Bring a bottle begs WineChap, a decent bl**dy bottle
After a miserable month of supposed abstinence and detoxing, people are skulking back in to London’s restaurants, or drinks cabinets, replenished after the festive drinks party and inviting friends round to sample dishes plucked from one of their Christmas present cookbooks.
However, failing to observe the basic rules around bringing wine to a dinner party, is a guaranteed way to undo all of January’s good works.
A food writer and supper club host pal told me he finds it irksome when hosting a dinner and a guest, knowing his passion for good grub is likely to result in a repast more impressive than the 1st year student tuna penne special, tips up with a really sh*t bottle of wine.
It’s not necessarily the price that’s at the stake but the sheer lack of effort. Whilst your host has been stuffing baby squid, slow braising 24-hour marinated venison, and doing something tricky with puff pastry, two colours of chocolate and spun sugar, you, running late from a few after work refreshers, have ducked in to the off-licence nearest the tube and grabbed a bottle of Blossom Hill, you ingrate.
Similarly, I’ve hosted dinners and had guests say beforehand – “I didn’t bring you wine as assumed it would be like coals to Newcastle”, the response to which is, and I speak for everyone in the wine trade, I’m in the wine business because I really like wine. You think I’m doing it for the money, you fool?! GIVE ME WINE!
Also, unless you actually are a student or live like one (see penne special above if in doubt) it is usual these days that your host will have chosen wine to go with the meal so the bottle you are bringing is actually a gift. It’s even more lame therefore to turn up with something from the bottom shelf of a corner shop.
However the common excuse, “I’d be too intimidated to bring you wine, you being an expert and everything” deserves a more helpful reply to all of you who have found yourself in this situation or will do when your social circle includes more self-proclaimed wine buffs.
The fact is: there are now a growing number of good to great independent wine shops all over town. Even in Hackney and Tufnell Park, where ten years ago you were at the mercy of a dreary corner shop selection, now you have admirable merchants like Bottle Apostle and Theatre of Wine.
Find one of these near you and pop in on your way home of a quiet evening or at the weekend. It’s 20-minutes of your life talking to an earnest and informed wine geek.
You don’t need to know anything about wine, just say you need a bottle for under £15 to bring to a dinner hosted by a someone who thinks they are a bit of a connoisseur.
This is just nuts to the independent, who will happily recommend an obscure Guatemalan Riesling (the grapes for which have first been passed through a donkey’s intestinal tract) or Hungarian Malbec fermented in Tito’s old swimming pool.
It’s not frighteningly expensive, and even if it turns out to be pretty unpalatable, it shows you have made at least a small effort. It will also be wrapped in crepe paper and come in a shiny bag with a smart crest or jazzy logo rather than a translucent blue carrier with immediately stretchy handles.
Also (in case you needed to be told), just because booze is inexplicably now available in petrol stations, however late you are for dinner, or far out in the sticks, you should not buy wine and fuel from the same place. Or at least if you do, accept the two are probably interchangeable.
Tom Harrow is founder of WineChap, offering wine list reviews, tastings events and a concierge service for all fine wine needs. He is also contributing editor to luxury magazines POMP and B Beyond; is Urban Junkies wine writer and a regular online columnist for FT’s How To Spend It and The Economist’s More Intelligent Life. Follow him @WineChapUK.