You’ve been invited to a dinner party and you said you’d bring a bottle of wine. But how do you decide which wine to bring? White or red? Sparkling, table or dessert wine? Something young, or an older vintage? If you don’t know what food they’ll be serving at the dinner party or who the other guests are, the safest choice is usually a $15 to $25 bottle of white wine that you can drink with a meal or that can be opened beforehand and served in the kitchen while your hosts are cooking.
Look for a dry white wine that is light to medium in body and has good acidity, like a Sauvignon Blanc. You could also bring a northern Italian wine, like a Gavi di Gavi, Soave from Verona or Pinot Bianco. These are white wines most guests at a typical dinner party will enjoy. They have crisp citrus and fruit flavors and little to no oak aging, so they go well with different food. They’re also wines that can be enjoyed before the main meal.
If you go with red, you want a wine that is medium in body and has good fruit flavors, but isn’t too tannic. This means it’s easy to drink. Pick up a Chianti Classico from Italy for $15 to $20 or look for a bottle of Cru Beaujolais or Beaujolais from France for $15 to $30. Pinot Noir is a great choice as well and it’s likely to be popular with most dinner party guests. You can find a Pinot Noir from California or Oregon at your local wine shop. Alternatively, if you want something a bit more unusual, try a wine from New Zealand or Germany. Both of these countries are now making delicious Pinot Noirs that the other guests may not have tried before.
In general, you might want to avoid Chardonnay because a lot of people don’t like wines with prominent oak flavors. When it comes to reds, try to stay away from a heavy and highly alcoholic Cabernet which may be too much for the other party guests, as well as the food being served at the dinner. That is, unless you know these wines are something your host will like. If this is the case, see below for our advice on the best Cabernets and Chardonnays to bring.
Think about the season
Red wine is typically the best choice for dinner parties held in late fall or winter. Instead of Beaujolais, you might choose a Côtes du Rhône, which is a more full-bodied wine made from predominantly Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre grapes. This wine will go well with hearty food and you can drink it young or take an older bottle.
If it’s summer, when a lot of dinner parties move outdoors, consider a French Rosé that can be chilled and served with almost any meal. Rosé is a good bridge wine between white and red, especially when it’s too hot for a red and you want something with a little more flavor and body than a white. Rosés can range from the pale, dry and crisp wines that come from Provence, France, to the light-red and fuller-bodied Cerasuolo Rosé from Abruzzi, Italy. Rosé can also accompany a range of light dishes and is a bottle you can have open in the kitchen to pour as the other dinner party guests arrive.
For dinner parties celebrating special occasions, Champagne from the Champagne region of France, or a sparkling wine from Italy or Spain is always a good idea. Just about everyone enjoys sparkling wines like Prosecco and Cava. And while many think of bubbles as a drink for toasting, these are also wines that can be served with dinner. That’s because sparkling wine pairs well with almost every type of food, from sushi and raw oysters, to spicy Asian dishes and pork.
When you’re picking out a sparkling wine, you’ll note bottles are labeled Brut, Extra Dry or Demi-Sec. Brut is the driest, and if you bring a Demi-Sec, remember to open it with dessert as it’s a sweeter wine. If you want to bring a higher-end bottle of Champagne, expect to pay $65+. However, you can also get a beautiful sparkling wine from closer to home for $25-40. California, Oregon and Upper State New York make sparkling wines; try Domaine Chandon, Roederer or Argyle from Oregon. Do some of these names look familiar? That’s because French Champagne houses bought land in California in the 1980s and have been producing top quality sparkling wines in America ever since. England, a country that’s best known for its ales not its wine, is also making exceptional sparkling wine these days. You might take a bottle of Chapel Hill or Nyetimber and surprise the other dinner guests when you tell them where it’s from.
WINE TIP: You can even have sparkling wine if dinner is a roast, just make sure to bring a Rosé that’s fuller-bodied. Sparkling Rosé wines are typically made by including a small percentage of red wine at the end of a blend, before the wine is put into bottles.
