A week or so ago, a friend came round for lunch. Alan brought with him a nice bottle of wine, but he handed it over with a look of slight concern.
“I always worry about bringing wine round to you,” he said apologetically. “Because you write about it, and so on.
“But I thought this one should be okay, because it’s got string on it.”
Now, this does not bode well. Even ignoring for a moment the ‘string’ aspect, to which we shall return, this is not good. If my guests feel daunted by bringing round wine, one of my key sources of cellar replenishment may dry up. Guests might start bringing me something I’m not interested in, like golf balls or piano wire.
Wine is a gift horse I never look in the mouth, even if I intend putting it into mine. The last thing I want is for my friends to be worried about it. But is there an issue with giving a bottle of wine to someone who’s interested in it?
I can imagine the problem. Let’s suppose for a moment you were visiting someone who was a chocolate aficionado, someone who writes about chocolate, hoards chocolate, is a member of the Chocolate Society, etc. You yourself, however, know nothing about chocolate; you think that Green & Black looks expensive, and the last chocolate you actually ate was a foil-wrapped bunny.
Are you going to take this aficionado a box of Milk Tray from the supermarket? Or that chocolate someone gave you as a present, which you never got round to opening? What about a box which is Belgian, because you think you’ve heard that Belgian chocolate is posh? Or whatever chocolate happens to be in the petrol station nearest to their house?
There are pitfalls there which you might recognise. Pitfalls into which a giver of wine to an equivalent wine aficionado might stumble. So over and above the usual protocols for giving wine to a host, here is a guide to taking a bottle round to a host who is actually interested in wine.
Take a bottle someone else has mentioned. There’s nothing an enthusiast likes more than to test out someone else’s recommendation, so you’re on to a winner if you can say to your host, “Jancis mentioned this last month…”. Or you can go to the opposite extreme, and say “Olly said this was gluggable…”, and then enjoy a good laugh together over the toilet bowl. You can even get away with taking a wine on special offer, if you can say its been mentioned by someone as a Best Buy. Note however that in this context, “mentioned by” does not include the Tannoy announcer in the supermarket.
Take a bottle with a story. Someone gave me a fascinating bottle recently (thanks, Tom), by the simple expedient of talking to someone in a Good Wine Shop (thanks, Good Wine Shop). He explained that he wanted a bottle for someone who was interested in wine. And lo and behold, they sold him an interesting bottle. A wine bearing the name of one of their customers, who turned out to be a concert pianist who also makes wines… I’m already interested.
Take a wine you’ve drunk before. If you have enjoyed a wine yourself, you’ll have your own personal story to tell about it. One of the many advantages of maintaining a modest cellar is that you can gift individual bottles from a case you already know. The only downside is that your modest cellar will be one bottle more modest than before.
(A fact which, in my experience, your spouse may find it surprisingly hard to grasp when you plead the need to replenish it.)
Take a bottle which costs a lot of money. It sounds crass, but we might as well admit that most expensive wine is better than most cheap wine. And a wine enthusiast will know that it’s expensive, and be really grateful for an opportunity to drink something they might not usually be able to afford. I’m not saying that I would think any more highly of a guest who brought me a really expensive bottle of wine; just that if anyone would like to try it…
Or take a bottle with string on it. It’s not as stupid as it sounds. That ‘string’ (or, as we aficionados like to call it, gilt wire) distinguishes bottles of better Rioja (Reserva or Gran Reserva) from the bog standard. It was originally put on to cover the cork and label to stop people counterfeiting its contents. So it is an indication of a higher grade of wine.
Do not feel remotely aggrieved if you follow these guidelines, only for your enthusiast host to spirit your bottle away unopened. Any enthusiast will have planned a wine to go with their meal. Only get concerned if they bring your bottle with them unopened the next time they come back round to yours.
Oh, and there’s one other suggestion. If you’re the guest of a chocolate aficionado?