June arrived this week, and if you listened carefully you could hear a universal declaration of “well, it’s summer now” rippling around every office in the vicinity. It’s a statement of intent to organise outdoor parties, picnics, and steadfastly barbecuing whether or not the forecast changes from 26 degree sunshine to humid thunderstorms in the space of three days. You may already have an invite, and that means one thing: you need to bring drinks.
Expressing any interest in wine generally means a disproportionately large increase in expectations of what you’ll bring. Rather than sweating profusely before hemorrhaging over £60 on vintage Pol Roger, I’m here to add to the 70.9 million Google results for “choosing a wine for any occasion”, with a few suggestions from the archives.
#1 What’s the Occasion?
A summer barbecue doesn’t need a full throated Barolo. Likewise, a wintery dinner party doesn’t always call for a super light Pinot Grigio to remind everyone of their summer holidays (unless the theme is “What I Did on my Summer Holidays”). But if you’re hosting, then go ahead and mix up a few old faithfuls with that wine you bought from a Hungarian monk. Everyone’s adventurous after the main course.
The right drink depends on the event: If it’s a house party, chances are you’ll arrive and people will either be drunk, or on their way to being. They’ve had a train beer. They’re wondering when’s best to suggest a game of Cards Against Humanity. Someone might be asleep already. Bring a box of beers -plenty- and a bottle of spirits. That nice dinner party? Ask what the menu is, and bring something that’ll bridge the gap after the host’s first couple of bottles have been drained. And the barbecue? Beers are obvious, but a rosé such as this Montgravet (£5.99, Waitrose) will be delicious in the garden while waiting for an enthusiastic chef to burn the sausages.
And the golden rule: don’t be that guy who just brings something for themselves. If you’ve got a job, you can bring two bottles (see #4).
#2 The Food
Can you ask someone what they’re cooking? It the event titled “Cheese and Wine”? If so, easy – and if you’re unsure, the helpful wine matching advice on most provider’s websites means Google is your friend (or Victoria Moore’s The Wine Dine Dictionary!).
But what if you’re accompanying someone to their friend’s house, and you managed to fall in with the kind of monster who doesn’t check the menu before they eat at a restaurant, or asks what the host is cooking? Something sparkling, every time. It’s impossible to not feel festive with a glass of Champagne, Prosecco or Crémant – and it works brilliantly as an aperitif. I’m not a great fan of Prosecco, but Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Conegliano (£10) is reasonably priced, finely bubbled and fruity. Waitrose’s own brand Champagne (£20), a toasty and well balanced wine, would also be perfect to accompany a smoked salmon starter or open a celebratory occasion.
#3 Know Your Audience
You know what your friends are likely to drink, but meeting someone’s parents for the first time is pretty daunting (see aforementioned profuse sweating). The go-to gift is generally either wine, chocolates or flowers. Unless you’ve been briefed about their existing status as experimental wine connoisseurs, now is not the time to win them over to orange wine. Same with your own family events. Epicures excepted, it’s the time for something simple, solid and nothing that needs decanting – it may be opened while you’re there. My usual go-to supplier for family events is Berry Brothers & Rudd – their Own Selection (from £8.95 – £35) is a great bet. Their White Burgundy or Ordinary Claret is a real crowd pleaser, and a guaranteed second invitation (or at the very least, you’ll hence be referred to as “that lovely [girl/boy] you went out with once”).
#4 Two for a Tenner is No Bad Thing
How much to spend? One of the first questions someone asked when I attended the WSET 1 course was, “Does a higher price equal better quality?”. Certainly a query I’ve thought of often, and while it’s important to have a price point in mind when buying wine as a gift or for a dinner, it’s not an automatic hallmark of quality. It’s true that at least 62% of a £10 bottle of wine in the UK relates to taxes, duties, production costs and margin, and the more you spend, the more the cost relates to the wine itself. However, that doesn’t mean only £30-plus bottles are the best. If you like it, and you think others will too, it doesn’t really matter what the wine costs. You’re sharing an experience with others.
#5 Phone a Friend
So you’re stood in front of shelves packed with bottles, it’s fifteen minutes before you need to set off, and you’re feeling a strong urge to open a tinned G&T. Is there anyone you can ask? Do you have a friend who knows about wine (Twitter or real)? Is there a friendly staffer hanging around? Pipe up! People who love wine want to talk about it, just say what you’re thinking of (even if that’s just the colour), and your price range, and the recommendations will roll in.
But when to crack out the Pol Roger? Save it for a REALLY special occasion with a few people you particularly love. What’s good enough for Churchill…