More tips on picking out wines for a dinner party
- Sauvignon Blanc. You can find Sauvignon Blancs from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Chile. Sancerre is a Sauvignon Blanc from France that is a bit more expensive, but a special wine to bring to a dinner party. People tend to love Sancerre as it’s medium-bodied, with fruit flavors and a brightness that appeals to most palettes. America is also making notable Sauvignon Blanc, just keep in mind some California Sauvignon Blancs might be made in an oak-aged style.
- Gavi di Gavi. You’ll see bottles labeled both Gavi and Gavi di Gavi. These are all white wines that come from the Gavi region of Piedmont in northern Italy. There’s not much difference between them, though Gavi di Gavi is made from grapes grown in a slightly more prestigious area.These wines are dry and crisp with lemon and citrus flavors and almond aromatics. Learn more about Gavi wines in this article.
- Riesling. Look for a dry Riesling which will be appealing to most palettes, as opposed to a sweet wine. Germany makes dry Rieslings which will be labeled Trocken. You can also try a wine from the Claire or Eden Valley of Australia.
- Beaujolais. Beaujolais are wines made from the Gamay grape. They are considered very “drinkable” which makes them ideal wines for a party. You can open them young and you’ll find they have delicious bright fruit flavors of raspberry and cherry, good acidity and go well with different kinds of food.
- Chianti Classico. Made from the Sangiovese grape, Chianti is a wine best served with a meal, so it’s perfect for dinner parties! It’s typically medium-bodied and has a lovely garnet color with notes of red fruit and earthy tones. This is also a wine that won’t break your budget and should be fairly familiar to the other party guests. You can learn more about the different classifications of Chianti in this article.
- Pinot Noir. This wine is a safe bet for a dinner party as it’s become quite popular in the last decade or so. You should aim to spend a minimum of $18 to $30 for a quality bottle of Pinot Noir, though, you will pay more for a wine from Burgundy, France.
Get the guests talking
The most important thing to keep in mind when you’re picking out a wine that other people are going to be drinking is will they like it. Beyond that, you might want to think about selecting a wine that can be a fun talking point for the dinner party. This might be something made from a grape varietal the other guests may not be familiar with or a wine they’re likely to know but that comes from a different country than they’re used to.
An unoaked white wine that is lesser known, like Arneis from Italy, would make a nice choice. Not many party guests will have tried a Carricante from Mount Etna in Sicily. Riesling and Pinot Gris from the Alsace region of France are interesting whites that are dry, more fuller-flavored and fuller-bodied. They’re also dynamic and go with almost any meal, especially Asian food. For reds, Nero d’Avola from Puglia or Sicily, and Barbera or Dolcetto from Piedmont would be interesting bottles to bring. You could also try a Pinotage from South Africa, which is a grape unique to this part of the world.
How about Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay?
If you know your hosts or the other guests like these wines, there’s no reason to avoid bringing them, though you may want to consider how much you’re looking to spend. A Stark-Condé Cabernet from Stellenbosch (which is the Napa Valley of South Africa) is a wine that is about the same quality level, but on average far less expensive than a California Cab. It would retail for around $30, whereas you can expect to pay $45 to $60 for a Cabernet from Napa. Another option is a Merlot-Cabernet blend from Bordeaux which is a wine not everyone has tried before. You can keep it to a budget of $15 to $20 or go higher. These are staple bottles of red that go with most food and are something a bit different.
If you know your hosts like Chardonnay, a Hamilton-Russel really over delivers and is another beautiful wine from South Africa. You’re also spoiled for choice when it comes to California Chardonnays which can range from $20 to $100+. If you want something more expensive, look for a bottle of Far Niente or Shafer from Napa. From Sonoma, David Ramey and MacRostie make beautiful Chardonnays, and a Bruce Neyers is a more affordable option from Carneros.
Best wine food pairings for parties
We’ve given you some options for when you don’t know what food is being served, but how about when you do? Many hosts will tell you what they’re planning to serve for dinner, and if they don’t, you can always ask! That way you can bring a wine to serve with one of the courses.
Soups and salads
Dry whites, rosé and sparkling wines go best with light food. If the diner includes a salad with a particularly strong flavored cheese, for example a blue cheese and walnut pear salad, you could take a bottle of Sancerre or a Verdicchio from Italy. The Verdicchio will have flavors of lemon with good minerality and salty notes.
