Whose wine is it anyway?

Awkward: It may be more than handbags at dawn if the bloke drinking with Pinetree tried to nick his drink.
Awkward: It may be more than handbags at dawn if the bloke drinking with Pinetree tried to nick his drink.

We've all been in this situation: You take some wine to a friend's for dinner and, after suitable thanks, the bottle has disappeared into the kitchen never to be seen again - with the host's wine doing the honours for the night.

We asked former Waikato Times wine columnist Peter Shaw for his opinion on this and he nailed it succinctly and sensibly. By and large, the scenario described above is how it should be, Shaw advises. It's the host's call and if someone takes wine to a dinner, it should be treated as a gift for the cellar.

He elaborates: "The hosts will have planned what wine to serve [matched to the menu] and shouldn't need to change their minds."

He adds that there will be occasions when the wine brought is of such note that there is a case for opening it during the evening. Shaw says that maybe in these circumstances the guest who's brought the exceptional wine could perhaps say he'd really like to share it, if it fits the menu.

This advice may get around the delicate situation also canvassed by the Times' Modern Manners team whereby a guest takes a damn fine wine to a dinner party and spends the night drinking the host's mediocre beverages.

We noted a few other things about guest and host behaviour for a dinner at home:

For guests

You don't always need to take a bottle of wine, but it is nice to take a little something as a token of appreciation. Flowers, chocolates or a jar of homemade chutney are a good alternative.

Don't arrive early: 7pm means 7pm, not 6.45. Most of us go down to the wire when we're hosting a dinner and those last few minutes are vital for final preparation and panic.

Don't be too late, either. It messes up the cook's timetable.

Don't just gulp the meal without comment. Someone's gone to a lot of trouble over it and a few words of praise are important for the cook.

If you've got dietary requirements, tell the host in advance. Don't drop the bombshell as you're being served a plate of something you can't eat.

Offer to help with the clean up, but respect the hosts' wishes if they prefer to do it themselves. Some people like everyone to muck in and help; others feel it spoils the flow of the evening and leave it till later. A combined effort is more likely at a casual pot-luck dinner.

Don't outstay your welcome. Read the signals, drink your final glass of wine, or tea or coffee, and leave with everyone else.

For hosts

Be clear about the time you want people to arrive.

Serve food with pre-dinner drinks. You don't want everyone sloshed before the night's barely started. If you're the cook, keep an eye on your own pre-dinner drinks: you're the one who has to get the food on the table.

While we're on drinks, don't let anyone drive home drunk.

If it's winter, make sure the house is warm.

Having a mix of faces around your table is good, but avoid inviting people on the same night whom you know will clash on almost everything. Arguments can cause indigestion.

The purpose of the dinner is to enjoy spending time with friends. Keep the food simple - don't knock yourself out.