and a Viognier. The dinner was fun, but at the end of the night, we still hadn’t pulled the Viognier out of the fridge. The host sheepishly said: “Do you want to take this home with you?” I don’t think she was completely committed to that offer, maybe she was saying this to be courteous.
In that moment, the words “uh, sure” slipped out of my mouth. But it’s nagged at me ever since. Was that tacky of me to take back the bottle I brought over, even if the host insisted? Should I have been more insistent she kept it as a host gift?
You’re our modern-day Miss Manners, Salty: What’s the proper etiquette when it comes to dinner party wine?
I Decant Even
First things first: A party with leftover wine sounds like a party wasted. I’m just sayin’. But no point in crying over undrunk wine: Our concern here is the bottle that traveled all the way to the dinner party just to make the return journey unopened.
Should you have felt guilty? Hell yeah. I hate to put things in these transactional terms (hey, I am a waitress, it’s how I see the world): It’s like going to a wedding. You bring a present, you get a sit-down dinner and access to the open bar. On a smaller scale, you got fed at this dinner party, right? The host opened up her home, probably tidied beforehand, maybe lit a few candles. A bottle of wine or two seems like a small price to pay for such a delightful evening with pals.
So it goes without saying: When something is unused at a dinner party, it usually becomes the property of the dinner-party thrower. It was a gift, after all, and it doesn’t matter how friendly you are with the host. Did you ever watch “The Rye” episode of Seinfeld (a show that forms the basis for many of my theories on etiquette and morality). George and his parents have dinner at the home of his girlfriend’s parents. The elder Costanzas bring a marble rye, and when his hosts never put it out for dinner, Frank Costanza takes it home. George spends the rest of the episode trying to get the rye back into his girlfriend’s parents’ house, using a fishing pole at one point. So even George Costanza would say the wine should have stayed with the host.
As far as I’m concerned, IDE, where you erred was you weren’t insistent enough, and I don’t care if the host insisted (though from the tone of your letter even you’re not so sure). Look at this situation as another opportunity to show your gratitude—you could’ve said: “No, please, I’m really happy you invited me over, please enjoy this for your next special night. Viognier goes great with seafood.”
Still, I have an even better option if this situation ever repeats itself, and it’s a tactic to keep that dinner party energy flowing. Here’s my suggested script: “Claire, if you really insist I take this home with me, how about I’ll keep it unopened until you and Tom come over. I’ll make my world famous bacon-wrapped scallops. Are you free next week?” That way, you have a future social promise that you and your friend will get together soon, wherein you both can enjoy great wine. Take it from someone who has a knack for picking out pricey bottles that somehow still taste like Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill: Friends who can pick out good wines—and share it with friends—are definitely people to hang onto.
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