It’s not an uncommon quandary all year round, but with an uptick of invitations and dinners out this time of year, the question seems to be even more prevalent: What wine? Fortunately for me, I have the wine world’s equivalent to a doctor in the family in my brother-in-law, Scott Preston. A certified sommelier, he’s who we always count on to know what pairs perfectly with everything from our birthday barbecues to Christmas dinner, and he’s just as good with advice on what to give or take to accompany an elegant meal when dining out.
A Thoughtful Guest
When choosing a hostess gift, “The safest bet, especially around the holidays, is Champagne,” says Preston. “It’s actually incredibly versatile.” Champagne complements common appetizers like cheeses and charcuterie, and is a near guaranteed crowd-pleaser. In lieu of defaulting to an expected, recognized brand, Preston recommends seeking “grower Champagnes.” These are produced by the growers of grapes who supply well-known labels, but without the excessive markups that the recognized names demand. “They tend to be great values and, I think, better wine than some of the name brands you see,” he says. A reputable wine store will likely have a few to choose from, and Preston recommends Blanc de Blancs for crispness and maximum versatility. As for the best value in all Champagne? Delamotte, says Preston. Though not a grower Champagne, it’s a proverbial little sibling to renowned label Salon, whose bottles can easily demand $900 or more, but a bottle of Delamotte can be found well below $100.
A Worthy Gift
Gifting a bottle to add to someone’s cellar can be daunting. Instead of simply wrapping up one of your own favorites, says Preston, “I find it’s fun to bring something that’s a little bit more unique. People who really like wine generally like to experiment with different wines they haven’t had.” For a white, he suggests an Austrian Grüner Veltliner (“Full bodied, but not overpowering like a ‘chard,’” he says) from classic producers like F.X. Pichler, Nikolaihof, or Schloss Gobelsburg. For red, try a Barolo or Barbaresco (“Big bodied and full of flavor, but more nuanced and restrained”). Look for producers including Produttori and Catina del Pino, which can be had for under $50.
About That Corkage
When dining out, according to Preston, bringing a bottle to open with dinner at a restaurant is OK, with a few distinct rules. One: Don’t bring a bottle that is on the wine list, regardless of vintage. (It’s a blatant insult.) Two: Restaurants’ primary profits come from beverage sales, and corkage is a nominal cost in comparison. Order a round from the cocktail menu or buy an additional bottle from the restaurant’s list. To really ingratiate yourself with the sommelier, Preston makes one more suggestion when bringing in his own wines. “I personally will offer the sommelier a glass to taste, too,” he says. “Ninety percent of the time they’ll turn it down, but it’s a courtesy to them.” Deanna Murphy