Chicken and white meats
If you know the dinner includes roasted chicken or pork, try a fuller-bodied white wine or consider a red Rioja from Spain. If the dinner includes game, the food will be more earthy so bring a Syrah or Shiraz or a southern Rhône wine, like a Gigondas or Vinsobre. These wines have more spice to them that can stand up to the stronger flavors in the food.
Beef and lamb
The best wines to go with food like red meat are fuller-bodied red wines that complement the meal and bring more balance to your palette, for example a Brunello di Montalcino or a Chianti Classico Riserva. Both wines are a bit more complex and have earthy flavors that work with the richness of the food. From France, try a Châteauneuf-du-Pape which is a spicier wine that has notes of pepper, cherry and raspberry. An Haut-Médoc from Bordeaux is usually a blend of Cabernet and Merlot and will have red currant flavors and notes of black raspberry and plum. Note, these are often wines that may be at the higher end of your budget.
Fish and shellfish
For a dinner that includes shellfish, especially oysters, you want dry crisp white wines that are clean and don’t have oak aging. For grilled or sautéed fish, you could pair a dry white from Italy but for oilier fish like tuna or salmon, choose a red wine like a Pinot Noir or a Crus Beaujolais. When you first arrive at the party, you may want to stop in the kitchen to ask your host if they have an ice bucket. That’s because these wines are best when served lightly chilled – learn more about serving wines chilled in this article.
Pasta and vegetarian meals
Pasta and vegetarian dishes are sometimes less straightforward in terms of wine food pairings because you need to consider the sauce and the flavor profile of the meal. You might pair spicy food with an Albariño or a Riesling. These are white wines that can counter the heat. For a red, try a Pinotage from South Africa. If they’ll be pizza or flatbread before the dinner, or a red sauce dish for the main meal, a Chianti or a Nero d’Avola from Italy will work well.
Wines that go with dessert
If you know dessert is going to be served, you could take a sweet dessert wine like a German Auslese. However, you really need to know who is coming to the dinner as not everyone likes sweet wines. Dessert wines are white wines where the grapes have been left on the vine longer. This leads them to dehydrate so you are left with a higher concentration of fruit and sugar. They can also be made using a particular grape mold called Botrytis, known as “Noble Rot.” You get very little wine from this process which is why dessert wines tend to be expensive and are usually sold in half bottles. White dessert wines will go well with a variety of desserts. For example, a Tokay from Hungary is a dessert wine that pairs especially well with cake. If you know there will be a rich chocolate dessert served, a Port can be a good choice. A 10, 15, or 20 year late-bottled Vintage Port will be on the light side. A Vintage Port or vintage-style Port will be a richer, darker wine that’s more full-bodied.
6 Things to consider when choosing a wine
- Who are the other guests? You want to think about who is coming to help you decide if you choose a wine that’s easier to drink or you take a risk on a more unusual bottle.
- What’s on the menu? There are wines that go with everything but you can also look for a wine that pairs best with a certain course in the meal. Don’t be afraid to ask what’s being served if you’d prefer to take wine that complements a particular food.
- Do your hosts want something to open in the kitchen before dinner? Some hosts already have a wine picked out for the main dishes and would rather you bring bottles that can be opened at the start or end of the party.
- How many people will be at the dinner? If you’re bringing just one bottle, consider how many glasses it will be split between.
- What’s your budget? Do you want a higher-end wine or is it best to bring two bottles that are average-good quality wines?
- What kind of wine do the party hosts like? While it’s important to choose something that pleases the other guests and goes with the food, you also want to make sure the people hosting the dinner are happy with your choice! If you know they have a particular favorite, you can even take the wine as a gift for your friends vs. something that’s served with dinner.
Bringing a gift for the party host
Instead of or in addition to bringing a bottle of wine to go with the dinner, you can bring wine as a gift as well. It’s a nice and often unexpected way to thank your hosts for putting together an enjoyable evening. We’d recommend going with an older Barolo or Barbaresco from Italy – learn more about these wines in this article – or a Châteauneuf-du-Pape from France. These are wines that your host can put away in their cellar for a couple of years and then open later for a special occasion. Champagne makes a great gift too!